Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Distrokid vs Tunecore vs CD Baby: 2024 Update

This is a comparison of the top digital distributors: Distrokid vs. Tunecore vs. CD Baby. We’ll break down pricing models, features, the devil in the details of their terms of agreement, what sets them apart, and more. Below, you’ll find links to products and services we recommend, as well as discounts on some of the services in this review. You can support us by using our links to buy.

Discounts & Recommendations:

Stores

The whole point of music distribution is getting your music into stores, so the more stores, the better. Every place digital distributors send your music to, outside of social media platforms, gets classified as a store. However, many of the destinations aren’t technically stores. For example, Peloton. With Peloton your music gets added to a library of tracks trainers can select from for use in their workouts. Distribution extends beyond streams and sales and into discovery, sync, metadata, and optimization.

Tunecore and CD Baby have an extensive inventory of stores. Distrokid focuses on stores it classifies as essential. If you want maximum reach and exposure, Distrokid isn’t the answer. You may only care about the essentials like Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, etc. and for that Distrokid is fine.

Pricing

Fee

Tunecore and Distrokid have models that allow you to pay a flat annual fee in exchange for Unlimited distribution while allowing you to keep 100% of your royalties. CD Baby’s model charges a fee per release, plus a percentage of revenue. Which model works best?

With Tunecore and Distrokid, you’re renting distribution. If you’re unable to pay, your releases will be removed from all stores. The most expensive tier is Tunecore’s Professional plan at $50 annually. That’s about $4 per month. There’s an unavoidable cost of doing business and $4 per month isn’t a lot. Where it can be an issue is when funds are tight, you don’t track your expenses, and the $50 fee catches you by surprise. Timing is everything, some of us blow $4 a day on stuff we can’t remember we bought, but at any given time might not have $50.

Distrokid allows you to pay monthly with their costliest plan at $35 annually, that’s about $3/month. Tunecore only allows annual plans. If you’re poor with tracking expenses and are struggling to generate reliable income, paying monthly might be a better option because the payments are smaller. There’s also CD Baby’s pay-as-you-go model where you pay when you have it and never have to worry about it again.

Being real, paying once to keep a release in stores forever doesn’t mean it will be. Distributors go down and with them, so does your music. They change formats, like STEM, and kick artists off their service. You might want to pay once for peace of mind but it’s not what you think it is because it’s still out of your control.

My choice for the best model would be to pay-as-you-go. With CD Baby, $10 covers the cost of a release for the foreseeable future. The story doesn’t end there because CD Baby also takes a percentage. The percentage CD Baby takes, under certain circumstances, makes the Unlimited models of Tunecore and Distrokid a better deal.

Percentage

Keep 100% of your royalties, those are the claims of Tunecore and Distrokid. Do you though? Like, do you really? 🤨 There’s still a fee, that fee works out to be a variable percentage of your revenue. Pay $20 annually and generate $20 annually in royalties, and you end up paying 100% and walking away with $0. CD Baby charges 9% so in that scenario, you’d keep 91% and walk away with $18. On the flip side of things, if you were to make $10,000 you’d end up paying CD Baby $900 when you could have paid Tunecore or Distrokid $20 – $50.

Tunecore and Distrokid’s revenue share is capped, but CD Baby’s isn’t. That’s not necessarily a deal breaker because it comes down to whether the level of service changes when you get to the point of carrying that much value. CD Baby has a Stages program offering advanced services for artists at a certain level. Stages will remove the upfront per-release fee, open video distribution, and marketing support.

Features

All distributes highlight their “features” but some features are useful, and other features are uselss. Let’s weed out the junk and focus on what matters.

Sales Reports.

I know this isn’t the curvy lady in a red dress, but sales reports are a core part of distribution. You pay these companies to send your music to stores and pay you, so you want as much information as possible on how good of a job they’re doing in each area. As a general rule, I look for a report to have the ability to tell me the Country of a sale/stream, the rate for that Country, the date the sale was generated, the date the sale was reported, the type of stream – Ad-supported vs. Premium, and the store. You’ll rarely be shown whether a stream was Premium or ad-supported and none of these distributors disclose that information, though they should. The other stuff, you should be able to see and sort through. You can’t with CD Baby. They’ll only show sales and stores. Distrokid doesn’t provide Country-level data in their dashboard either. Only Tunecore does this out of the big three.

Your report should allow you to answer this question: What’s the rate for a stream on Spotify in Germany? Note, that you can find this information by exporting reports but you’d have to work that out with spreadsheets and possibly a data visualizer.

Guaranteed Release Date

You get a release date with every release on CD Baby and across all paid plans with Tunecore. Distrokid requires you to have their $40 Musician Plus plan to be guaranteed a release date. Do you need a release date? Unless you plan to treat your release like a bastard child, I’d say so. The success of a release depends on planning and strategy. Without a release date, nobody knows when your project will drop, not even you! A release should be the last thing you want to be uneventful.

Pre-release profile set up

A major problem artists were having was their releases being listed on the wrong profile on streaming platforms due to having the same names as other artists. The worst time for this to happen is during your drop day when platforms are sending out notifications to listeners and adding your music to listener playlists. Having to resolve the issue post-release leaves a lot of damage done so you want a pre-emptive strike. All of these distributors allow you to select your profile on Apple Music and Spotify before distributing a release.

New Stores

Paying a company for distribution, you’d think their catalog would just be pushed into the database of any new service provider they added. While this is true for CD Baby, it’s not the case with Tunecore and Distrokid. Tunecore has a tool called Store Automator that you need at least a $35 Breakout plan to access. Distrokid has a tool called Store Maximizer that comes at the additional cost of $8 per release annually.

Store Automator comes bundled in the packages for Tunecore’s Breakout and Professional plans so it’s not an additional fee. Distrokid’s Store Maximizer, however, does come at an additional cost. What’s particularly bad about Store Maximizer is paying per release annually. It would cost you $24 for 3 releases in additional fees on top of the annual cost they charge for unlimited distribution, ouch! The good news is, it’s avoidable. You can manually add your releases to any new stores you choose at any time for free. If you’ve got lots of releases, that’s a lot of work 😓

UPC Codes

If you don’t know the difference between UPCs and ISRCs watch this video:

CD Baby’s UPCs are multifunctional and can be used for digital and physical releases. They provide you with a printable barcode you can place on CDs and Vinyl albums to track physical sales. Tunecore and Distrokid’s UPCs are exclusively for digital releases.

Tunecore requires a $50 Professional plan to use your own UPCs and Distrokid doesn’t allow it. You can bring your own UPCs to CD Baby at no additional cost. If you’re not using independently registered UPCs, there’s no need to keep the same one across distributors. All sales of your singles are tracked by ISRCs that will be attributed to whatever UPC it’s connected to so there’s no need to swap.

Custom label name

Branding is important. A friend of mine would buy any album with a No Limit Records logo on the cover. This speaks to the importance of putting your label name on your releases. A Custom Label name is part of CD Baby’s standard distribution package but Tunecore requires a Professional plan and Distrokid requires a Musician Plus plan.

Split Pay

CD Baby doesn’t offer Split Pay. Collaborators have to pay a $10 subscription fee with Distrokid to receive their share and an $8 annual fee with Tunecore.

Transaction Fees

Tunecore caps transaction fees at 25¢ and Distrokid caps them at $1. CD Baby allows you to avoid transaction fees altogether by having your money sent to you through Direct Bank Transfer as opposed to PayPal. If you elect to receive your money through PayPal with CD Baby, you’ll have to pay 2.9% of your revenue for payment processing. 

Additional artists

Distributing releases for multiple artists under one account might be something you need to do as a label or a single artist with various aliases. Unlimited plans open the door to distributors being leveraged by resellers where somebody can pay Distrokid $20 for unlimited distribution and charge multiple artists $10 annually to distribute through them. To offset that, distributors cap the number of artists on your account.

Distrokid gives you 1 artist for their Musician plan, 2 for Musician Plus, and 5-100 artists for Ultimate. CD Baby doesn’t limit the number of artists because you pay per release. Things get interesting with Tunecore.

Tunecore requires you to have a Professional plan to enable your account to distribute for multiple artists but also charges you an additional $15 per release annually for each artist. What I take issue with when it comes to Tunecore’s additional artists is that it’s applied in a way that impacts artists not operating as labels. If you collaborate with another artist on a joint release, for you to put them as a Primary artist, you’ll have to pay an additional $15 annually. Read my post on Feature artists vs. Primary for more on why this matters. At the end of the day, you shouldn’t have to pay extra for this.

Content ID

CD Baby takes 30% of your revenue for Content ID. Tunecore takes 20% which includes Social Media revenue. Distrokid takes 20%, plus charges an additional $5 – $15 per release annually.

Whitelisting

What Whitelisting a release does is make YouTube’s Content ID program blind to your tracks. Restricting your distributor from claiming your YouTube videos requires Whitelisting. Tunecore makes it easy by allowing you to Whitelist your entire YouTube channel at one time. Once your video has been Whitelisted, all of your videos are safe. Both Distrokid and CD Baby handle Whitelisting by manual request per track. Distrokid allows you to make pre-emptive manual requests where you can protect tracks before a Content ID claim. With CD Baby you have to wait to get a Content ID claim and then dispute it to have CD Baby release the claim. Tunecore makes your life easiest here.

Programs

Tunecore Accelerator

You’re automatically opted-in to the Accelerator program when your catalog crosses a qualifying threshold that Tunecore doesn’t disclose. Participating in the Accelerator program allows you to submit pitches to DSPs for feature and playlist placement and grants you access to Spotify’s Discovery Mode. In exchange, Tunecore will take 20% of sales revenue in addition to its annual fee. Learn more about the Accelerator Program

CD Baby Stages

Stages offer the ability to apply for verification on Instagram and TikTok as well as video distribution and removal of their standard distribution fee. This would leave only the 9% revenue share.

Terms

Distrokid has a clause in its terms that empowers it to keep any revenue collected on artists’ behalf that isn’t directly addressed to any particular artist. It’s like a celebrity giving a restaurant $100K to give to its waiters and the owner keeps it because it wasn’t paid to any individual waiter. Only Distrokid has this clause. Tunecore and CD Baby’s terms are harmless.

Take a deeper dive into each distributor by reviewing their Buyer Guides: Distrokid | Tunecore | CD Baby


Distrokid 7% DiscountTunecore 20% DiscountCD Baby 50% Discount
Price$23 Annually | Musician
$39.99 Annually | Musician Plus
$23 Annually | Ultimate
Free + 20% | New Artist
$19.99 Annually | Rising Artist
$35.99 Annually | Breakout Artist
$49.99 Annually | Professional Artists
$10 + 9% of Revenue | Per Release
PercentageKeep 100%
Across all plans
Keep 100%
Across all plans
Keep 100%
Across all plans
ReleasesUnlimited
Across all plans
Unlimited
Across all plans
Unlimited
Across all plans
StoresLimited
Across all plans
Unlimited
Across all plans
Unlimited
Across all plans
New Stores+Store Maximizer: $8 per release annuallyStore Automator
Breakout+
Included
Release DateMusician Plus+ IncludedIncluded
Transaction Fees2.9%
$1 Cap per withdrawal
2.9%
25¢ Cap per withdrawal
Free for Direct Bank Transfer
2.9% Uncapped for Paypal  
Payment Threshold$1$1$10
Artists1 – Musician
2 – Musician Plus
5-100 – Ultimate
1 New Artist
1 Breakout Artist
Unlimited – Professional + $14.99 per artist/Annually
Unlimited
Content ID$5 Per single
$14 Per album
Annually
+ 20% 
20% 30%
Whitelisting Yes – Manual request per video Yes – Covers entire channel No – Manual request post Claim
Split PayRequires a $10 annual Subscription for collaboratorsRequires an $8 annual subscription for collaborators Not provided
UPC Free
Can’t bring your own
Free
Can only bring your own on Professional plan
Free
Bring your own +
Use for Physical & Digital
ISRCFree, Bring your ownFree, Bring your ownFree, Bring your own
Stability ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cancel Removed from stores Removed from stores Stays in stores
Taxes30% Tax Treaty
Subject to withholdings if located in a country without a US Tax Treaty
30% Tax Treaty
Subject to withholdings if located in a country without a US Tax Treaty
30% Tax Treaty 
Subject to withholdings if located in a country without a US Tax Treaty
Custom Label NameNoProfessional Included
Red Flags Terms
May keep lump sum payments distributed to artists.
NoneNone 

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