CD Baby vs DistroKid - Which Distribution Service is King?

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CD Baby and DistroKid have often been pitted against each other as two of the industry's leading music aggregators. But is either one truly superior? Should you sign up with the older CD Baby despite the “steep” upfront fees? Or should you go for DistroKid’s one time payment of $20 per year? And will this decision actually help you become as prolific as you want?

Before we dive in, you should know that this article is a 100% independent review. I am neither an affiliate of CD Baby or DistroKid, and receive no kickback from recommending one over the other. So rest assured that everything you read in this article is entirely unbiased.

Also, if you'd like to learn about other distribution services in addition to CD Baby and DistroKid, we cover a more exhaustive comparison of the top 10 distributors in our article: How To Make Money As A Musician In 2023.

What Is a Music Aggregator?

First things first, what is an aggregator? And how is it different from a distributor? The terms "aggregator" and "distributor" are often used interchangeably, and that's fine for the most part. Although it's good to know that "full-service distributors" focus on physical and digital releases, while the primary goal of an aggregator is to help artists get their music on digital music services.

CD Baby and DistroKid are music aggregators, that help independent artists submit their music to streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. Although there are now over a dozen such music aggregators, CDBaby and DistroKid remain the most popular choices for their ease of use, affordability, and familiarity with their user interfaces.

This doesn’t mean they’re identical to one another. There are plenty of differences.

Let’s try and settle these distinctions by focusing on the good, the bad, and the ugly that CD Baby and DistroKid possess. And as an added bonus, just in case you're not sold on either, we'll throw in a little bit of info on TuneCore as an alternative between these two.

Alright! Let’s dive in and find the best music aggregator to help you get your music featured on Spotify and Apple Music.

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CD Baby Review

A Look At The Firstborn Music Aggregator

First, let’s take a look at CD Baby. CD Baby has been around longer than most of the music aggregators today. In fact, they were the pioneers of online independent music production that allowed unsigned artists to create their own label and release songs for the world to hear.

One reason why independent musicians are wary of using CD Baby’s services is the upfront fee per single or album released. There’s also the 9% cut CD Baby takes out of the revenue produced by each single or album.

But, CD Baby also has a myriad of products and services that they provide to their subscribers. There are physical and digital products, and they can also handle shipping or other forms of delivery to your audience.

In short, CD Baby becomes your marketing and manufacturing arm so you can concentrate on what matters the most, creating music.

CD Baby Pricing

When it comes to CD Baby pricing, there are no annual fees attached to the music aggregator’s services. What you have instead are upfront fees of $4.99 per single or album.

Here’s a breakdown of what it really costs to partner with CD Baby:

CD Baby Standard - $4.99 per single or album with a UPC barcode included in the price. Upgrading to pro is optional.

CD Baby Pro - $24.99 per single or album with a UPC barcode included in the price. If you previously submitted your single or album as a standard release, you can upgrade it to pro by paying the extra $20.

The benefits you can get by upgrading to pro is explained further in the next section.

CD Baby earns 9% commission from all the download and streaming revenues. Additionally, they also get a $4 cut from your physical sales. The most money they can get from you as an artist is through collections made from YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. CD Baby gets a 30% cut on the revenue generated from these DSPs. So it is in their best interest to push you as a product to as many venues as possible to maximize the percentages they can collect. In the end it’s a win-win situation.

CD Baby Standard vs Pro

You Need Money to Make Money

CD Baby has two categories for releases: Standard and Pro.

The difference between the two is $20. Where you pay $4.99 for standard single or standard album releases, you’ll need to pay $24.99 for the Pro release.

What this gives you, on top of all the basic goodies found in standard releases is worldwide publishing royalty collection and direct song registration with global royalty collection societies.

This is great for artists with multi-cultural or global appeal. An artist based in the US can collect royalties from, say, Chinese audiences if their song is streamed on their music platform.

In conclusion, you’ll have to shell out more for the potential of earning more. This is not advisable for artists who have a very limited reach or vision about their career.

Who Should Use CD Baby?

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CD Baby is best for entrepreneurial artists who want to do more than just release music online. CD Baby can cater to the production of physical merchandise in the form of CDs, Vinyl, and other accessories.

As a distribution company, CD Baby can handle the business side of things for you to ensure your music reaches your intended audience or customer.

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DistroKid Review

Is DistroKid worth It?

On the surface level, DistroKid is better than CDBaby. Their main selling point: an unlimited number of song uploads at $20 annual fee. In short, you can be as prolific as you want to be which supports their tagline: “Be Prolific”.

But is it really possible for DistroKid not to charge you anything else aside from $20?

Digging deeper, we found out that DistroKid has a bunch of hidden fees that might shock you.

For starters, that $20 is a recurring annual fee. If you want to earn money from being included in a YouTube video, you’ll have to pay $4.95 per single and $14.95 per album.

Do you want your music to instantly be recognizable through the app Shazam? Shell out another $.099 per single. Just multiply that amount for every single featured in your album.

Let’s say a future digital streaming platform becomes popular 5 years after you’ve originally released your music, if you want to be featured on there too, you’d have to pay another $7.95 per release.

So, yes, DistroKid may seem affordable at first but being prolific does have a price tag attached to it.

So then, is DistroKid the best?

No. This is a matter of preference.

DistroKid has redeeming qualities like royalty splitting which CDBaby and other free music distribution platforms provide. Another thing, artists get to keep 100% of their royalties. There’s also less of a hassle when splitting the payment between artists collaborating on a release.

Automatic payment schemes are provided wherein the original creator or producer gets paid first before the other collaborators. So, you get to recoup all of your expenses before everyone else gets a share of the pie.

Add the fact that Spotify has minor stakes in the company, you know that there’s a huge potential for growth with DistroKid in the future.

Who Should Use DistroKid?

If you have a large body of work and can consistently churn out songs on a regular basis, then DistroKid is for you. Just remember that you have to maintain a certain number of releases and regain profit to justify the annual fee that DistroKid asks for.

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If handing over a percentage of your royalties to a music aggregator sounds iffy to you, then you're better off with DistroKid. With DistroKid, you keep 100% of your earnings.

If you’re really that serious about your career as a musician and you’re willing to put in the work that will produce hundreds of songs, DistroKid is your best bet. It will also help you get your music to Spotify and Apple Music the quickest, not to mention other places like Amazon, Tidal, and YouTube.

In the end, succeeding with DistroKid is a numbers game. If you take their brand motto “Be prolific” to heart, you can be on your way to a boatload of well-deserved, hard-earned money.

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TuneCore Review

Is Tunecore Better than Cd Baby and Distrokid

Despite not being as popular as CD Baby and DistroKid, TuneCore is actually regarded as a favorite amongst independent musicians. TuneCore is as easy to use as DistroKid. Whereas CD Baby has a lot to offer which might make it confusing for some independent artists, TuneCore provides a clean layout that has all the tools you need to release your music.

Among the three, TuneCore is more convenient as it also has an app.

The only downside to TuneCore is that it is so similar to DistroKid that it also copied the other music aggregator’s notoriety for hidden fees that could surprise you in the long run.

Final Thoughts

Decision, decisions.

If you'd like information on additional music distribution services, we cover a more exhaustive list in our article: How To Make Money As A Musician In 2023.

However among these 3, DistroKid looks like the best option for struggling independent, and talented musicians looking for a way to release their music. The only problem is, those hidden costs can quickly pile up and overwhelm the artist.

On the other hand, CD Baby may seem cost restrictive at the start but a quick look at their products and services and you’ll realize it was all worth the money spent.

Lastly, TuneCore still leaves a lot to be desired in terms of products, services, and other key features that will make it a solid contender in the music aggregator industry.

And to answer the question posted above, CD Baby and DistroKid can put your music on Spotify and Apple Music as they are considered preferred partners by the digital streaming platform.

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