Distrokid, Tunecore, Cdbaby: Prices, Costs & Hidden Fees
How to Choose the Best Music Distributor for You
Article updated: 2022-07-29
I'm an independent artist using music distribution services. In this article, I will be going over the main distributors which are Distrokid, Tunecore and Cdbaby. As an independent musician you have to choose a digital aggregator to distribute your music to platforms like Spotify, YouTube Music, Apple, Amazon, Deezer and similar.
How to choose the best one for you will depend on overall costs, this includes flat prices and fees (sometimes hidden fees). I will be giving you concrete examples for each digital distributor and an actual realistic payout comparaison at the end.
Note: This article is up-to-date with the new Tunecore pricing system introduced in June 2022.
Table of Contents
Distrokid Prices, Costs and Fees
Distrokid's yearly plan price
Distrokid's flat costs
The yearly flat $19.99 doesn't change, you pay it once and you are free to release as much singles and albums as you wish for the next 12 months.
Example: You release an album and pay the $19.99 for the yearly plan. You paid a total of $19.99 so far. Now, you release a second album, you already paid for the year, so you will have to pay $0. The total you paid is still $19.99, and so on.
This is how unlimited releases for a flat fee work.
Distrokid's hidden fees
Distrokid wont take a percentage cut off your music sales or streaming, you will keep 100%, except for YouTube where they take a 20% cut.
Now, doesn't $19.99 a year for unlimited releases and not taking a cut, sound a little bit too good? Welcome, to the pay per feature business model:
$0.99 per song per year to be on extra discovery platforms that can identify your song (like Shazam).
$7.95 per album per year to be added to new stores that they get a partnership with after your release.
You don't get in the YouTube Content ID for free, $4.95 per single or $14.95 per album, per year. On top of that they take a 20% cut of your YouTube Ad revenue.
Many other costly features available on their official page, I kept my list short and relevant.
Example: You release your first album and want it in the YouTube CID and in new store. You will have to pay $19.99 + $14.95 + $7.95 = $42.89 per year.
Example 2: You paid $42.89, now you release your second album and you also want it in the YouTube CID and in new stores. You already paid the yearly plan, so you will have to pay $14.95 + $7.95 = $22.9. The total yearly amount that both your albums will cost you is now: $42.89 + $22.9 = $65.79
If you don't want any extra features, then $19.99 per year is what you will have to pay.
Tunecore Prices, Costs and Fees
Tunecore's free music distribution plan
Tunecore offers you a free plan which will deliver your music to socials platforms (and yes, this is a free YouTube Content ID service):
They will collect a fee of 20% of what you earn on all platforms.
Tunecore's yearly plans
Tunecore has 3 different yearly plans with different features you can choose from, the first 2 are aimed at independent artists while the last one is for labels:
Rising Artist $14.99 per year
Breakout Artist $29.99 per year
Professional $49.99 per year + $14.99 per artist
Each plan gives you unlimited singles and albums uploads per year after you pay it once. As an independent artist, choosing Breakout over Rising is up to you, here is the additional features you get:
Store automator (your music will be release to all new stores that they get a partnership with after your initial release).
Daily trends reports (daily analytics of Spotify, Amazon and Apple). You can also see this with your verified artist channels on those platforms.
Cover art creator (as the name suggests, you can create or edit album cover art with this tool).
If you only care about big platforms, you will be completely fine with the Rising Artist plan at $14.99 per year. Claim your Spotify for Artist page, your Amazon for Artist page and your Apple for Artist page to have access to all analytics without having to pay double the price.
Tunecore's flat costs
The new Tunecore flat costs are very interesting for independent music artists. You can release as much music as you wish for the next 12 months.
Exemple: You release your first album, choose the Rising Artist plan and pay $14.99. You paid a total of $14.99. Now, you release a second album. Since you already paid the yearly plan, you will have to pay $0 extra.
An unlimited amount of releases for $14.99 per year.
Tunecore's hidden fees
Do you expect it to be really bad here? Surprisingly, it's not.
The new free and flat-fee yearly plans introduce a 20% fee on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok revenues.
There is no fee on top of that, you'll keep 100% from all sales and music streaming on other platforms.
Cdbaby Prices, Costs and Fees
Cdbaby's per single/album prices
Pro Single $29.95
Pro Album $69
The Pro versions register your songs to performing rights organisations like BMI or ASCAP and global royalty collections. It it something you can register on your own. If you pay for an album you also have the choice to use CD or vinyl manufacturers.
Cdbaby's flat costs
What is good with this system is that you pay once and you are done. No yearly payement, only a one time payement.
Exemple: You release an album, you pay the amount and that's it. You release a second album, you pay the same amount again.
I can't say that you pay $29, here comes the hidden fees.
Cdbaby's hidden fees
The first hidden fee is in their pricing already. They don't provide you with a free UPC barcode, instead they sell you one for $5 per single or $20 per album.
Unless you get your UPC barcode from somewhere else, the previous example will cost you $49 per album, not $29.
Now, on top of that here are all the fees:
9% on all your sales and music streaming.
30% on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok revenues.
$4 on physical sales (CD or Vinyl).
15% of publishing royalties (if you choose Pro)
Cdbaby and Tunecore were pretty close competitors before the new Tunecore pricing. Cdbaby was better if you had low streams and Tunecore was better if you had a high amount of streams.
Distrokid vs Tunecore vs Cdbaby: Payout Comparaison
A realistic artist payout
I will be taking some close to real values here, rounding numbers to make it easy to read and understand.
Let's say that your average payout per stream is $0.003, that means that you get roughly $0.01 every 3 streams.
This is your first year and your first album. You got a combined 30,000 streams on all platforms (excluding socials), making your payout $100. And you got a combined 30,000 streams on social platforms, adding another $100.
Your total payout is $200, now let's see what is left after each digital distributor costs and fees:
You choose Distrokid: your payout will be $200 minus the yearly $19.99 flat fee. That makes it $180.01. On top of that you would have to substract any additional features you paid for (here you didn't add any).
You choose Tunecore: your payout will be $200 minus the yearly $14.99 for the Rising Artist plan and the 20% on all socials (20% of $100 is $20). That's makes it $165.01. No fees on top of that.
You choose Cdbaby: your payout will be $200 minus the $29 album cost, $20 UPC barcode and 9% + 30% fees. That makes it 200-(29+20+100x0.09+100x0.3) = $112.
Cdbaby is now clearly the least interesting option. Even making the UPC barcode free and reducing fees wont help at that point. I expect them to switch an unlimited plan like its competitors, or slowly go out of business.
Note: To not make it ambiguous and having to make up specific numbers for Distrokid's amount of streams on YouTube: I will assume that you monetized your YouTube channel, so you don't need to pay a fee and can keep 100%. YouTube streams are not part of the 30,000 calculation for any platform.
Example: IF your channel is not monetized AND all 30,000 stream were on YouTube AND you chose Distrokid AND you didn't pay for the YouTube CID feature THEN your payout would be $80.01. (this is why I leave it out of the calculation)
My personal take
I have personally used Cdbaby for my albums. I will be switching to Tunecore for my next ones. Distrokid isn't attractive to me because of the pay by feature business model.
Every album you release the same year adds up to the gap between Cdbaby and the other 2. The fees don't make it better in the long run. In the payout comparaison example I gave you, just the Cdbaby fees of 9% ($9) and 30% ($30) are already more than the yearly plan cost of it's competitors. And those fees will always follow you, the more streams you get, the more you'll pay.
Tunecore had a very close system, they changed it for a far better one.