So you want to be in a rock band?: Getting your music to the masses
A note on retail
Retail stores are becoming increasingly picky with the artists they choose to stock in their store inventory, as there is limited rack space and they want to ensure that it is utilized in the most efficient manner. Additionally, there is a trend occurring within retail stores wherein stocking of DVDs, and entertainment accessories is increasing, thereby further limiting shelf space allotted to music discs. (If you don't believe me, go check out your local HMV, it's actually becoming difficult to find music there!) Consequently, many major labels, such as KOCH (Canada's largest independent distributor) are focusing more on digital exposure, and only offering retail-cataloging services (albums are available for order, but are not likely to be displayed on shelves within stores) for their artists.
With a distro deal, no upfront money is offered to the artist. For that matter, your act may be required to take money out of its own pockets to pay for the re-pressing of your CDs with the distributor's logo and copyright information. Your distributing label will receive a substantial cut of the profits from all of your CD sales, likely including your off-stage sales (the CD you sell at shows), even if they had nothing to do with booking tour dates for your act. If your CD is recalled or returned, again you will owe your distributor money for the inconvenience you have caused them. So, be sure that your CD is going to sell.
Pros: Having a major distributor affiliated with your band may (but does not guarantee) assist with publicity and bookings. Having your music worldwide will assist your act in widening its fan-base.
Cons: In-store CD sales are at an all-time low, and cataloging does not ensure visibility. It is difficult to gauge the success of strictly digital sales, as results have not been consistent. While some artists are fairing quite favourably online, others are not. In addition, you will now be sharing your profits with your distributor providing your act with less money to spend on other areas that may need development.
Agreements with online independent digital aggregators are more flexible (usually non-exclusive) allowing artists to sign up with a variety of sites increasing chances of exposure and sales, as well, these agreements tend to be shorter in term, thus artists will likely not find themselves in a situation where they'll miss out on a better proposition because they are bound to a previous deal.
Part III of III on selling your music next week...