Thursday, December 7, 2023

Music Distribution Service Comparison: Distrokid vs. Tunecore vs. CD Baby vs. United Masters vs. Ditto

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music distribution service comparison

This is a music distribution service comparison of the top digital distributors on the market: Distrokid vs Tunecore vs. CD Baby vs. United Masters vs Ditto. In the Table, you’ll find quick notes on critical services provided by each distributor. In the details section, we take a closer look and provide more information on how each music distribution service provider operates.

You can access discounts by clicking on the hyperlinked name of each distributor or viewing the links at the end of the comparison. We’ve taken what we feel are the best and most comparable offers of each distributor for this analysis. Distrokid vs Tunecore vs. CD Baby vs. United Masters vs Ditto which distributor has the features you need and the best plan? Let’s find out.

Check individual music distribution service reviews for a full breakdown of each company: Distrokid, Tunecore, CD Baby, United Masters, Ditto

FEATURESDISTROKID Musician Plus – 7% DiscountTUNECORE – BreakOut Plan – 20% DiscountCD BABY – 50% Discount | Promo Code: PUNM23SINGLE or AlbumUNITED MASTERSDITTO
ModelFlat fee
Unlimited
Flat fee
Unlimited
Per release + %Flat fee
Unlimited
Flat fee
Unlimited
Base Price$40$30$10$60$20
PercentageKeep 100%Keep
100%
Keep
91%
Keep
100%*
Keep
100%
Payment Threshold$2$1$10$50$1
StoresLimitedUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
New StoresStore Maximizer
$8 per release annually
IncludedIncludedIncludedIncluded
UPCIncluded
No import
Included
Import
Included
Import+
Included
No Import
Included
Import
ISRCIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncluded
Split PayYes
Payee must have at least a $10 Subscription
Yes
Payee must have at least an $8 Subscription
NoYes
Payee must have their own $60 Subscription
Yes
Free
Cancelation
Non-payment
Removal
Must have Leave-a-Legacy to remain in stores
RemovalRelease doesn’t get removed The release doesn’t get removed Removal
Content IDAnnual fee
Keep 80%
No fee
Keep 80%
No fee
Keep 70%
NoNo fee
Keep 100%
Release DateIncludedIncludedIncludedIncludedIncluded
AdvancesNoTunecore
Advance
NoNoNo
Pre OrdersYesYesYesNoYes
Payment ProviderTipaltiPayoneerBank
Paypal
Bank
Paypal
Bank
WhitelistingYes
Must request the service for each video
Yes
Applies to your entire channel
No
Must dispute Content ID claims
Doesn’t ApplyNo
Transaction Fees2.9%
$1 Cap
2.9%
25¢ Cap
Free for Bank transfer
2.9% for Paypal
$1 per transaction for Bank transfer
2.9% for Paypal
$1 per transaction for Bank transfer
TaxesSubject to Tax TreatySubject to Tax TreatySubject to Tax TreatySubject to Tax TreatySubject to Tax Treaty
PartnershipsNoYesYesYesNo
Red FlagsNoneNoneNoneTermsReputation
Direct DealsUndisclosed YesYesUndisclosed Undisclosed

Music Distribution Service – Direct Deals

There are third-party service providers used by digital distributors to facilitate distribution like Fuga and Revealator. Those companies charge fees for their service and the companies that use them, pass those fees on to their clients. Using one of these distributors results in you getting less than 100% of what you’re owed because you’re paid what remains after those companies are paid.

There are only two music distributors on this list that have communicated that they have direct deals: Tunecore and CD Baby.

Music Distribution Service – Percentage

Without a direct deal, 100% doesn’t really mean 100% so that’s the trick with highlighting what percentage you keep. Additionally, an annual fee works out to be a variable rate percentage of revenue. For example, paying a distributor $30 annually, if you earned $30 that would be 100% of your royalties paid as a fee. Alternatively, if you were to earn $1,000, it would be 3% of your revenue paid as a fee.

UnitedMasters’ Select plan allows artists to keep 100% of their revenue but there’s more to the story. Opportunities to have your music added to Apple Music playlists, used in NBA events, and more are part of their UnitedMasters Exclusives feature. Any artist that has a song selected for a UnitedMasters Exclusive will have to pay an additional 10% of their revenue from that point on. Being a Select plan artist would mean paying 20% of your revenue plus $60 annually so you’d no longer get what you were paying for.

Music Distribution Service – New Stores

My View of a Loser From on Top of The World project was released through CD Baby in 2005. Since then, new stores like Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, and more have been introduced. Had my releases not automatically been distributed to those stores, I would have had to manually add each release to each store. In the case of stores like Tencent and Boomplay, I wouldn’t have even known they existed. A lack of distribution is a lost opportunity for revenue growth and expansion into new markets. 

Distrokid is the only distributor on this list that charges artists a fee for automatic distribution to new stores. In order to access the feature, you must pay an additional annual fee of $8 per release. Three releases would cost you $24 annually on top of the $40 fee for unlimited distribution. 

Music Distribution Service – UPC Codes

All stores provide you with free UPC codes but not all stores allow you to import your own. UPC codes track the activity of your album which concerns the performance of your singles as a body of work. Think of your songs like chapters where each chapter has an ISRC code. The UPC code is the book. Sales of the book are tracked by the UPC code. If you want gold or platinum certification for your album, you’ll need to keep the UPC code intact.

Distrokid and United Masters provide you with free UPC codes but do not allow you to import your own. You can import ISRC codes which allow you to maintain the performance of each chapter while losing the performance of the book. 

CD Baby’s UPC codes have the added benefit of an included scannable barcode that can be printed onto physical products like CDs and vinyl records. 

Music Distribution ServiceSplit Pay 

Distrokid forces each collaborator to have their own subscription in order to receive their split at a discounted rate of $10 annually. 

Tunecore requires collaborators to have a paid subscription or pay $8 annually for a service called “Splits Collaborators”

UnitedMasters requires each collaborator to have their own Select subscription at the full rate of $60 annually. Collaborators without a Select subscription must pay 10% of their revenue split. 

There are no fees for Split Pay with Ditto. 

Music Distribution ServiceCancelation/Non-payment 

Distrokid will remove your music from stores if your credit/debit card cannot be charged. Leave-a-Legacy is a feature that allows you to keep your music in stores even if you cancel or can no longer afford to pay. The cost of Leave-a-Legacy is $29.99 per single or $49.99 per album. An artist would still be required to pay the $35 annual fee to continue to use their Unlimited distribution service. We advise either using a service that Keeps your music in stores forever with a one-time fee, or paying for unlimited distribution, but not both. If you’re looking to pay once and keep your release in stores without sacrificing a percentage of reveue, you might be interested in Emubands.

Tunecore will remove your music from stores if the annual fee isn’t paid. Note, Tunecore can and will charge your account balance instead of a credit/debit card which we think is great. As long as your release continues to generate revenue, it’ll never be removed. 

CD Baby charges an upfront fee for distribution and keeps your music in stores forever. Your music only comes down if you remove it. 

United Masters will remove your music from all stores.

Ditto will remove your releases if a credit/debit card cannot be charged. 

Music Distribution ServiceContent ID 

Content ID pays you for User-Generated-Content on Youtube. If I used one of your songs in a video on Youtube, they’d pay you the revenue generated by that video. The catch is that a channel has to be in the Partner Program for the videos to be monetized. If Youtube creators under the threshold use your music, you earn nothing. Youtube reserves the right to place ads on content no matter if the creator is in the Partner Program or not, but it rarely if ever exercises that right.

Distrokid charges annual fees for Content ID on top of a 20% revenue split. Artists must pay $4.95 per single or $14.85 per album annually. Three albums released through Distrokid would mean paying $15 – $45 in additional fees annually on top of the loss of 20% of your revenue. It doesn’t make any sense to pay a fee for a service you may not make any money from.

All the other options either allow you to keep 100% or take a percentage, but they don’t charge an upfront fee.

Music Distribution ServiceAdvances 

Distrokid offers short-term advances that function like Payday loans minus the absurd interest rates. Spotify payments are delayed by 2-3 months and Distrokid will allow you to receive the payment early. Distrokid has no public requirements for advance payments. It’s seemingly arbitrarily activated across artist accounts they deem worthy. This isn’t what I think of when I think of an advance. I consider an advance to be at least a year’s worth of royalties upfront.

Tunecore Advance allows you to receive an advance on your royalties for up to a number of years. You can get a much larger advance that can be used to invest in a new project or another business endeavor. All artists that earned over $870 in the previous 12 months are eligible for a Tunecore Advance. 

CD Baby offers advances to artists that have progressed to the point of being included in their Stages program. There are no details provided on CD Baby advances. 

UnitedMasters reserves advances for artists on their Partners plan which is Invite Only.  

Music Distribution ServicePre Orders

Distrokid offers Pre-Orders but it’s not a simple-to-use feature. You have to contact Distrokid and have their support team create a Pre-Order for you. Instant Gratification tracks is a feature that allows artists to select a song from their project to be made available immediately to fans that Pre-Order. All distributors on the list that offer Pre-Orders include this feature with the exception of Distrokid.

Tunecore has an exclusive feature that allows artists to have custom pricing for their Pre-Order that differs from the actual price of their project. The Pre-Order could be at a rate of $5 while the project retails for $10, giving a 50% discount to incentivize advanced sales.

Music Distribution ServiceWhitelisting 

Uploading your music videos to Youtube can result in your channel getting a Content ID notice. Lots of artists under the threshold do this as a way to monetize their music without being in the Partner Program. Being in the program means your revenue would be unnecessarily taken and redistributed back to you for a fee. It also means any channel that attempts to use your music will have their revenue taken. Whitelisting allows you to make your channel invisible to Content ID where your videos would never be claimed.

Distrokid allows you to Whitelist your videos, but it has to be done manually for each video you’d like to Whitelist.

Tunecore’s Whitelisting is facilitated at the channel level, where you Whitelist your entire channel and every video you upload is automatically Whitelisted and cleared to keep its revenue.

CD Baby requires you to wait for your video to be Claimed and then dispute the claim and have them release it.

United Masters doesn’t provide Content ID so this doesn’t apply to them.

Ditto allows you to keep 100% of your Content ID revenue so even though they don’t have any information on Whitelisting your videos, it may not matter as much.

Music Distribution ServiceTransaction fees 

Transaction fees are what you to pay to payment facilitators like Paypal to receive your funds. Normally, these companies charge 2.9% + $0.30 to distribute funds to your account. That works out to an additional fee and when uncapped, it can be a pretty significant fee.

Distrokid caps transaction fees at $1 so no matter what, you’ll never pay more than $1 in transaction fees. 

Tunecore caps transaction fees at 25¢ so that’s the maximum amount you’ll pay with Tunecore. 

CD Baby doesn’t charge transaction fees if you’re receiving your funds by Direct transfer to your bank account. However, if you’re receiving your funds by way of PayPal there is an uncapped fee of 2.9% of your revenue. 

UnitedMasters previously covered all transaction fees but no longer does. You are now required to pay the full uncapped 2.9% transaction fee with United Masters unless receiving a Direct bank transfer. 

Ditto caps transaction fees at $1 per transaction. 

Music Distribution ServiceTaxes 

All Distributors based in the United States are required to withhold 30% of the revenue generated by users that reside in countries that do not have a Tax Treaty with the US. All these companies are subject to the tax.

Music Distribution ServiceRed Flags

Red Flags are key issues you’ll find with distribution companies that may be alarming. 

Ditto has somewhat of a poor reputation. I cannot disprove or prove any allegation against them one way or another so this isn’t about what’s true. The point is to simply make you aware of what’s being said by their users. 

Ditto users accuse the distributor of unjustly withholding royalties. The claims largely involve the appearance of streaming fraud which their terms clearly state will result in the withholding of royalties. What can be concerning is users’ details of when their accounts are flagged. Many accuse Ditto of withholding royalties once they’ve generated significant revenue and attempted to withdraw their funds. Though this can appear as if Ditto is keeping the funds, there’s a logical explanation. An account with little activity may fly under the radar and not be detected. Once activity picks up, it gets spotted and flagged. It could be that the system doesn’t trigger a notice until payments are processed. At the end of the day, like the signs that used to be taped to old Arcade games “Play at Your Own Risk”. 

UnitedMasters has a huge Red Flag with their Terms of agreement. Effectively, their terms strip away an artist’s right to control their work. I’ve highlighted the passages I take issue with below. 

You hereby authorize Company to sign each License Agreement on your behalf. 

In the event the Third Party Agreement requires an exclusive license of your Placed Content (as approved by you in accordance with this section), then during the term duration of such Third Party Agreement you will not have the right to grant any other Third Parties any rights in or to such Placed Content.
You shall have the right to approve or disapprove each License Request (approval not to be unreasonably withheld or delayed); provided approval shall be deemed to have been given in the event you fail to notify Company otherwise within three (3) days following the date of Company’s request to you (email notification shall be sufficient for this purpose). You shall not be entitled to withhold your approval in connection with a License Request for financial reasons (e.g., in order to obtain payment of a designated amount). Company’s inadvertent failure to obtain your approval or consent or to consult with you in respect of any matter requiring your approval, consent or consultation shall not be deemed a breach of these Terms.

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