Words by Neil Boland
Photography by Elleni Toumpas Photography
Music distribution and representation has traditionally been the domain of suited-up office types with warehouses full of CDs and shipping schedules, not to mention a keen eye on the bottom line instead of an ear on the music.
But the digital revolution that many feared would hurt the music industry has now swung the power to independent artists. Although this means that the big guys’ warehouses are smaller, media that you can’t hold in your hand still needs to be distributed properly to the right channels for the benefit of the artist. So how does a musician easily get their tunes onto the world’s most visited online music stores? Ditto Music.
Ditto Music started in the UK nine years ago, expanded to Nashville USA and then good old Melbourne. Ditto’s client manager for Australia Sarah Hamilton is based in the Melbourne office and has plenty of time for artists who want their music distribution back in their own hands.
Ditto’s digital management portfolio is huge and covers all genres of music from all over the world. “There are almost 80,000 bands we distribute to Spotify, iTunes, Rdio, Shazam and hundreds of other different online stores,” says Hamilton.
For a flat fee, Ditto does the hard yards that most bands would have neither time nor knowledge for. And the best thing? No logging onto multiple channels for uploading and revenue claiming.
“We set up Vevo channels. We set up Beatport labels if they’re electronic artists and we take care of registration for the charts like ARIA or Billboard.”
At the most basic tier with Ditto, you can easily get them to submit content to popular sites via their relationships with them and their powerful distribution systems. Above that, a band or artist can utilise Ditto’s add-on services like label representation, including the sometimes tiresome marketing stuff. Hamilton stresses that the portfolio for this is a lot smaller so Ditto can maintain the service quality. “We also do PR and social media. We can only work with a few bands at a time at that capacity.”
Now, one might be wondering, ‘Can’t I just upload my stuff wherever, whenever?’ The short answer is no, and official distribution is still an important factor in online platforms maintaining their product quality. Spotify, for example, still demands the traditional model of a distributor submitting content to their platform. Hamilton says that any artist “wouldn’t be able to put their music on Spotify without someone like us.”
And this is more common than you think.
“There’s a couple of stores you can upload content to yourself, but for most of them, you need to go through an aggregator like us. We have a huge delivery system so they just need to upload their music to our website, and we package it all up and then distribute it out to the stores.”
For bands to monetise, it’s easy to claim cash with Ditto. It’s kind of like a musical PayPal…without any sneaky transaction fees. And as musos know, an artist’s budget leaves no room for financial surprises. Hamilton explains how easy the process is.
“We get the sales and money back, upload it into their account, and they can request payment. So we do all of the technical stuff for them.”
Ditto Music’s long-term operations have also made them a trusted face in the digital realm crowd. And when approaching major online music stores, they usually have success with access.
“We have to have contracts with the store. If a new store comes along, we’ll negotiate a contract with them. We discuss what catalogue we have and our delivery system with them.”
Ditto is digital only, despite the current analogue trend with producing products people can drop the stylus on or run the laser over, with liner notes and big artwork. But that focus is actually what makes Ditto’s activities so effective for artist exposure. As Hamilton says, “we don’t do any physical, just digital.”
But bands are free to do what they want. Ditto doesn’t ‘own’ them.
“We have a non-exclusive contract. So bands can work with anyone else they want to at the same time as us, providing that their label okays that as well. We have some larger artists and labels that might upload their content digitally with us and they might do the physical stuff – vinyl pressing, etc – elsewhere.”
There has been a lot of talk of the role Spotify has played in the downturn of physical or downloaded music sales lately. Hamilton offers a new way of looking at it — a tip for people who should slightly shift their expectations of it.
“There’s not going to a lot of revenue from Spotify compared to iTunes, we know that. iTunes is still king for revenue. But I’ve never seen a band upload anything to Spotifiy that has had no plays. So they’re always getting plays and it’s always in different territories. Spotify is kind of king, in terms of reach, it’s huge. I’ve also never seen an artist only played in one territory.”
And who can say that their local major commercial radio station can give that sort of targeted worldwide exposure? With artists that are still spooked about certain online streaming services, a digital distributor can put their minds at ease.
“Our stance is that we let artists choose. They can pick and choose what stores they want to go to. We don’t really try and push them one way or the other. But we have a good relationship with Spotify in Australia and they want to work with bands to promote them.”
They have integrations with merch companies and with Songkick to integrate the promotion of shows. “It’s not as cut and dry as everyone thinks it is. Whenever we do a talk or seminar, I always ask people how they listen to music, because that really interests me. So many really big music fans will listen to a streaming service, buy the vinyl and CD and go to the show. It all works in together. I don’t know too many people that just listen to Spotify and nothing else.”
However can this sort of model really kick it with the big end of label town?
Relationships in the industry are still a big factor and they still can’t really be digitised.
“Only today, we’ve had one of our bands we’ve been working with – Little Bird – appear on the front page of Vevo. And that’s because we have the relationship with Vevo Australia; we’ve actually met with them. There aren’t that many distributors that have an Australian office. But we do.”
Many people have already recorded, pressed and distributed in the physical world and they’re getting nowhere with it. Hamilton advises to take the plunge and do a cntrl+alt+delete with your content and re-launch it with a digital distributor, whether it’s Ditto or not.
“We had an artist in the States who released an album and didn’t really market it very much, besides touring across the country. We took it down and worked out a three month social media strategy — they ended up in the top 10 of the US country charts.”
Check out Ditto Music via www.dittomusic.com