The standard music distribution deal is based on what used to be the
only distribution model in the music business. The old model went a
little something like this...
The music distribution deal use to come, and still does in many cases, as part-and-parcel of the record deal you signed with the label.
You would find a record company which would finance, manufacture, distribute, promote and handle your publicity for you. You, as the artist or creator would then earn royalties after the label recouped the costs. The label usually owned the copyright and the master recordings.
You can see why the record deal was the Holy Grail for musicians and bands. Record labels were the gatekeepers to the large distribution companies who were the gatekeepers to the retailers.
You had to therefore accept the fact that in order to get your CD distributed in stores, you needed a record deal. This is no longer the case because the Internet flipped the old world of music distribution on it's head, as it did for most of the rest of the music business.
Things, as you know, have changed...
Fast-forward to now and you have 360 deals, traditional deals, license deals, profit sharing deals, manufacturing deals and the self-distribution model.
Confused? I don't blame you! I suggest you spend some time to absorb this article in which David Byrne explains the above deals in detail. It'll all become clear, soon.
You hand over your copyrights with most deals in exchange for a range of services which include the distribution of your music. Self-distribution is the only model where you retain the full rights over your music and other music business activities.
Now, there may be a time in your career when it makes sense to hand over your copyrights, but this isn't something to rush into without careful consideration of the financial and legal consequences you may need to deal with further down the line.
You'll also at first find it hard to get a music distribution deal unless you already have some kind of track record of success in the business or can clearly demonstrate your commitment to promotion.
So, my suggestion to independent music producers and artists is to forget about the music distribution deal when you start out. You can always sign one later when you have a better position to negotiate more beneficial terms. Go direct to the potential fans yourself in the beginning and once you've built up a decent following your options and leverage will increase.
You can use various music distribution companies to handle your online and offline distribution. You can sell music from your web site and at shows, you can directly approach local stores and retailers.
It's great to have a team of people working to further your career. If it's not possible to have this, or you prefer doing things your own way and keeping control of your business, then the self-distribution model is now not only possible, it makes a whole lot of sense.