CD Baby Review: 2023 – 2024 Buyer’s Guide

About CD Baby Music Distribution

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CD Baby might be the first music distribution company. They’re owned by music industry powerhouse Downtown Music Holdings which also owns Songtrust, Downtown Music Publishing, and Soundrop. They’ve been around forever and have consistently been the most artist-friendly distributor you’ll find on the market.

When music streaming first became a thing, due to the low royalty payouts, CD Baby forfeited their 9% fee on streams. It wasn’t until streaming started generating significant revenue and cannibalized sales that the policy changed. Ever since the days of Derek Sivers, it’s been a company with heart that’s cared a great deal about the interests of indie artists.

CD Baby has Direct deals with digital service providers so the percentage of revenue they say you get to keep, is what you actually get to keep. They’re also routinely highlighted as a preferred partner by DSPs like Spotify and Apple Music. I’ve been with CD Baby since 2005 and I can’t say I’ve ever had a problem.

This year, the company has done somewhat of a complete overhaul changing their pricing structure, removing services, and replacing old features with new features. In this update, we’ll break down all the changes and see where CD Baby stands heading into 2024.

CD Baby Review – Changes

CD Baby’s Price

CD Baby’s pricing changed from $10 per single or $50 per album as a one-time fee, plus 9% of revenue to just $10 per release. Singles, Albums, and EPs are all now $10 with CD Baby. They continue to take a percentage of revenue so that part hasn’t changed, but the lower price per album is significant.

CD Baby’s Model

As the standard distribution model has shifted to an annual fee for unlimited distribution, CD Baby seems to be a rare standout holding firm at charging artists per release. Does it make sense in today’s music landscape to charge a one-time fee per release vs. unlimited distribution?

Generally, paying once provides peace of mind. At the least your releases will gradually pay for themselves over time as opposed to having the count reset annually like it would with unlimited. Playing the quantity game may not make a ton of sense with the recent changes to monetization across DSPs. You can read our model comparison for more thoughts on this.

CD Baby Pro Comes to an End

This year saw CD Baby Pro come to an end as the service has been swapped for a new feature called CD Baby Boost. With CD Baby Pro, artists had to pay between $35 and $70 to have CD Baby collect Mechanical royalties on their behalf through Publishing Administration. With this service – provided through the third party platform Songtrust – CD Baby would have your release registered with every PRO and Mechanical royalty collection society worldwide. CD Baby Boost provides a similar but different service exclusively registering your release with the MLC. For more on that, read “What is CD Baby Boost?”

CD Baby Sync Licensing

Sync licensing is no longer part of CD Baby’s standard distribution service. It has now been rolled into a new service called CD Baby Boost. Signing up for CD Baby Boost will allow your music to be included in CD Baby’s licensing database where it can be discovered by Filmmakers, Youtube creators, and more.

CD Baby SoundExchange

Just as CD Baby’s sync licensing offer has been rolled into CD Baby Pro, so has SoundExchange. This service would have CD Baby collect the digital performance royalties – royalties you’re owed for plays on Digital non-interactive radio like Pandora and Sirius XM – and pay them out to you. Artists can register works with SoundExchange directly but it’s a very convoluted and unnecessarily complicated process that has caused many, self-included – a lot of frustration. Having a third party expert register your release could allow you to collect at least half of what you’re owed by SoundExchange. Note, that it is just half because you’ll still be required to go through that frustrating process to register as a Performer to collect the other half.

CD Baby – Stages

Introduced this year, Stages is a new feature that offers artists additional tools as they grow. The addition of Stages makes a ton of sense because as an artist grows, so does their revenue which turns CD Baby’s 9% revenue share into a major problem. Consider this, 9% of $100 is only $9 annually, but 9% of $10,000 is $900 annually. With the old CD Baby pricing structure you’d pay $900 for the same service you were getting for $9. As a result, artists could grow out of CD Baby.

Stages changes things by provided advanced tools to justify the fee and even removing the upfront cost of distribution altogether.

Essentials Stage

  • Global distribution to the world’s top music platforms
  • Social video monetization on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook
  • Sync licensing
  • Analytics and weekly payments
  • CD and vinyl manufacturing and fulfillment
  • Free music-promo tools

Plus Stage

  • Free Submissions
  • Expedited service, inspection, and delivery to DSPs
  • Playlisting on CD Baby-owned playlists
  • First access to new DSP features
  • Applying for verification on Instagram and TikTok
  • The opportunity to utilize found.ee’s state of the art MAP (Managed Ads Program) service.

Label Services Stage

  • Editorial pitching for new releases
  • Fast-tracked Pandora approval
  • Video delivery to Apple
  • Automatically generated smart links through found.ee

Terms of Agreement Analysis

The only thing I found in CD Baby’s terms that even remotely caused me to raise an eyebrow was a clause that has releases distributed through CD Baby, be exclusive to CD Baby. Effectively, you can’t distribute a release through CD Baby and take the same release and distribute it with Distrokid while you’re still with CD Baby. That’s not something artists are likely to do anyway so the clause is really meaningless. I just found it worth noting so artists are aware that an exclusivity clause exists.

CD Baby – Price & Features Chart

Price$10 One-Time Fee
Same price for singles and albums
PercentageKeep 91%
ReleasesUnlimited
StoresUnlimited
Release DateYes
Transaction FeesNone for Direct Bank Transfer
2.9% of what you withdraw through Paypal – uncapped so there’s no limit to how much you’ll pay.
Payment Threshold $10
ArtistsUnlimited
Youtube Content IDYes
Keep 70%
WhitelistingClaim disputes
CD Baby will claim your Youtube videos and if you don’t want them to, you must dispute the claim with Youtube to have CD Baby release the claim.
Split PayNo
UPC & ISRCFree
UPC comes with the ability to bring your own & are usable for physical product. CD Baby allows you to print actual UPC barcodes for usage on CDs.
Pre-OrdersYes
No fee
PartnershipsYes
Cancelation/Non-paymentDoesn’t apply. Release stays in stores forever.
Sync Licensing No –
TaxesSubject to 30% tax withholding for residents of countries without a US Tax Treaty
Red FlagsNone

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