Excuse the cliche but music is truly heard everywhere. It’s in the car, on the television, overheard from the the guy sitting next to you on the train. It’s pretty much unavoidable in this era, which is great news for musicians in the midst of the distribution part of their career.
There is one place where music is very prominent but not always appreciated. Ever been in a store without any music? It’s really eerie. People aren’t talking and the sound of clothing hangers sliding across steel bars is the only thing that fills the room. Music is essential in any store and in many cases, today’s top 10 pop hits won’t make the cut. Many places want some low key, not-yet-popularized music. That’s where you jump in. It’s fairly simple to get your new material on these in-store playlists but to do this, unfortunately, it requires jumping through a few bureaucratic hoops. But there is a good chance this could be one of the best financial decision of your musical career. First, a few reasons why this is worthwhile move.
We’ll focus on retail stores/ shopping experiences to reaffirm the importance of getting creative with how you expose your music to the world. An article from NPR tells a story of how exactly music is selected to be played in stores. The whole thing is worth the read but here’s the Sparknotes version.
Spencer Manio, the senior music supervisor at PlayNetwork has, what some would consider, a dream job. He’s essentially a professional music playlist creator and hand picks songs for commercials and retail stores. Manio will rifle through songs that he or PlayNetwork has rights to and helps curate playlists for a commercial or retail store. Finally, a real person digging for good music. But one might think, ‘why would he choose my song? I just started gaining recognition, how is my music going to stand out?’ Don’t take this the wrong way, but sometimes the music doesn’t have to be that spectacular to make the cut. NPR explains in their article his thought process when picking the ideal song for a Nordstrom commercial.
“Manio picked “Hearts” by Nashville band Tropical Punk. It’s not the best song in the world, or the most original, but it’s peppy, the mood is right, it sounds like other popular stuff. And the band is independent, meaning the music will be cheap to purchase (generally), easy to get and he gets the satisfaction of directing money to people who really need it — a more noble cause, perhaps, than giving The Rolling Stones their next million. The band said yes right away and made a few thousand dollars.”
Now, this is a very, very lucky break for Tropical Punk, but he’s not the only one out there doing this sort of work. There are a number of companies ready to distribute your music to some highly reputable stores. Although some of them will let you submit your music directly to their site, many of these companies will only select music from a collection society such as ASCAP or BMI. Essentially, you give these companies rights to sell your music to just about anyone. Radio stations, retailer, ect. will then buy the right’s to your songs, usually via a blanket license, you get 50% and they get 50% of the royalty cut for your song every time is gets played. That might not seem like a lot, but that’s because these retail distribution companies get blanket licensing to save money. It’s like buying in bulk – Blanket licensing gives them access to the collection societies entire discography. It’s also worth mentioning that legally, you’re only allowed to choose one collection society to work with so choose wisely. There isn’t too much of a difference between them but it’s still worth looking into the best options for your current situation. This sounds a lot like a a standard distribution company but they will release your music to places far beyond music streaming services. There might be a bigger cut taken out but there’s a greater chance of exposure. Remember, this isn’t the most ideal way to make money – this is a method of gaining exposure.
Again, there are not too many companies that will let you submit your music directly to them but one of the most popular services that do accept personal submissions is Custom Channels. They’re a highly rated site that will offer retailers a wide range of playing options for the customers. Their highest tier of service allows retail owners and Custom Channel curators to work together and create playlists fit for the store. They even make playlists for different times of the day. It’s an incredible service and if you’re lucky enough to make the cut, it could be valuable both monetarily and publicity wise. In order to get your music on their list of tracks, you can submit the music for review, Custom Channel saying, “We receive song submissions through record labels and independent artists directly. Any music you would like to have submitted for consideration can go to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
There are several other services out there that offer custom retail ‘radio’ for retailers. We could not reach them for comment but it’s worth inquiring about unsigned artist submissions. We Get Artists, Image Sound and Music Nomad are some of the most notable.
This method of gaining exposure is definitely not for everyone. You should not be submitting your first ever EP to these companies in hopes that someone will find it and sign you to their label – it’s definitely best to be somewhat established before diving into this field. If this method doesn’t pertain to your current situation, take this as a reminder that there are other alternatives to mainstream music distribution. Good things come to those who think outside the box. Get creative!