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Distributing Music Online

Industry Associate Ronnie Gurr, Robert Kilpartick of the Scottish Industry Music Association (SMIA), and Ally Gray of EmuBands, answer your questions on distributing music online.

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What does a digital distributor or aggregator do?

A digital distributor or aggregator will distribute your music to hundreds of their national and international retailers, mobile apps and streaming partners. Delivering to these partners is not a simple process. Each has specific coding and metadata requirements and specific instructions for how they want content delivered. The distributor will have the knowledge and skills to meet all of these requirements from the multitude of potential global outlets.

Do I need a barcode, UPC and/or ISRC code to sell my songs online?

All three help you or your business partners to efficiently track all international use of the individual song and collective album copyrights:

  • Printed Barcodes track sales of the physical product – audio CD or vinyl
  • A Unique Product Code (UPC) is a specific type of barcode and is used to track sales of digital product – songs and albums
  • International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) is a unique identifier that can be permanently encoded into a physical and digital recording or music video. It helps identify the use of individual tracks to support the payment of recording royalties as well as sales data. PPL use them to calculate royalty fees and Soundscan use them to create sales data for the Billboard charts

If you’re a label or just want to do it yourself, you can apply for ISRC codes via your local ISRC agency and generate your own UPC over at GS1 UK. Both can be inputted into your digital distributors’ metadata.

In order to effectively track both digital and physical albums you will need both a UPC/barcode, respectively. For definitive information on obtaining a barcode for a physical product, visit the British Phonographic Industry (BPI).

All legitimate online distributors or aggregators should have comprehensive advice on their website. Key points to establish are:

  • Whether the deal ties you to one partner (exclusive) or allows you to do other deals with other distributors or retailers (non-exclusive)
  • Your costs and royalty splits
  • The contractual details of ending your commercial relationship with provider. Look for the 'take-down' provision which will allow you to enter into new agreements and upload your catalogue to a new provider. It will also ensure that there is no future duplication of material or accounting processes
  • If the provider can supply trending reports from iTunes and other retailers selling your work. A trending report is a downloadable file that allows you to track sales for all the territories your music is on sale. These reports can be subject to change and are not a definitive prediction of what your final monthly sales accounting may actually be

Take a note of discrepancies between providers then take formal legal advice – the Musicians’ Union can assist their members at a cost effective level in this regard.

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