The distributor and his 'accounting system' are the ones that gobble up 90%. The recording studio gets their 6%. And when the Distributor and the Studio are the same (sometimes spelled S-O-N-Y, for example), that's 96% going to one entity.
The accounting system is a monstrosity that has been championed for a hundred years, though, with trickery involved between "Items manufacturered, Items shipped, Items Sold - to contracted wholesalers and smaller distributors, Items held in obeyance (on shelves, unsold to end-users you and me) and Units Sold."
Less "Units Returned".
All kinds of chicanery is offered to prevent artists from getting (1) real numbers of units sold, and (2) real payouts based on those numbers.
In addition, most performers are given a heroin-esque contract. "Psst, here, kid - try some of dis... sign here, here's ya $80 kajillion." But it's indentured servitude for that amount, based on those unreal, unpublic and unknowable Real Units Sold.
"Sure, we gave ya $80 kajillion and yer album sold $100 kajillion, but we put in another $99.999 kajillion in marketing, those fancy hotel expenses for you, me and our entire staff. So net profit was only a dollar. You've only got $79.9999 kajillion to go!"
Somehow, all of those particulars of marketing and expenses are easily itemized, but those same details are never spelled out for the distribution of product.
Even worse... distributors lock up retailers. "You must put your shelves in THIS order so we can do our monthly audits. You signed a contract to get products on your shelf - so now our hook's in your mouth (or needle in the arm). You have no choice."
It's somewhere between the worst-est Mechanic's Lien and Heroin Addiction.
"Indie" stores are those that have signed up with lesser distributors, but they're still distributors.
We still sell plenty of CDs ourselves, and hundreds of others sell more. But we've all taken the Grateful Dead approach and sold our own gear at our own performances. If we have to split anything "with the gate" (clubs), we're in a nice town with 180 clubs to compete with, and 44 weekends of festivals and outdoor performances. We can always look around and reply, "We don't need YOUR steenkin' badges," therefore.
Alfonso Bedoya - one of the great spokesmen in performance history: