How To: Pick the Right Distribution Company
As the music industry continues to evolve, independent artists are making more and more noise in mainstream music. As an independent artist, it’s essential to find the right distribution company to upload your music to streaming platforms. There are many companies that assist you in putting your music out worldwide. All distribution companies have certain characteristics that distinguish them from one another, which is why it’s necessary to find the one that works best for you. Each company comes with certain positives, however, there are also negatives that could possibly affect you and your career. Here, I’ve laid out significant pros and cons that come with each service as well as my analysis of why one may work better than the other for the project you plan to drop.
-You keep absolutely all of the sales made from your project.
-TuneCore has an administrative publishing arm which will help track down your songwriter royalties (TuneCore Publishing) which is great because you won’t have to go through the hassle of getting in touch with songwriters or producers in order to give them their cut for whatever they contributed to your project.
-TuneCore offers advances (money) for future revenue projections (this can help fund future projects e.g. studio time, mixing, etc). They will literally pay for you to make music if you have already had an account with them for two years, and if you are able to bring in an above average amount of streams.
-TuneCore offers physical distribution on top of digital distribution which means they can distribute actual CD’s and vinyls for anyone who wants a physical copy to slap in the whip.
-They offer mixing and mastering services for a better/cleaner sounding song for as little as $10 a track.
-TuneCore charges a fee for adding new streaming/distribution outlets like iTunes, Spotify etc. if you don’t add them to your original order. Either pay $2 per outlet or an additional $10 per release to automatically add all new outlets (streaming platforms).
-There are no mechanisms in place to help new artists. For example they offer no marketing support, playlist plugging, etc. which can be very helpful to new artists because it can get them discovered by a bigger audience.
-TuneCore doesn’t provide updated notifications as you work with their platform to upload music, they only send a notification when everything is fully uploaded.
-Fees include a $9.99 charge for each single if you want to upload it individually, and $29.99 fee for an album upload (covers the album being live on platforms for a year). After that first year it costs $49.99 a year. There is also a 5-year option which costs $207.
-TuneCore’s music publishing fee is $75.00. On top of the upfront cost, they also charge a 15% overall commision fee and 20% sync commission fee for services that are generally offered for free with other distro companies. The added service you pay for includes them collecting your royalties for you and providing sync pitching where they pitch your songs for placement in TV, movies, and more (this is offered for free on CD Baby).
My Professional Analysis: TuneCore’s high prices aren’t worth paying for the stated pros above. Money adds up and next thing you know, you’ll go broke trying to get rich. The only real positive is that you get to keep 100% of your sales. In my opinion, they don’t have enough pros for me to be paying about $50+ dollars a year just on uploading music.
-The cost is only $19.99 a year. You only have to pay this fee once annually and you can upload as much music as you want. Compared to other companies this is a small price to pay for unlimited uploads.
-You keep absolutely all sales revenue made from streams.
-DistroKid gives discounts!! Which is great if you’re on a budget… or not. They often offer promotional deals like 20% off sign-up fees and more, so keep a lookout.
-Unlike TuneCore, users receive an email with updates on every step of the way until songs are successfully uploaded to Spotify, iTunes, etc. This keeps you updated on the process and how long it will take to upload your music. It’s also helpful because you’ll know when your music is fully uploaded so you can properly promote it on social media, and more.
-You have the ability to download the songs you’ve uploaded. DistroKid stores everything you upload, and if you need to download the wav/mp3 file of your song because your hard drive crashed, you can log into your account and download it. It’s a great back-up plan if you’ve lost or lose files!
- They give an option to pay a one-time legacy fee of $30 which means your music is live on streaming platforms forever (you won’t have to pay any annual fees to make sure your music is still live).
-They charge a $0.99 fee per year per release for your music to show up on Shazam, which is a FREE addition with ALL other services. Also, DistroKid doesn’t disclose up front that this is not included for the yearly price. If you distribute an album of 10 songs, it will cost you an additional $10/year for that album to show up on Shazam. Why is Shazam important? As an up-and-coming artist trying to gain engaged listeners you want to have access to Shazam so people can identify your music if they just happen to hear it playing somewhere and don’t know the name or artist. It is definitely a great tool to have.
-There is no administrative publishing partner to help collect songwriter royalties for you, which means you have to do it yourself (other sites offer this service).
-They automatically remove previously uploaded music if you stop paying the yearly fee of $19.99 and if you opt out of the $30 legacy fee option.
My Professional Analysis: I’ve used DistroKid in the past and I believe it’s the right company for me. They keep you updated on everything pertaining to your music, and sales. The prices are nice and cheap for the essentials you need which is really just being able to upload as much music you want and getting to keep all of your sales. Even though some of the extra options that come along with it are a bit pricey (still not as much as TuneCore), they’re worth it in the long run and their pricing options make up for what they are lacking by not offering some other services (sync, publishing, etc.).
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-No yearly fees and you pay just $9.95 a single (each individual song), and $50 for an album (usually seven songs or more). This means a one-time fee and your music is live forever. Other distro sites usually make you keep paying fees annually to have your music stay up on the various platforms you choose.
-They collect the money made off of your projects (royalties) and give them to you either via check (there is a $103 minimum balance for checks to be distributed), PayPal, or EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer). To get paid, artists just have to sign up for SoundExchange, which is an organization that distributes your royalties for you so you won’t have to go through the hassle of tracking down producers, songwriters, etc. to pay them their share of the royalties.
-They offer physical distribution which means they can distribute CD’s and vinyls for anyone who wants a physical copy to slap in the whip.
-CD Baby offers promotion services to get your music to fans who could potentially be interested in you. For example, they promote (via pitching music to podcasts, blogs, etc.) to people who are into the genre of music you make.
-They give free sync licensing! This means they pitch to companies to license your music for commercials, tv shows, games, movies and YouTube channels, all of which get you paid.
-You don’t get to keep 100% of your sales, they charge a 9% commission fee that goes to them, you keep the remaining 91%.
– You have to pay $10 for a each single uploaded or $50 for an album which is very pricey compared to other companies.
-The bigger audience you have and the more money you make from streams, the more you have to pay CD Baby.
My Professional Analysis: CD Baby offers great services, one of the best being free promotion. Although their prices don’t seem as reasonable as some of the other distro sites, and you don’t get to keep all of your hard-earned cash, it may be the right company for you due to the extra promotional specials, if you don’t mind paying the price.
-No annual fee — they just take five percent of whatever you make in streams.
-Stem offers the ability to edit (in terms of mixing/mastering) songs that are already distributed (uploaded) without having to take down and redistribute the songs.
-Stem gives data on how much money you’ve earned from streams. This is a great tool for indie artists to track their progress.
-Stem handles splits for you. Meaning they will handle the pay out of any earnings that need to be distributed to other people involved on your project for you. For example, they can split the overall earnings from a song with a producer or songwriter who were also involved in making it.
-They have a payment threshold of $50 which means you have make at least that much in order for them to pay you your streaming revenue. They also make you put an initial $50 in your Stem account as collateral in case your music doesn’t meet that minimum.
-It’s invite only! If you don’t have a invite you have to fill out a form telling the company about yourself and then they approve or decline your request to upload music through them.
-They only distribute music to 12 outlets and streaming platforms. And they don’t distribute to Asia.
-There’s no administrative publishing partner to help you collect your songwriter or producer royalties which means you have to do it yourself.
My Professional Analysis: Although they can offer convenient services like edits (mixing/mastering) and splitting earnings with others, their cons outweigh the pros in my opinion. Even though there isn’t an upfront annual fee like other sites, they are still taking five percent of your overall earnings and making you front a $50 fee just to get access to your streaming sales which doesn’t seem reasonable. The invite-only aspect as well as the rest of the cons just make the company unappealing… but hey if you’re down, go right ahead, every artist is different.
In order to build exposure as an independent artist, producer or songwriter, distribution companies are vital to helping gain access to larger fan bases. Although most distro companies may seem almost identical to one another, each has its own pros and cons which cater to different peoples’ needs. Every artist has different needs, therefore certain companies are more ideal for certain types of artists. All companies require funds (as seen in the pros and cons above) in exchange for exposure; the more money you put into your own career the greater the chance of more exposure.