CD Baby vs DistroKid: Music Distribution & Royalties
This article’s main focus is on Cd Baby vs Distrokid and which distributor is better for musicians.
Both CD Baby and Distrokid are music distributors, meaning their primary purpose is to get musician’s music on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music, Deezer, Google Play, Tik Tok etc and collect payment from those platforms.
I wrote this article because when I was researching which distributor to use to launch my folk rap album, I found the information out there to be scattered and misleading in that it didn’t paint the full picture for an independent artist.
If you’re simply looking for the short answer, what I ended up going with was this:
However, that isn’t right for every musician’s situation.
I’ll have to zoom out a bit before we dive into a direct comparison of Cd Baby vs Distrokid, but stay with me and I promise you it will be worth it.
Note: This article is written from the perspective of an independent musician who both writes and performs their own music. Whether that same situation applies to you or not, the information is basically the same. The differences my be that your label worries about all this for you or you may not be entitled to certain royalties if you only play cover songs etc. Regardless though, it is good to understand the big picture music industry no matter your situation. Let’s dive in to the world of music royalties.
CD Baby vs Distrokid Pricing
What I found most frustrating, is that most reviews of Cd Baby vs Distrokid focused on the different yearly fees that each distributor charges. To begin, the prices on each platform vary widely depending on which option you choose.
HOWEVER, the difference between the two is like $50 at most. That difference is completely negligible when you factor it into the big picture of the royalties you are entitled to and the commissions that each service takes. There are differences between CD Baby and Distrokid that could cost you $1000’s in future revenue.
What I’m saying is, if you’re trying to be the next Biebs, I wouldn’t evaluate these services with the idea of saving ten bucks as the most important criteria. But yes, I feel you, immediate price is a factor so we will touch on it now before we go deeper on distrokid vs cdbaby.
The base package of Distrokid is a yearly fee for $19.99 and you get unlimited uploads and get to keep 100% of your royalties. That is by far the cheapest option and the option you should go with if all you are trying to do is throw some songs up on streaming services for fun.
However, if you are trying to make music your career – you are most likely going to want to pay for some of the add ons and extra services that Distrokid has to offer.
As a Distrokid user, I will tally up the price in terms of the services I chose:
What I Actually Pay for Distrokid
I upgrade from the $19.99 standard Distrokid membership to the $35.99 Musician Plus account
I pay for the musician plus account. It gives you better analytics, you can customize your label name, release date, preorder date and iTunes pricing. So you don’t NEED it, but ya kinda do.
Shazam & Siri Recognition
Distrokid charges $0.99 cents per song so that people can shazam and ask siri what your song is. The price of this can add up if you’re releasing tons of music, but you can pick on a song by song basis to apply and pay for this feature.
So. let’s say on average you do it for 10 songs every year. $9.90
Distrokid Store Maximizer
Distrokid charges $7.95 a year (per album) for store maximizer. Distrokid’s store maximizer option means Distrokid will automatically add any of your past music to new stores and streaming services that comes into existence after you’ve released. You could probably forgo this, but I figured it’s best to let them stay on top of this in case a new platform comes out of nowhere.
So In total, if I’m releasing an album I am going to pay:
(35.99+9.90+7.95)= $53.84 every year.
That’s not exactly cheap, but again, if you’re trying to have music pay for your house, it’s a drop in the bucket. Also, here is 7% off your first year of Distrokid.
Other Distrokid Add Ons
There are a few other add-ons that I don’t use.
$12 per cover song license
Distrokid will take care of getting you the license so that you can distribute a song that isn’t yours. This is awesome. If I ever do release a cover song, I will use it.
Distrokid YouTube Monetization
This costs $4.95 per single a year or $14.95 per album a year. With this service Distrokid will add your songs to YouTube’s Content ID library and then scan for matches. That means if anyone uses any of your songs as background music in their video you will get a portion of the ad revenue on that video. This is something you absolutely should do. However, Distrokid takes 20% of the YouTube royalties they find and collect.
There is a cheaper option called Songtrust that will collect your YouTube money for 15%, If you go with Distrokid, you’ll need Songtrust for other helpful services like collecting all your songwriter royalties. We will get into Songtrust later in this article.
DistroKid Leave A Legacy Option
You can choose to pay a one time fee of $29 per single or $49 per album and Distrokid will leave your album up forever in case of a lapsed credit card payment… or your death.
Sounds pretty good, but the only thing is that if you voluntarily decide that you want to leave Distrokid and stop paying the yearly fee they will still take your music down. So the leave a legacy option is really only protection if you die (and no one continues to pay your fees) or your credit card on file expires.
This is kind of a bullshit way to try and lock you into the yearly fee for life. It’s the one thing I very much dislike about Distrokid. It was almost enough to make me not use them. But as you’ll see there are reasons why I still use distrokid vs CD baby or other music publishers.
Also, you aren’t locked into the yearly fee for life. If you want to stop paying the yearly fee, you can always transfer and host your songs to another distributor in the future. The play counts will remain the same and everything will remain up. So, you’re not truly locked in you just have to go through the hassle and cost of switching.
CDBaby charges a one time ‘pay per upload’ fee for each single or album and takes a 9% commission on digital sales. Here are CDbaby’s prices:
- $9.95 for a standard single
- $29.95 for a pro single
- $23.20 for a standard album
- $55.20 for a pro album
CD Baby’s pricing is a little more straight forward in terms of fees you directly pay.
‘Pay as you upload’ is a good thing if you hate the idea of having to pay a yearly subscription fee. Pay as you upload is a bad thing if you plan to release a lot of music. For example, if you plan to release a single each month it would likely be cheaper to go with Distrokid.
CDBaby Pro Option Includes Admin Publishing
If you go with CD Baby, you are going to want to go with the Pro Options as it includes administrative publishing services. We’ll get more into “admin publishing” later, but it basically means that CD Baby will go out and collect your royalties from more services than Distrokid. However, you can pair Distrokid with SongTrust to get the same results.
The CDbaby Pro option is very enticing and I almost went with CDBaby. I like the idea of a 1 time payment and bundling almost everything under 1 roof so you don’t have to have a few separate accounts.
However, I couldn’t give up that 9% commission. That could be 1000s of dollars if a song blows up. Also, digging more I learned the true cost of these extra services by comparing CD Baby Pro vs Distrokid combined with Songtrust.
CDBaby vs Distrokid Pricing Summary
If you’re just going off what you have to shell out in order to get (and keep) your music out there it goes like this:
Assuming you’re releasing more than 1 single, the cheapest option is Distrokid’s standard plan for $19.99 a year. But I don’t recommend that unless you’re a hobbyist who only wants your music on services to show your friends and that’s it.
If you just want most of your basis covered, don’ plan to release music at regular intervals, and don’t care much about commissions go with CD Baby Pro. It’s the one time fee + commissions that cover a lot of what we’ll go over below.
Before you decide on Cdbaby vs Distrokid, I still strongly recommend you read the rest of the article (at least the next couple sections) before you pick your music distributor.
It’s worth noting at this point that both CDbaby and Distrokid will distribute your music to virtually every store you could ever hope. So there’s no real need to compare there.
CDBaby vs Distrokid: Digital Sales & Streams Commission
Digital Sales and streams are what most people think of now-a-days when you think of “making money from music.”
It’s what Spotify, Apple, Amazon and all the other streaming/downloading services pay when someone buys or streams your song.
Now, when someone buys your song from a major store, your distributor doesn’t get all of the revenue. Generally, the store platforms take around 30%. Ex: Sell a song for a $1 on iTunes and iTunes pays out about $.70 to collection parties.
CD Baby vs Distrokid: Download Commissions
The deal breaker between CDBaby and Distrokid is that CDBaby takes 9% of digital sales and streams and Distrokid doesn’t take a commission.
It doesn’t matter which tier you choose on either platform. Distrokid gives you 100% of the money they receive from digital streams and downloads. CDBaby gives you 91%.
If your song is pulling in some serious streams or downloads that 9% commission can really cost you. Even, if you’re only seeing minor success and making $1000 a year, that’s still an extra $90 a year you’re not getting by using CDbaby as opposed to Distrokid. Bring that to $100k a year and that’s an extra $9000 you’re paying by going with CDBaby.
That is why I chose to go with Distrokid. Here is a link with a Distrokid discount so that you can do the same: Get 7% of Distrokid
However, if you sign up for Distrokid you are still missing out on royalty streams, particularly publishing. Some of those royalties, like publishing, CDBaby would have collected for you (hence the extra cost). However, you can still collect those royalties for cheaper if you pair Distrokid with a few more services.
Sign up for Distrokid and then come back and finish this article so that you can make the max amount of money from your music.
CDbaby vs Distrokid who’s better at collecting sales and streams? – DISTROKID in that they give you 100% of your earnings.
Types Of Music Royalties (Beyond Music Distribution)
To better understand which music distributor is right for you and how to maximize your music career, you first need a basic understanding of the different types of music royalties you can earn and how they can be collected.
This information is going to be a bit much if this is the first time you are diving into this. I’ve simplified as best I can, but the music industry is notoriously confusing. But don’t worry about it. You’ll get it.
Your understanding should all come together at the end, but even if you only grasp half, you’ll understand more than most artists and be able to truly make an informed decision not only on CD Baby vs Distrokid, but on a lot of other business decisions that have to do with your music career.
An important concept to keep in mind when reading over these royalty types is that every song has two copyrights. One is for the recorded song that you actually hear (The Master) and one is for the song as if it were written down on a piece of paper (The Composition). Record labels, artists and producers generally own The Master. Publishing Companies and Songwriters generally own The Composition.
Today, if you are an independent musician who writes and records your own songs without a publishing company or record label you own 100% of both copyrights.
Another important thing to note is that almost all of these terms and royalty systems were setup long ago when the music industry was very different. There were clear lines between songwriters and artists, you basically had to be signed, and no one dreamed you could ever record a piece of music in your bedroom.
Here are the different types of music royalties and which services and agencies are in charge of collecting them.
Mechanical Royalties – CDBaby vs Distrokid
Mechanical Royalties are the part of song sales that go to the songwriter and publisher. The term “mechanical” royalties can be slightly confusing in today’s world, but it comes from a time when the industry had to take a composition and mechanically reproduce it onto piano rolls or vinyl records.
At the time of this writing, any physical record sale or download has to pay a mechanical royalty to the composition’s copyright holder of 9.1 cents. Streaming varies, but it is roughly. .06 for every 100 streams.
If you are not signed to a publishing company. You need a way to collect these royalties. That is where an “Administrative Publishing” company comes in. An administrative publishing company is not a full-fledge publishing company in the traditional sense where they give you an advance and then own a % of your composition copyright.
Instead an administrative publishing company, is there for the administrative work of collecting your royalties. They chase down the mechanical royalties that 100s or even 1000s of services may owe you for sales and streams.
CD Baby, if you go with the pro option, has an admin publishing company built in. For the Pro fee + a 15% commission, CDbaby will take care of collecting your mechanical royalties for you and pay you just like they pay you the digital sales and streams.
This is an awesome service that I wish Distrokid had. Unfortunately, they don’t (yet). However, because they don’t have to manage the cost of that service, they can make other services cheaper and don’t charge that 9% on the sales and streams, which as stated above, can really add up.
Songtrust and Administrative Publishing
LUCKILY, you don’t have to miss out on mechanical royalties if you go with Distrokid. You simply sign up for Songtrust. Songtrust is not a distributor but an administrative publisher so you can’t just use Songtrust.
Songtrust is a popular admin publishing company for independent musicians. They charge a 1 time setup fee of $100 and then they collect all of your mechanical royalties for all of the songs and projects you register. You never pay another fee. They just take 15% of what they collect. Same as CDBaby’s percentage, but with a 1 time fee.
There are more benefits of using Songtrust that make the fee worth it. These added benefits come into play when we start looking at how money is collected for music used in YouTube videos.
CDBaby vs Distrokid – Best for Mechanical Royalties – CD Baby (Kinda)
It is nice that they have an Admin Publishing company and it is nice to keep everything under one roof, but the actual smarter thing to do is to go with Distrokid and Songtrust.
YouTube Monetization – CDBaby vs Distrokid
YouTube has a Content ID Library so that they can match content to copyright holders. Of course, you will receive the YouTube revenue from YouTube for your own music videos, but what about if someone uses one of your songs as background music in their viral video?
Anytime a video that uses your music gets a play, you should get a % of that monetization. So if someone makes a video with your song as background music and it goes viral, you will get a payday as long as you set up YouTube monetization.
You can set this up through CD Baby with the pro option and they take a 30% cut of what they collect.
You can set this up with Distrokid and it is $4.95 a year per single or $14.95 a year per album, and they take a 20% cut.
OR since you have decided to go with Distrokid and already need to sign up with SongTrust as an Admin publishing company you can use their option. Songtrust charges no additional fee and only takes a 15% commission.
Using Songtrust you get 15% more than CD baby, 5% more than distrokid and skip the yearly fees of distrokid.
Winner: SongTrust (which you combine with Distrokid)
Performance Rights Royalties- CDBaby vs Distrokid
Performance Rights Royalties are paid for the right to perform a song in public places. That’s a bit vague and lines start to blur a little here, but it’s not too bad. For the most part, performance royalties are due to you if you, or anyone, plays your song live in a venue, over a stadium loudspeaker, on a radio station, or even in a Starbucks. Neither CDBaby nor Distrokid collect performance royalties for you.
Performance rights organizations (PRO) collect performance rights royalties on behalf of publishers and songwriters. So if someone plays a Paul McCartney song at a live venue the PRO pays Paul McCartney and whatever publishing company he is/was signed too.
No matter which music distribution service you use, you need a performing right’s organization. The biggest PROs in the US are BMI and ASCAP.
I am a member of BMI. It is free to join. You get a member number and you use that to register any songs that you write or co-write.
CD Baby vs Distrokid Prformance Royalty Winner: Moot point. Technically CDBaby will help you register with a PRO. Distrokid doesn’t. That’s a nice add on by CDBaby, but it really doesn’t matter as it’s just a matter of going to the PRO’s website and filling out some forms. Also, Songtrust will help you register with a PRO too.
Non-Interactive Streaming Platform Digital Royalties: SoundExchange
Non-interactive streaming royalties are paid out by any digital streaming service where the listener doesn’t get to choose (interact) with the song. They are an important source of revenue if you think you’ll get a lot of streams on something like Sirius XM, or the free version of pandora.
There is only one organization and that collects and pays these royalties. It is called SoundExchange. CDbaby vs Distrokid, it doesn’t matter, if you want to collect these royalties you have to sign up for sound exchange either way.
What Is SoundExchange?
Soundexchange gives 45% payment of non-interactive streaming royalties to the featured artist. So if you do a Paul McCartney cover that gets played a lot on Sirius XM, 50% goes to Paul McCartney, 45% goes to you, the featured artist covering that song.
Then 5% goes to any backup musicians, session musicians or anyone who is featured on the track. So registering for sound exchange is important if you are a session musician as well. *note – if you don’t have session musicians, that 5% just goes to the featured performer as well.
It’s free to sign up for SoundExchange. It does take about 15-20 minutes and feels a bit official as you have to upload a photo ID and w-9 with banking info, but after that you’re all set.
Winner: Moot Point. Neither CDbaby nor Distrokid do it. Must register with sound exchange.
Sync Royalties – CDBaby vs Distrokid
Sync royalties are what you are paid if your song is used (synced) in a commercial, show, movie, video game etc.
For the most part sync royalties are a stand alone separate thing. You can pitch your own music to music supervisors and negotiate what they will pay you to put your song in a show. In that case you would get 100% (minus taxes) of whatever deal is made.
However, reaching out to music supervisors is time consuming and difficult with no connections. Often times musicians hire sync licensing companies. These companies/agents pitch your music to music supervisors and other sync opportunities on your behalf.
What a sync agency charges, and whether you give them exclusive sync rights, is on a per company basis. A 50-50 split is common, but again, each company has their business model, level of connections etc.
In terms of CD Baby vs Distrokid, this is almost a moot point but CD Baby is better (kinda). When you distribute your music through CD Baby Pro, you are added to CDBaby’s non-exclusive sync library. If a music licensing agent browses that library and uses one of your songs you get 60% of the sale and CDBaby takes 40%. (I don’t know how actively CD Baby pitches your music or how common placements are.)
The good news is that CD Baby is a non-exclusive sync licensing company. They don’t care if you work with other sync agents. The bad news is that other exclusive sync agencies might care you work with CD Baby and make you opt out of that service.
Distrokid just doesn’t have a sync service. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just means you’re on your own in pursing sync opportunities.
Winner CDBaby vs Distrokid Sync Royalties: CDBaby (kinda)
CDBaby vs Distrokid – Which Should You Use – Conclusion
You have made it to the end of a behometh of an article. Congratulations! You are now more knowledgable than 90% of musicians out there in terms of the music business.
Now with all that information let’s break it down. CDbaby vs Distrokid – which should you use?
Well, it depends. But now that you know everything, you can make an informed decision. However, after all this, I’m not just going to just leave you hanging like that. I will help you decide by giving you three scenarios. Pick the one that fits you best. Roll with it, and get back to creating music.
You should use CDbaby Standard plan if…
You are just trying to release one song as a hobbiest and have it available on streaming platforms for fun to show your friends.
You should use Distrokid Standard plan if…
You’re just trying to make some fun songs every once in a while and throw them up on iTunes/Spotify etc. to show your friends and have no real plans of a music career. You are a music hobbiest.
Or, if you are just starting out on your music career and on a tight budget. The standard plan will allow you to release songs as you make them and not have to pay for each release. Once you start to gain some traction you can upgrade your subscriptions.
You should use CDBaby Pro if…
You are looking to take your music career seriously and you like the idea of housing more of the royalty collection process under one roof. You’ll still have to sign up for a PRO, and SoundExchange, but the duties of Distrokid and Songtrust can be combined (at a cost) into CDBaby Pro.
Also, CDBaby doesn’t charge yearly fees, but rather you pay by release. This can be a plus or a minus depending on how often you release music.
CDBaby is a great option. They do a bit more for their artists than just distribute, but it comes with a higher cut. I almost went with them, but in the end I went with Distrokid and Songtrust.
Use should use Distrokid + SongTrust if…
You want to collect the largest % of your royalties available to you. The higher percentages could earn you multiple thousand’s in extra revenue if your music takes off.
- 100% of streams/downloads as compared to 91%
- 15% of YouTube instead of 30%
- Free Facebook/Instagram monetization
Distrokid and Songtrust is also a better option if you plan to release music more regularly, as the yearly fee covers all releases rather than paying with each release.
I’m an optimist and plan to release music regularly and for it to take off, so this is the option I used. Do what you decide is best for you and I hope this article was helpful. If you do decide to go with my option:
and here is a $10 off link for Songtrust.
If you are interested in checking out my music, here is the first single “Brain Is Made of French Fries” off my new album “A Story By Some Aliens”
Thanks for reading this 4000+ word article on CD baby vs Distrokid. You are now a master. Go create 🙂
Mark Sandusky is a video producer, musician and marketer. He is the owner of Peer Through Media and other blogs. Check out his Folk Rap Music Project, New Mark.