What Do Record Labels Do? Part 3 – Retail Support And How To Do It Today


In this new series we will examine what on earth record labels do or
even used to do before they started cutting employees down to make up
for their flimsy business model. In order to educate everyone as to
what the labels responsibilities usually were and how you can fill them
in the future, we will now explain what they do and how you can fill
the void. For previous episodes go here.

One of the things that is becoming obsolete and helping Indie artists have a level playing field is the death of retail. While everyone knows that mass distribution was one of the huge advantages every large label had over smaller ones, there were many hidden techniques the labels would do to gain even more of an advantage over the little guys. After the jump we will show you what labels would do and how you can pull it off today to great effect.

The Past
In the past if you were a record label retail was everything. Depending on the size of the label there would be people whose only job would be to call retail shops – particularly mom and pop shops and small chains – all day long and ask them a few questions. These questions would revolve around annoying things like these:

  • Do you have Record X in stock?
  • How is it selling?
  • You are down to X amount of records… Have you reordered yet?
  • X is coming to town in two weeks would you be willing to hang posters and order more copies to make sure you have enough to supply the demand after their awesome live show makes everyone want to buy a copy? 
  • Have you considered putting X on display it is doing very well for ___ record store and I know you guys deal with a similar audience?

As someone who ran both an indie record store and would make these calls for a label I always had a unique insight into the absolute hell they would bring to a retail persons life each day. The condescending nature of these calls would often times make you hate labels pushing bands you didn’t like. If you did like the band the call was in reference to you would consider helping them or maybe it would help a band you were lukewarm on to get an edge. These calls would be especially helpful if a record store didn’t have a record in stock from a band that your label had on tour. Every labels worst nightmare is to have someone come in to a store looking to buy an artist’s record and have it not be available. In addition to the calls we listed above the retail people at a label would do the following:

  • Buy shared ads (as we described in our tour support article) that advertise your record and the store to buy it at.
  • Buy featured placement at the end of racks and displays in stores that advertise the release.
  • Get artists in to listening stations at stores whether they are paid for or choosen by the staff of the store.

Obviously these techniques gave every band who had a team like this a big advantage over those who didn’t. Depending on how nice and friendly you could be without sounding like condescending sales asshole these calls could be all the more effective. Thankfully this technique means less and less each day as record stores go out of business.
Obviously everyday all of this becomes less and less important as MP3s replace CDs, but it can still help you. Here is what you can do to get better results for your release:

  • Go to the Coalition Of Independent Music Stores website and call every store who sells your genre of music (no use wasting the call on a dance music store if you are a metal band) and see if they will stock it. I would advise only doing this if you are getting exposure in that area like radio airplay, tour dates or some other way. Getting a pile of unsold CDs returned to you can be a depressing day.
  • If you are coming to town and you have a CD that is distributed by distributor they buy from, call and see if they will hang a poster advertising your CD/show and order some copies of your record.
  • Mail them a One Sheet (for the n00bs this is a sheet that explains to a retailer what the release is about and why they should order it), so they will potentially order your CD.
  • If you have the money or are local convince the store to put you in a end rack or a display feature. Site other stores success with displaying your release and write up a sell sheet as to why this will help them.
  • Find as many niche online stores that will sell your music. Nearly every genre has a specialty store, simply go online and start searching them out and see if you can get featured in one of these stores.

Jesse Cannon is the editor of Musformation. He produces records at his studio Cannon Found Soundation. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseCannonMusF. For more info please visit his website.