Airplay 101 - Tour Distribution Using Radio
A lot of folks immediately want to try to get their product into stores using standard distribution. If you are a label, however, and the project you are marketing is not a priority (maybe you are just testing it), or if you are an artist funding things yourself, then you might just consider foregoing standard distribution altogether in favor of tour distribution using radio.
Tour distribution is when you rely solely on your gigs to move your product (i.e., your product is only for sale at live gigs,) and you do not bother trying to get retail placement at all. Since you are saving the time and money of trying to get distro, you get to put your energies towards increasing your radio, which will drive more people to the gigs so you can sell more product. Basically, you are just tightening a loose circle.
The traditional forms of distro (from the top down) are major, indie, self, and consignment. They all require the permission or partnership of others in order to get your product onto retail shelves. Getting these approvals is very difficult for a new label, and major and indie deals are basically impossible for solo artists. Even self-distro and consignment deals require tons of time and energy and money to set up for the few copies that they move... and certainly with no guarantee of profit.
However, by purposely deciding to avoid that circle entirely, and putting your focus on radio instead, you can do quite well just selling your product at your gigs (and you'll get full sale price too), since for new indie labels this is where most product is sold anyway. The only exception to this might be hip hop, where distro does well even if gigs are few.
Yes, it's true that by not even trying to get into stores, you'll be catching flack from a lot of people. But invariably, these people tend to be folks who have never gotten any type of distro at all for themselves. Either they are major label people who get all their company's stuff into stores easily (not their personal stuff, of course), or someone at a music magazine/paper... which you are not focusing on since you are concerned about radio, or friends/family who just want to brag by telling people that your CD is in stores.
That leaves clubs and venues. The booking people at these places might also want to give you reasons why you need to be in-stores, until they learn of your radio. Since clubs try very hard to get on radio themselves (most just can't afford it), they really value an act that is already getting exposure. The exposure can of course be spins, but it might also be morning show gibberish, ads, or even community event announcements.
So not only are you going to have more people at your gigs, you'll be booking larger clubs where the booker normally would not take your call. An act that normally sells two to ten CDs and a couple of shirts will now be able to move 20 to 50 CDs and ten shirts. And this is in just one night, and is of course in addition to what the club might be paying you (outside of Los Angeles, of course). And don't forget to use the sales tactic of having someone walk through the crowd and ask every single person if they'd like to buy; don't just put your stuff on a table.
One last area which sort of crosses the boundary of gig-only sales would be in-store performances. When you are able to perform in a retail music store, many times the store will stock (sometimes even pay for) your product for several weeks after you leave. But you still have to physically go and play at their stores in the first place, so it still requires touring, and thus still makes my point.
Next topic: Sacrificing
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