Recently, Jam City began helping artists with the distributor. Since we’ve begun helping artists I’ve gotten several of the same questions and comments. Some of this stuff can be confusing to say the least, and it is my intention to help artists understand it. If you guys like these articles, let us know and we’ll do more!
Before we begin, it’s worthy to mention that are several comparisons and explanation articles of what a distributor does and which one is best. A well-articulated article explaining that was written by Ari Herstand’s, on his blog Ari’s Take. Ari keep’s this article updated, so it’s a good bookmark. Either way, the choice is up to you because all music distribution companies are is a “service provider” that's available to anyone who owns a sound recording. This article is to address some of the questions I’ve gotten.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with several of these distributors. I’ve used their services and attended many distributor music conferences. I’ve watched these services evolve, and I’ve watched some collapse. I’ve also studied music publishing in general while in college. Through my musical journey, I’ve used several distributors; CD Baby, Tunecore, Distrokid, even Reverbnation. It’s hard to say, “Which distribution service is best” but rather, list my experiences and knowledge of them with you.
But first, allow me to answer some of the common questions about the distributor.
Can I upload to Tunecore, CD Baby, Distrokid, ect. all at the same time?
No. You can only choose one distributor per release. You cannot distribute the same sound recording(s) through multiple DSP’s-you have to choose one per release. There can only be one set of codes generated per each song, release, etc. As mentioned above, the choice as to which distributor you choose is on you as the artist. To move further in the process, all that is needed are the codes generated from the distributor.
How long does it take?
Depending on the distributor and the digital store(s), the process can be as soon as 24 hours to 10 business days. The distributor has to clear your release. They are checking for bad files, making sure you didn’t rip a Taylor Swift song and rename it, stuff like that; and then they issue what’s called an ISRC, and a UPC. There are a lot of companies at work here. Once the release is delivered to the digital stores, the digital store still has to process the songs, which again-takes time.
YES. You need a credit card, bank account.
This one is pretty much self-explanatory. You can’t pay the computer with cash, and I’m not aware of a distribution service that accepts anything less than PayPal.
Do I still own the rights to my music when I upload to a distributor?
Yes, you still own all of your rights when you upload to a distributor and in fact, it helps solidify that you are the sound recording owner. This leads me to the next question:
Is uploading to the distributor a Copyright?
No. The Distributor’s main purpose is to distribute however; most distributors offer other services pertaining to music so, I wouldn’t be surprised if we one day see a one-stop-shop for everything. Until then, for Copyright you still have to register each sound recording with the Library of Congress. This usually leads to the next question:
Copyright. How do I get one and how long does it take?
It’s $35 online and it takes 3 to 10 months. It would be foolish to go with anyone who tells you otherwise. Copyright is through the Government and nothing happens overnight with them… Ironically, the Government still takes cash! But, you have to mail it to them, which I’m sure the process via mail will take them 10 months. It also cost more money and time to obtain a Copyright via USPS. The easiest way is online, which makes me curious as to who would actually register their Copyrights via mail? …Anyway, moving on!
Does the distributor collect ALL of my royalties?
No. The distributor does not by any means collect ALL of your royalties, only a portion. Again, perhaps we will see a service that's a one-stop-shop but until then, there are several organizations that collect different types of royalties. If you aren't signed up with those organizations, you won't receive those royalties. There are four types of royalties sound recordings owners are entitled to: performance royalties, mechanical royalties, synchronization (sync) royalties, and print music royalties. In the U.S., there are multiple organizations that collect different types of royalties. Book an appointment with me, and we can discuss it further!
I could continue to go on and on with the questions, (we’ve gotten a lot over the years) but I’ll move forward for now.
In My Experiences…
I’ve used several of music services. In doing so, I’ve been able to closely compare. As for those asking the question, “Which distribution service is best?” I honestly don’t think there’s a best just yet. If you ask me which distributor I like best, I choose Distrokid–and I’ve just recently begun using them. So far, I’ve used Distrokid for three clients and I really have nothing but praise.
One thing that I have learned about all digital distributors is that they will get you for $5 here, $12 there, etc. anyway they can. It’s like that for most digital distribution services and for good reason; your distributor does a lot of on going work for you!
Since I began with Distrokid, we can start with Distrokid.
What I like:
- Their basic service starts at $19.99 a year. Under this plan, you as the artist are able to upload UNLIMITED albums, singles, and EP’s.
- You keep 100% of your earnings.
- For $30, you can select their “leave a legacy” option, which will keep your music on the digital shelves even if you stop paying, “even if you die.” If it weren’t for that feature, I probably would have stayed with CD Baby.
- With their “Vault” feature, they archive your .wav files… Forever as long as you pay for the “Leave A Legacy” option.
- Easy access to Spotify for Artists.
- You can list credits such as, Producer, Engineer, Studio, Additional Artists, your significant other’s 5th cousin; you truly have control over your music. This feature truly helps the artist properly pay royalties where royalties are due.
- This is a great service for labels. For $80 a year, you can release unlimited amount of artists and albums.
- Recently, Spotify acquired a minority stake in Distrokid. This means you are more likely to get into weekly playlist.
What I don’t like:
- The basic $19.99 doesn’t allow you to set a release date–it’s immediate. To set a release date further in the future and schedule a presales period, you have to go with the Musicians Plus service for $35.99, which is still a good deal but I feel it should be included in the $19.99 option. The $35.99 option also allows you to upload two artists or bands, which can be a good thing if you’re a singer/songwriter with a band and you decide to put out a solo album under your name. Setting a release date further out with a presales period is without a doubt a good way to build hype for your release. When I do marketing plans for bands and artists, there is almost ALWAYS a presale period.
- Customer Service is tough to get in touch with however; Distrokid has a fairly larger Help Center that covers nearly every question you can think of.
For years I have used CD Baby. I’ve attended their yearly music conferences and made contacts that have truly gone out of their way to help me with artist accounts I managed at the time. CD Baby was the first and is the largest distributor.
What I like:
- There is a one-time fee per upload–no yearly fees. I’ve always liked the idea of being able to upload your sound recordings and they will be in digital stores for life.
- They offer many pre-sale options.
- They offer physical distribution as well as a partnership with Discmakers, which makes ordering physical CD’s, vinyl, tapes, etc. very easy.
- Being that CD Baby has been around for decades, they have developed an extensive network and partnerships that can work out to the artists advantage.
What I don’t like:
- They take 9% of your earnings.
- Future you have to pay per future digital stores.
- Some of the services, like Radio Airplay aren’t exactly as advertised. I did the Radio Airplay service, and while yes, I got a few notable spins, I could never get in touch with customer service and I eventually had to contact my bank to get them to stop taking a monthly payment.
- The “PRO” service doesn’t mean “professional–it stands for Performance Rights Organization. This added service upgrade is simply CD Baby collecting your royalties from a Performance Rights Organization, and again they take a small percentage for doing so. You can easily do this on your own. CD Baby outsourced collecting from the PRO’s to a company call Songtrust, which is a good company to use, and again, something you can sign up for on your own.
- The price went up! This is perhaps one of the biggest complaints I’ve gotten.
My experiences with Tunecore have been somewhat unfavorable. Rather than listing pros and cons, I’ll just fill you guys in on my experiences with them. In 2015, I played in a band that had over 300k streams online. The yearly fee rolled around while I was out on tour and within a month Tunecore had removed all of our songs from the shelves. This meant we lost our play count, iTunes reviews, the several cross-links that I had set up suddenly were broken. We lost all our followers on many of our digital platforms. It was a disaster to say the least. They are also priced too high in my opinion. Their service starts at $29.99 for the first year/album and $49.99 for the years afterwards. You do keep 100% of your royalties, though. Publishing is also offered. This is Tunecore collecting from your PRO’s for a one time fee of $75. For a one-time fee of $100, you can sign up with ASCAP and have a songwriter account plus a publisher account. When you sign up for the distributor to collect publishing for you, you sometimes miss out on royalties. E.g., when you play a show, ASCAP has a program called ASCAP OnStage, which allows you to get paid performance royalties for your show on top of the royalties you already collect with them. BMI has the same program as well.
Yes, Reverbnation has a digital distribution service as well, and I've used it before. I once managed a rock band that hovered in the top 10 on the Reverbnation charts for the entire time I managed them. Sometimes, we were even the #1 rock band on Reverbnation. Reverbnation would mark our songs for curation and nothing would happen. Also, each day I would submit our music to several of their music opportunities. Even the few times we reached #1 in our genre, we were never picked for shows or the opportunities. It was a monthly fee, and after about six months of dealing with them, I advised the band to do away with them.
Reverbnation also offers email collection. The problem with maintaining an email list and sending out emails is that the majority of email servers have marked them as spam, which means your newsletter has a low bounce back rate.
Reverbnation’s web interface is also extremely slow. It doesn’t always load correctly and their widgets tend to slow down your websites load time.
One thing I do like about Reverbnation is that they have a stellar electronic press kit. I’m not exactly sure how exact the analytics are because it doesn’t monitor the other digital stores-only Reverbnation. But Reverbnation is a good place to start for bands that are just forming. You can easily connect with other artists in your area and you’ll have a decent press kit to send out.
As I mentioned, there is no wrong distributor if what you are doing is working for you. There are also several that I didn’t mention. My goal was to give readers a general overview of how they work, and my experiences with them. Also, and most importantly, I hope I’ve answered some questions! Again, if you guys like these articles, let us know and we’ll do more!
About the Editor:
Chris Canada is a U.S. Army Veteran, Studio Owner, Live Sound Engineer, Music Industry Enthusiast. He studied Interdisciplinary Music Studies and Production at Berklee College of Music.