Distribution Deals in Music: What You Need to Know

Distribution Deals in Music

Music distribution deals are essential for artists and record labels looking to get their music heard by a larger audience. However, with the various types of distribution deals available and the complex terms and provisions involved, it can be challenging to navigate. In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about distribution deals in music, including the types of deals available, the key terms and provisions, the pros and cons of signing a deal, and how to negotiate a distribution deal.

Types of Distribution Deals In Music

Major Label Distribution Deals In Music

Major label distribution deals are typically offered by major record labels such as Sony, Universal, and Warner. These deals involve the label handling all aspects of distribution, including manufacturing, marketing, and promotion. In exchange, the label takes a significant percentage of the artist’s revenue.

Independent Label Distribution Deals In Music

Independent label distribution deals are similar to major label deals, but they’re offered by smaller record labels. These deals typically offer more creative control to the artist, and the revenue split is usually more favourable. However, independent labels may have limited resources for marketing and promotion.

Digital Distribution Deals In Music

Digital distribution deals involve distributing music through online platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music. These deals are becoming increasingly popular due to the rise of streaming services. Digital distributors typically take a percentage of revenue, and the artist retains ownership of their music.

Distribution Deals with Aggregators

Distribution deals with aggregators involve working with a third-party company to distribute music to various platforms. Aggregators offer a more affordable option for independent artists and labels, but they may not have the same level of resources for marketing and promotion as major or digital distributors.

Key Terms and Provisions of Distribution Deals In Music

Before signing a distribution deal, it’s essential to understand the key terms and provisions involved. These include:

Territory and Exclusivity

Distribution deals typically involve a specific territory, such as a country or region, where the music will be distributed. Exclusivity clauses may also be included, which prevent the artist from distributing their music through other channels during the term of the deal.

Royalties and Revenue Splits

Royalties and revenue splits determine how the artist and the distributor will share revenue from the music’s sales or streams. These splits can vary widely depending on the type of deal and the negotiating power of the artist.

Marketing and Promotion

Marketing and promotion provisions determine how the music will be marketed and promoted. Major label deals typically offer more resources for marketing and promotion, while independent and digital distribution deals may require the artist to handle these aspects themselves.

Term and Termination

The term of the distribution deal refers to the length of time the deal will be in effect. Termination clauses may also be included, which allow either party to end the deal before the term expires.

Pros and Cons of Distribution Deals In Music

Before signing a distribution deal, it’s essential to consider the pros and cons involved.

Benefits for Artists and Labels

Distribution deals offer several benefits for artists and labels, including:

  • Increased exposure and access to a larger audience
  • Access to resources for manufacturing, marketing, and promotion
  • Potential for higher revenue from music sales or streams

Risks and Drawbacks of Signing a Distribution Deal

However, there are also risks and drawbacks involved, such as:

  • Loss of creative control
  • Potentially unfavourable revenue splits
  • Limited resources for marketing and promotion, depending on the type of deal

Case Studies of Successful and Unsuccessful Distribution Deals

There are numerous examples of successful and unsuccessful distribution deals in the music industry. For example, Taylor Swift’s move from Big Machine Records to Universal Music Group’s Republic Records resulted in a more favourable revenue split and increased creative control. On the other hand, Kesha’s legal battle with her former label, Sony Music, over her distribution deal highlighted the importance of understanding the terms and provisions before signing a deal.

Negotiating a Distribution Deal

If you’re considering signing a distribution deal, it’s essential to negotiate the terms and provisions to ensure the deal is favourable for you. Here are some tips for negotiating a distribution deal:

  • Understand your negotiating power: If you have a strong fan base or a successful track record, you may have more leverage in negotiations.
  • Consult with a lawyer: A music lawyer can help you understand the terms and provisions of the deal and negotiate on your behalf.
  • Consider the long-term: Think about how the deal will impact your career in the long term, not just in the short term.
  • Be prepared to walk away: If the terms and provisions aren’t favourable, be prepared to walk away from the deal.


Distribution deals are a crucial part of the music industry, but they can be complex and challenging to navigate. Understanding the types of deals available, the key terms and provisions, and the pros and cons involved is essential for making informed decisions. By negotiating the terms and provisions and considering the long-term impact, artists and labels can ensure they’re getting the best deal possible.


  1. Can I distribute my music independently without signing a distribution deal? 

Yes, there are several platforms available for independent distribution, such as DistroKid, TuneCore, and CD Baby.

  1. How much of my revenue should I expect to give up in a distribution deal? 

The revenue split can vary widely depending on the type of deal and the negotiating power of the artist. It’s essential to negotiate for a favourable split that’s fair to both parties.

  1. Can I negotiate the terms and provisions of a distribution deal? 

Yes, it’s important to negotiate the terms and provisions to ensure the deal is favourable for you.

  1. What happens if I breach the terms of a distribution deal? 

Breach of contract can result in legal action and potentially significant financial consequences. It’s important to understand and adhere to the terms of the deal.

  1. What should I consider when choosing a distribution deal? 

When choosing a distribution deal, consider factors such as revenue split, creative control, marketing and promotion, and the reputation and resources of the distributor.

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