Monday, September 9, 2013

Digital Music Distribution: Start [Here].

20 years ago, the only way to get your music distributed worldwide was to be picked up by a label. Essentially, your success was directly related to how profitable you looked to somebody else. These days, thanks to various online distributors like CDBaby, TuneCore, ReverbNation, Ditto Music, Bandcamp, and others, the indie artist has a little more say in how far their music will go.

I was chatting with a spoken word artist recently about CDBaby (which costs to join) and Bandcamp (which is free to join). After explaining that Bandcamp doesn't distribute music to digital partners nor collect royalties she considered ending her relationship with Bandcamp, which I thought was a bad idea. Though I have music on CDBaby, I also have music on BandcampSoundcloud, and ReverbNation. I believe music should be shared and if the platform is free to use, why not use?

All of these distributors are tools. Some of the tools can help get your music to digital retail stores like iTunes and Spotify. Some can help you collect performance royalties. Some can help you get placed on pop music charts and some can help you build relationships with fans. In this post, I'm going to try to break down the basic differences among a few well known digital music distributors. The best one for you depends on your artistic and financial goals. But whatever the destination, info is a good thing to have on the way.

CDBaby: distributes music to over 60 digital partners for a flat rate per album. They don't have an annual fee, but they take a higher commission on sales. With the CDBaby Pro option, the company will collect international performance royalties on your music. Through CDBaby Pro, they'll sign you up for a Performance Rights Organzation (ASCAP/BMI) if you're not already a member. CDBaby is a smaller company, so they're a little more friendly. I'd say that for monetization purposes, no matter what level of artist you are, it's one of the best ways to go.

TuneCore: distributes music to around 30 digital partners for an annual fee. With the TuneCore Publishing option, the company will collect international performance royalties on your music. TuneCore is probably better for artists who put out albums frequently: they save money by not having to pay to post each album or single. TuneCore is a larger company and over the years, their pricing has changed, which has turned some customers off, but it's still one of the best companies for monetization. From what I've seen, artists are either for CDBaby or for TuneCore, but they both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Here's a chart from Ari that shows the breakdown of fees for CDBaby Pro vs TuneCore Publishing.
Read full article at

Reverb Nation: In my opinion, Reverb Nation falls under the "social networking" cluster of music sharing. The company does not collect royalties, but it does distribute to around 40 digital retail stores for an annual fee. Reverb is great for creating widgets, creating and selling merch, and interacting with artists and fans, but I wouldn't pay them for digital distribution. I think the company can be a great tool for building an online reputation and learning about what other artists are doing. Many of my fans have found me through ReverbNation. Apparently, a lot of cool kids hang out there.

Here's a chart that compares how ReverbNation pricing compares to CDBaby and Tunecore
Courtesy of

Bandcamp: is a favorite among a lot of indie artists because artists can post and sell tons of music for free. There is no digital distribution or royalty collection, but in my opinion, it's one of the most fan-friendly digital distributors out there. Artists have more creative freedom regarding the look of their page, can embed players on a website, and can provide download codes and promotional materials easily. There's even a nifty option for fans to choose their own price or "tip" artists. Bandcamp is also useful for selling merch. Though they lag on the digital distribution front, their direct-to-fan and social networking capabilities are the shit.

Ditto Music: allows indie artists to create their own label and serves as a distributor to digital retail stores. The company is kind of a pioneer in the indie revolution, creating over 6,000 labels for artists while 11 of their artists have achieved top 40 status in the UK without being signed. Ditto Music partnered with VEVO to monetize indie music videos and works to provide artists with opportunities outside of digital distribution. This distributor is good for promotion and chart placement, but their likelihood of resulting in monetization is really dependent on the artists' savvy, working their label, chart placement, and mammoth distribution.  I'd say that Ditto Music is probably more helpful for the financially established artist who knows how to pimp the system.

So what's the verdict you ask? Again, it depends on your goals. For monetization, CDBaby or TuneCore seem to be crowd favorites. For promotion, and distribution, a CDBaby/TuneCore with Bandcamp combo can be helpful for both musicians and fans. ReverbNation is junky, but interactive, and Ditto Music can get you on the UK charts. Also, not mentioned in this blog post are Mondo Tunes, Songcast, and ADEDistribution. That's because I don't know anything about them.

What digital music distributors have you used? What have been your experiences? 

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