Not Dead Yet—Distribution Snafu Affects Retailers and Bands

Many of us now listen to music online. But CDs and vinyl are not dead yet. We all know that physical music “product” in the form of CDs and vinyl has been supplanted by downloading and streaming. The trend has almost wiped out the bricks-and-mortar music retailers. But there’s still a place for physical music product; physical product certainly makes local bands more money as they can sell product at club appearances, festivals and events without a “middleman.” Many local bands can make decent money selling product online and at gigs. And physical recordings also keep the few stalwart music retailers in business.

Additionally, sometimes a CD or vinyl is the only way that a small band can actually get their music heard and quickly into the hands of their fans after a gig.

OffBeat used to receive thousands of CDs for review each year. But labels—to save the costs of pressing and mailing physical product—have severely curtailed sending it to reviewers. We typically now receive links to listen to new albums (speaking as a person who grew up with 45s, LPs, and CDs, I miss being able to learn more about the music and the musicians through packaging. It was important).

This weekend, the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival will feature many local artists including Jonathon Long, Kenny Neal, Lynn Drury, Johnny Sansone, Sonny Landreth, Little Freddie King and many others. The headliner is the Allman Betts Band that will perform on Saturday at 7 p.m.

The Allman Betts Band’s most recent release Down To The River will more than likely not be available at the Louisiana Music Factory tent. Why? Music Factory buyer Freeman York is frustrated with the new fulfillment house, Direct Shot, that most major labels have hired to make sure product gets distributed to retailers. Based in Indiana, Direct Shot has had problems delivering the right products to the right stores. Many small retailers around the country are facing ruining relationships with their customers; moreover, it’s certainly hurting the retailers financially.

York pointed out that Louisiana Music Factory is somewhat insulated from the debacle since most of the products they sell are from local artists. They don’t necessarily depend on the national acts.

However, with the Allman Betts Band playing the local festival, not having their latest CD will hurt the Music Factory financially—and of course, it will financially impact the band itself. Rueben Williams, the Allman Betts Band manager, has also tried to get the band’s product without success.

In a recent article from Billboard, it’s been reported that “the major labels are working hard with Direct Shot to sort out the mess and get things back to normal.” However, the same article goes on to say that “the retailers say the problems are so bad they are appealing to the major labels to step up their involvement and help rectify the situation in a more expedient manner.”

The problem will be apparent at the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival since many people attending would expect the Louisiana Music Factory festival outlet to have the latest Allman Betts CD available.

According to the Louisiana Music Factory, the product has been pulled to be dispatched but York is uncertain if it will be received in time for the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival.

While music distribution now seems to be primarily digital and the market for CDs has shrunk drastically, we wonder what’s behind the tremendous upswing in the demand for vinyl. It’s physical product, too. Is there a backlash from music lovers who actually like actually owning (and paying for) their music?

Maybe record labels need to rethink their distribution strategies. If nothing else, pay more attention to the market for the distribution of physical products. If there’s a market for it, then it seems as though someone should realize that it should be satisfied.


  • Pat Kauchick

    Jan, major labels have usurped distribution. The pressing plants are overwhelmed with their priority orders. In the mix are regional chains and major inde record stores who are getting priority. You also have stores loaning their name to fulfilment centers making buyers think they are dealing with the store. The fulfilment centers are taking orders they can’t fill. Recent examples are Black Keys Inde exclusive and Bob Dylan’s Super Delux Rolling Thunder box set. I am very concerned about the misuse of the term “limited edition.” Is it really? Often the number of pressings is not defined. This allows an infinite number to be sold. Record Store Day is a huge influencer. Yet, the playing field will not be level. A true inde, T-Bones Records in Hattiesburg, often will not get the most exclusive titles. Maybe one copy of some. Yet, Ameoba will get dozens. They got all 500 of the alternative cover for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Fifty went to UK. Nobody else got them. Labels are licensing pressing rights to dozens of companies and major and inde artists titles are getting mutiple pressings cutting out smaller artists. If You want an idea of how warped the playing field is, look at EBay and the number of titles flipped. Tyler Childers inde exclusive of 1000. Your store didn’t get it because priority stores and maybe insiders did. This mess has helped the vintage market. I am buying more vintage than limited edition now. Owning an original pressing is better than an anniversary pressing. I do like new artist’s first releases and test pressings. For instance, a band coming to New Orleans will have an exclusive of only 25 cassettes. I love those.