Updated: Nov 9, 2020
So you’ve got new music ready for release, but aren’t sure what to do next. You’ve heard about digital distribution services, your friends all recommend different ones, and the internet can sometimes be a black hole of confusion for things like this. Well I’m here to tell you that they all generally do the same thing, get your music out to the masses, but it’s the how that is what differs from company to company. Some services will be better for your specific needs than others, but they will all help facilitate putting your music in the places it needs to be right now. Here are my top 4 digital distribution outlets compared:
Price – Distrokid is very affordable with your first upload offered for free, and then a straight $19.99 annual fee for unlimited single/album uploads.
Usability – Boasting a super user-friendly interface, even the least tech-savvy of musicians can figure out how to release their own music themselves.
Cool-Factor – Distrokid really “speaks the language” of the current climate of young musicians. Text is often written in a down-to-earth, human way, and can even be funny at times! They accomplish the same things as their competitors while allowing the user to feel understood, simplifying the sometimes-intimidating portal to music distribution.
USP – Distrokid is the first online music distribution service that allows you to easily divide up ownership percentages for songs so the rest of your collaborative team can receive their own royalty payouts. They also seem to be “first to market” with getting music on the newest and trendiest places like TikTok, Instagram Stories, etc.
Customer Service – It’s no easy feat to get in touch with a customer service rep for Distrokid, so you’ve got to make sure your ducks are in a row and everything has been input correctly the first time, or you may have some issues later on.
Troubleshooting – If you end up having some element of your album upload come up as an error, you’ll have to restart the entire process again from the beginning. There is no way to “spot edit” any distribution that has failed for one reason or another (like a copyright flagging after upload for example).
Auto-Renewal – Your account will be automatically renewed at whatever the current rates are. For me personally, I got an unexpected fat fee on my credit card bill when my label account renewed at a much higher rate than I had bought in at during the previous year. So whatever special rates or discounts you signed up with do not carry over, cannot be applied later on, and you cannot (as of now) ever downgrade your account type without having to delete your entire Distrokid existence and start over.
OVERALL REVIEW: With no setup fee and a very straightforward and fair pricing structure overall, Distrokid is my top choice for artists concerned solely about digital distribution being easy, affordable, and fast to all the most commonly used music resources.
Reliability – Little to no technical issues and a super organized dashboard help users to keep track of their uploads and where their music is being streamed and purchased.
Reputation – CDBaby has been around a long time and has a great reputation in the music industry. They care about musicians and were one of the first to market to help solve the indie artist distribution conundrum.
USP – CDBaby has sync/publishing licensing built in to track plays on sites like YouTube, which is a nice benefit and one less thing artists have to worry about! Also being they are the old-school resource for artists needing CD duplications to sell their music, you can still use CDBaby to sell your CDs and vinyl in over 15,000 record stores including big-box retailers like Barnes and Noble and Target.
Price – There is a signup fee and CDBaby retains 9% of your earnings from digital distribution royalties and downloads, and $4 from every CD and vinyl record you sell through them. Prices have also been continuously rising over the years, which may make this platform unsustainable for artists with tighter budgets.
Time-Consuming Distribution – With a distribution checklist a mile long, you’ll need to budget at least an hour to get through the music release process from start to finish on the Pro Tier.
Surprise Fees – Unlike some of their competitors, CDBaby does not include the price for barcode/ISRC services into their release costs and springs it on you later on once you’re effectively in too deep to start over. At $20 a clip, these surprise fees can add up fast.
OVERALL REVIEW: If you care about physical copies being sold along with digital, CDBaby is a reliable company that will get the job done, but at a cost that you must determine if you can afford long-term.
Reputation – TuneCore is another trusted company that has been around many years serving independent musicians. Experiences are generally positive from users, and they are still a big player in the industry.
Analytics – TuneCore offers multiple ways to analyze how your music is doing and where your earnings are coming from, which is a big benefit for artists with a decent-sized fan-base.
USP – In addition to your standard digital distribution services, TuneCore also offers tools toward social media promotion, cover song licensing, fan feedback, and more.
Price – TuneCore is not the cheapest service on the block, but not the worst either. Album distribution will cost you $29.99 the first year, and $49.99 every year thereafter, then it’s $9.99/year for singles, and $19.99/year for ringtones (is that a thing anymore?).
Platform – Compared to its competitors, the TuneCore platform is outdated and not user-friendly. The process has still not been well streamlined, and vague error messages can plague your music uploading existence. Plus you must upload album songs one at a time, which can take up to an hour with no quicker “drag and drop” option available.
Customer Service – With a huge company and very little relative support staff available, you’re looking at weeks to resolve any technical issues with the help of another qualified human being from TuneCore. Help will eventually come, but if you’ve got an urgent matter, you can basically forget about it. And any edits to your uploads aren’t guaranteed to be accommodated, so you’ll likely be starting over in order to make any changes to your releases. Not terribly convenient for the indie artist when time and money are two invaluable resources.
OVERALL REVIEW: TuneCore is great for artists with straight-forward releases planned, offers comprehensive data and analytics to keep track of how your music is doing, but ease of use and price are the sticking points for its current users.
4. Symphonic Distribution
Lots of Services – Symphonic differentiates themselves by providing a plethora of services that are super valuable for the indie artist like playlist pitching, mailers, licensing, video monetization, branding, piracy protection and more.
Company Promise – Symphonic guarantees that your music will earn money through working with them as a result of their superior distribution and partnered music platforms. It seems like a lot to live up to, but with a high customer rating across the vast depths of the internet, it seems like they are doing just that!
Large Infrastructure – With a large list of partners to help get your music heard, Symphonic can offer you some special marketing advantages that their competitors currently don’t.
USP – Symphonic is pretty cutting edge when it comes to what they do and how they approach music distribution for their artists. They have an application process that gives you free initial setup if approved, and are very innovative in their features, which are offered on an “a la carte” basis for you to choose what you need most with your release.
Price– With a very high royalty rate of 15%, distribution of your music on this platform does come with a high pricetag.
Exclusivity – Unlike its competitors, not just anyone can sell music through the Symphonic platform. An application process stands between you and their distribution opportunities.
Payout Schedule – While other companies offer quick payouts often under a week at a time, Symphonic falls behind with only once a month payments for their artists.
OVERALL REVIEW: If you’re in need of any of the competitive and valuable services Symphonic uniquely offers to artists, you’ll definitely want to consider this growing platform. But you’ve got to be an artist that does or is ready to do serious numbers to afford the costs associated with being accepted to distribute through them.
Christine Elise Occhino (@XtineElise) is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for the music business. In addition to being a vocalist herself, she is the Founder & CEO of Lock City Music Group, offering artist services, recording studios, and professional music education. She is also the proud Founder & Executive Director of Hope in Harmony, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that uses music to help and heal those in need. Christine is a member of the Grammy Recording Academy, the American Society of Composers, Authors, & Publishers, and Berklee College of Music Alumni Association. She has experience speaking on many music industry panels, has been a contributing writer for music business publications for over a decade, and also currently hosts the music-based web series & podcast, Soundbytez. For more about Christine, visit XtineElise.com.