If you want to sell your music on as many different stores and platforms as possible, then you must distribute it.
Distribution is more efficient and affordable than it’s ever been. There are many services to choose from, and while most of them are comparable, they aren't exactly the same. This makes it difficult to know what company to go with.
Here are several things you need to think about when choosing a music distribution company.
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How Many Apps, Stores & Platforms The Distribution Company Sends Your Music Out To
Have you ever signed up with a company that charged a lot for their services and got promised the moon? I know I have.
As a self-published author, new opportunities regularly come knocking on my door. Many of them are made to sound promising, but you dig a little deeper only to find they aren’t legit, they don’t have the connections they say they do, or they don’t get your product on as many shelves (digital and physical) as they claim to.
Now, one should never confuse distribution for marketing, which are two very different things. Distribution is merely the process of placing your product where it’s visible. Marketing is the process of drawing attention to that product, and by default that responsibility falls into your own lap.
But we still don’t want you paying for services that don’t get you results. Fortunately, there aren’t many differences in this regard. Whether you go with CD Baby, Loudr, Ditto Music, or TuneCore, they will get you music distributed to all major outlets like iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, among others.
While companies like CD Baby, DistroKid, ReverbNation and TuneCore will get your music out to 90+ outlets, Ditto Music, MondoTunes, and Symphonic claim to distribute it to 200+ outlets. There are other factors to be mindful of (keep reading), but it is worth noting that Loudr will only distribute to six or seven outlets.
How Much Material You’re Releasing On A Regular Basis
If you’re only putting out one or two releases per year (or less), then a proven company like CD Baby or TuneCore should serve you well.
But what if you’re more prolific? What if you’re constantly releasing new singles, EPs, and full-length albums?
One of the cool things about DistroKid is that you can release unlimited songs for just $19.99 annually. Loudr and MondoTunes also offers a similar service. There is no upfront cost for signing up with Loudr, but they only distribute to seven outlets. And they also take a higher commission than any company on your sales (15% for originals, 30% for covers). MondoTunes is considerably more expensive at $39.99, and their commission fees are also substantial at 10%.
Still, if you’re recording and releasing a lot of music on a regular basis, then one of these services may serve you better than CD Baby or TuneCore, where you will pay a fee every time you distribute new music through them.
Distribution Costs, Membership Fees & Add-On Services
As you’ve already seen, fees can vary significantly from one company to another.
Loudr, for example, doesn’t charge a signup fee, but will charge a hefty commission on songs you sell. And, by the way, CD Baby, Loudr, and MondoTunes all take a commission (from 9% to 30%).
CD Baby lets you set up an iTunes pre-order for free, while some companies don’t offer this service, and others charge as much as $100 for it (namely TuneCore).
Something else to think about is annual fees. CD Baby, Loudr and Symphonic don’t charge a yearly fee to utilize their service. Some organizations, like DistroKid and MondoTunes, will give you the ability to distribute unlimited songs for a flat fee. Most other companies charge ongoing annual fees.
In an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to pay to keep your membership, but there’s always a tradeoff – you could end up getting gouged with commission fees if you go with a company that doesn’t charge an annual premium.
Fees and costs shouldn’t necessarily be deterrents for signing up with a specific company. But if you find they are overcharging, they may not be the best fit for you.
The Company’s Overall Reputation
This needs to factor into your decision – how could it not?
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go with a certain distributor just because a few musicians are whining about them. But I am going to suggest that you take some time to look at online reviews. Take it all with a grain of salt, but allow it to factor into your compass.
You must keep in mind that every company has dropped the ball at one point or another. Many organizations learn from their mistakes. But even if you come across one that doesn’t, you don’t stand to lose too much. You can simply distribute your following release with a different company.
Note: MondoTunes, Ditto Music, and TuneCore do not have the best of reputations, all for different reasons. MondoTunes is sometimes quick to bash other distribution companies, and TuneCore charges a lot for extended distribution. Meanwhile, Ditto Music may not have the best customer service, and I’ve also heard they are either late in paying royalties or are not paying at all!
There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong here.
I’ve been with CD Baby for the entirety of my career, and haven’t experienced any issues with them. Royalty collection and reporting is slow, but I would imagine that’s the same for all companies.
DistroKid is a service I’m likely to utilize as I ramp up my music production, but I will probably only use it for singles and maybe digital-only EPs.
Ditto Music also sounded appealing to me until I found out about some of their shortcomings, like not paying artists. Too bad – they do offer some of the goods that appeal to me (i.e. distributing music to 200+ outlets).
For most artists, CD Baby, TuneCore, and DistroKid are some of the best options. If you don’t want anything to go wrong with your upcoming release, or waste any time, stick to these companies.
If you’re feeling adventurous, or for some reason you want to check out other services, be my guest. You’ve been warned.