So I came across this new / old indie distro, Altavoz. Knowing that distribution used to be one of the tougher aspects of marketing Punk / HC / Indie music, I decided to drop em a line and see what they are all about. Normally anybody spouting off about saving the fucking earth and all that drum circle patchoulli reeking crap are more likely to get a visit from one of our ball bat wielding mascots than a nice interview, but these guys actually had some cool shit to say about the current state of indie music sales and are offering some interesting terms. In this case we put aside our rightful hatred of all things Hippy and hit em up to see what they are about.
PS – Rob Banks for Pitslime Fanzine
NJ – Nelson Jacobsen for Altavoz Distro
PS – So back in the late eighties “indie” distros were ultimately key to the whole “indie” revolution of the music industry. In retrospect I credit the whole underground/hardcore scene of the early eighties for creating that whole business model.
NJ - Without a doubt the punk movement of the 80s was a huge driver. I was in TX, still a kid and I can remember when the Sex Pistols came to Dallas in the late 1970s. It affected so many of us with the shock and awe of their show. They set the stage for the 80s explosion of the hardcore scene and we took advantage of that as part of our early business model. Our first catalogue in the early 90s had a few hardcore bands, including Bad Brains…
PS – Is there still a need for a distro in this digital age? I mean seriously is anyone still selling selling Cd’s ?
NJ – The fans have never said “give me music in only one format”. As a member of the largest music trade group, I get the sales numbers every year and we know that physical music sales are still 72 plus percent of all music sold…digital is actually 25 percent, at best. Sure it’s growing, however, as a sign that fans like physical music so much, Vinyl moved from .07 to 1.5 percent of music product sold in the last year. (Both stats are from the Soundscan/Narm.com conference call.)
PS – I’ve been in the punk / hardcore / underground music scene for over twenty years now and the most I ever did with selling music is play shows and maybe sell cassettes or later CDs at shows or put merch in local Mom and Pops on consignment. I’ve never dealt with a distro, but my understanding is that the distro orders so many units from you, you send them to the distro and they place them in stores and return you money for the units you sell. Having read your “contract” I was a little confused by the legalese in that document. Can you tell me in plain English, without resorting to salesman doublespeak or buzzwords what you can do for me and my band?
NJ – First and most important, we start with a non exclusive contract – we expect to offer a P&D Deals (packaging and distribution) soon. We know that many bands and labels may have existing physical and digital contracts outside the Mid-Atlantic area (where we are first going to focus) if at all, so we can and will work with bands/labels who have distribution already set up. Let them work with Altavoz and another distributor and see which distributor gets them the best results. We believe our pricing and our approach is the competitive advantage for indie bands.
Lets talk briefly how distribution works: we take your product, we present all your product through multi channel platforms (digital, retail, concert, etc), and then work closely with the label to make sure all of the band’s product (records, cds, etc) sell. If the product fails to sell, the store will return the product to us and we send it back to you. The main thing to consider is that many stores will not bring in the product other than on consignment if there is no distributor.
The Altavoz difference: Successful producers of content who are distributed through Altavoz will have the opportunity to own stock in the company. And that means that the more successful producers there are, the more money everyone makes. The moment you sign your distro contract and cough up the setup fee, producers will be issued warrants to purchase stock, so when bonuses are available, the band can take the cash or exercise the warrant. Once you become a stockholder, you make money off of everybody. I know that currently no other distributor is offering this and we believe down the road this is our biggest selling point for someone to work with Altavoz
So it would go like this. Mr. Banks, you have sold 15k units — do you want the cash bonus or do you want to purchase stock in the company that just made that money for you? IMHO one of the reasons why so many Punk Artist/Bands have not sought distribution is that making money for some random corporation that rarely paid them was just not worth it.
PS – So what do I need to get involved? I have an albums worth of mastered tracks that is CD ready, I have a band and I am looking to get my product out there. What else do I need?
NJ- The best scenario is for the band to be on a label with finished product and then we can immediately place that product into the largest EDI database, which is connected to 85% of the music buyer/retailers out there, design a one sheet campaign and then put the product into the traditional catalogue and market it to stores. We also will act as the digital distributor, which means by working with various online communities we will put your music out there for streaming and download. If they need a UPC code, Altavoz has it own which we offer, and whatever stickers or warnings that need to be on the package.
The costs for all of this ranges, so it’s best to contact Altavoz to discuss the best package for your band/label.
The most unique piece of what we offer bands and labels (besides OWNERSHIP) is our ability to crowd source info about who is buying the product and where. The moment they upload their 1st, FREE, song into our system, fans will either stream/download it or they won’t. Our system gives fans the chance to interact with the music – to make their voice or “vote” heard – its about mass collaboration, between the music lover and the music maker. This is the unique aspect of crowd sourcing as we see it — where web users come together to promote or tear down ideas, art, whatever they are interested in – and we are leveraging this on behalf of our bands and labels.
These crowd source patterns are the most untapped source of information for artists and retailers. Having this platform at our fingertips lets our bands decide where to tour, for instance, and we can show store buyers data points that support the reason they need to carry the product.
PS – So I notice that your distro has a catch in that apparently from my limited understanding of your contract I will be donating some of my profits to your charity. Do I have any control over where that money goes or how it is spent?
NJ – It’s not a catch to give back to your community and be connected to the greater good. But your point is well taken. We are actually in the process of revising the contract to give producers the ability to choose from a recommended list of local, regional and national charities. If there is one a band wants to be associated with that is not on our list, we will do the due diligence and get them on the list.
Ultimately, we believe that music and community go hand in hand. This is a significant selling point for fans and will raise the profile of artists, bands and labels in a way that only being integrated and connected with people at that core level can do. It is based on what we know, it is proven — people want to spend their money on someone/something they know — and if they also get to contribute to a charity along the way, all the better.
PS – Do you have any experience dealing with “Punk” or “hardcore” music and markets? Is this something you can deal with?
NJ – When we started the company, we had a number of these bands, including all of SST records which included the Bad Brains release “Against” in CD and LP format. Altavoz is in the music industry and we are expert in selling product, but even more importantly, selling product in places where we know the fans are for that music.
PS – I noticed that you have some sort of online sales bit factored into this, again in plain English can you describe how that will help my band make money?
NJ – There’s no “bit” about it. Our company either distributes the artist/band online or in physical retail or both. Which platforms Altavoz makes them available on depends on the distribution agreement between Altavoz and the content suppliers. It is important to note that other independent distributors only offer ONE of these options – digital or in-store – while we offer both.
Traditionally all of the marketing has been the responsibility of the label, with the distributor acting as the marketing coordinator for retailers, and more recently in the digital space. In our distributor model, we leverage the crowd source information described above to ensure our labels and we are marketing the right band to the right market, giving them the best chance of benefiting from touring, as well as digital and physical sales. Ultimately, the more platforms you are on, the more visibility you have, and the more people see you — this equals more products sold.
PS – You mention something about tracking sales etc to help me with marketing my band, planning tours etc? What can you do for me there and what will it cost me?
NJ – I talked about this a little above. Our proprietary software gives us meta data that we analyze to pinpoint opportunities for retail placement, concerts and tour line-ups. Any artist or band will be able to upload a sample of their music which will start generating streams and or downloads for free. Those producers who are under contract with us will be an offered a full encoding package as part of the basic distribution agreement. The benefit is that our collective intelligence takes the risk out of planning where to play and tour for our bands and labels — and for store buyers it provides insight on what to carry.
PS – Finally you seem to indicate some experience with “indie” music, as a quick acid test have you heard of the following bands, no googling allowed. Meatmen, Minor Threat, No Trend, Government Issue, Bad Brains. (note this list is heavily skewed towards important shit from this area)
Meatmen, Yes do remember a very strange record from them in 87ish
Minor Threat, Yes been to a show or two.
No Trend, Nope
Government Issue, Nope
Bad Brains, remind me to send you the link to our old catalogue
I also want to give a plug to a new group that we are supporting called the DMV Music Council. As the name implies we are uniting District, Maryland, and Virginia Artists and Music Professionals into a council to address concerns, issues and opportunity that every 1 of us face. So tell every 1 to get involved even if they want nothing to do with Altavoz. Ck out @dmvmusiccouncil and DMVmusicCouncil.ORG
PS – So there ya go kids, if your stupid little Label or god awful “hardcore that sounds like really bad and lame slipknot covers” band is looking to get your shit out there to the fucking tards who might actually buy it and better yet come see you at the VFW hall when you are touring in Mom’s mini van next summer, well you might check these guys out. Sell your bongwater enema fueled “screamo” cds and save the Earth! It’s a win win ya fucking hippy. Oh yeah tell em Pitslime sent ya, just so they know what to expect.