I was in New York for music business stuff this past week (and going to museums) and I heard that Slumberland Records had left Revolver/Midheaven Distribution for The Orchard. That is some big news in my world. First of all, I've never heard of any label leaving Revolver/Midheaven EVER. Second of all, the Orchard has been making indie moves all over the place- they bought IODA and made a deal to distribute the French Kiss Label Group all within the last 12 months. The Orchard, of course, is owned by Sony.
The major distributors for indie labels in the USA right now are Revolver/Midheaven, Ingrooves/Fontana, The Orchard, Red (formerly Red Eye), Secretly Canadian and the Alternative Distribution Alliance.
It's a measure of the current state of the music industry that there are more profitable distributors for indie labels then there are profitable chains of shops that actually sell indie label music: five vs. zero.
No matter which distributor you talk to the best scenario is one where the distributor agrees to manufacture your physical products in exchange for the digital rights. The theory is that the physical side of the business is basically a money losing favor to the indie label, and all the money is made on the digital side.
Not all of the distributors offer production AND distribution- some labels simply have a distribution agreement and produce their own music.
Anyway this news is interesting because it is the first case I know of a Revolver/Midheaven label has moved to a different distributor and I'm interested to see how it turns out for Slumberland- whether they are happier at The Orchard, etc. I say this as someone who works with Revolver/Midheaven and is very, very, very happy with how I've been treated AND as someone who at various times has had contact with every single one of the distributors listed above except ADA.
I've learned that there is no knight in shining armor for a would-be indie trying to move up in weight class- the deal is the same everywhere- excited about digital, morose about physical music products. You are going to lose 10-20% of your gross sales and hopefully in exchange you will obtain people who have an interest in promoting your records in physical and digital environments but all that is hit or miss at best no matter who you are working with.
To be clear I'm talking about the spectrum of music that is available new in independent record stores ranging from Amoeba to M Theory-- there is tons of music that would never be available in an indie record store that simply doesn't require the sort of physical distribution that the above named distributors provide. As long as you don't want your records/cds in an actual record store you can use any number of self service providers: Tunecore, for example can get your records on Itunes etc and you can sell cds or records on Amazon or anywhere.
To give you a concrete example of what I'm talking about- I got a picture from a friend who was at Amoeba Records in Los Angeles and saw the CD of the recent Plateaus record on the main end-cap in Amoeba. That happens because Amoeba buys tons of CDs from Revolver and because the people at Revolver listen to the music they sell to Amoeba and tell them about it. These are actual people who work in San Francisco and don't get their music taste from music blogs.