Distrokid, Tunecore, Cdbaby: Prices, Costs & Hidden Fees
How To Choose The Best Music Distributor For You
I'm an independent artist releasing music through distribution services. In this article, I will discuss some of the main distributors: DistroKid, TuneCore and CD Baby.
As an independent musician, you have to choose a digital aggregator to distribute your music to digital service provider (DSP) platforms such as 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 comparison at the end.
June 2022: This article is up-to-date with the new Tunecore pricing system.
August 2022: Cdbaby's current discount was added to the payout comparison.
January 2023: A separate article about SoundCloud for music distribution.
February 15, 2023 (big update): Cdbaby's promotion ended. Updated pricing, deleted obsolete information, marked legacy information and added new information.
February 2023: Added everything about the new "YouTube Creator Music" licensing, people in the YPP (USA only) can now directly license your music on YouTube if you opt-in on your music distributor.
March 2023: Added information about the YouTube Content ID system for each platform, the previous update about the YouTube Creator Music feature is now part of this section.
May 2023: Added information about the "Spotify Discovery Mode". Distrokid & Cdbaby already had access. Tunecore's first campaign starts June 2023.
June 2023: Added some Tunecore extra features (Dolby Atmos, BeatPort & iTunes preorder) in the "Tunecore's Hidden Fees" section.
July 2023: Updated Distrokid plans (they did increase pricing out of nowhere, without any announcement).
August 2023: Cdbaby Pro Publishing becomes CDB Boost. Updated information (major change is sync licensing and SoundExchange royalties now requiring CDB Boost, it was included in standard releases before).
Table Of Contents
Distrokid Prices, Costs and Fees
You will pay the dollar amount and it will be converted to your local currency with added conversion costs (and taxes if applicable).
Distrokid's New Plans Overview
Distrokid's Musician plan offers you an unlimited amount of uploads (singles and albums) for $22.99 per year.
Distrokid's Musician Plus plan offers you additional features at the cost of doubling its price, $39.99 per year.
Distrokid's Ultimate plan is for labels, you get a bigger discount the more artists you register, a total of 100 artists can be registered this way.
$22.99 per year is Distrokid's pricing for its basic plan without any additional features. Everything on top of that will be covered in the hidden fees part below.
Distrokid's Flat Costs
The yearly flat $22.99 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.
You release an album and pay the $22.99 for the yearly plan. You paid a total of $22.99 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 $22.99, and so on.
This is how unlimited releases for a flat fee work.
Now, doesn't $22.99 per year for unlimited releases without taking a cut sound a little bit too good to be true?
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.
20% fee on YouTube Creator Music sync licensing (more info in the next section).
Many other costly features available on their official page, I kept my list short and relevant.
You release your first album and want it in the YouTube CID and in new stores. You will have to pay $22.99 + $14.95 + $7.95 = $45.89 per year.
You paid $45.89, 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: $45.89 + $22.9 = $68.79 per year.
If you don't want any extra features, then $22.99 per year is what you will have to pay.
Distrokid YouTube Content ID
To monetize your music on YouTube you will have to pay for the Distrokid extra called YouTube Content ID.
Like I said in the hidden fees part, it's $4.95 per single or $14.95 per album, per year. Plus a 20% cut of your YouTube Ad revenue.
YouTube Creator Music
If you add the yearly payed feature for the YouTube CID to your release, then you can also add the new Distrokid YouTube Creator Music feature at no extra cost.
It basically comes with it, at least they didn't make it an X extra payed feature.
Also, since Distrokid does not have a publishing administration, this allows them to do some syncs through YouTube.
Sync License Pricing
Distrokid did even disclose the license prices that are based on the buyer's YouTube channel subscribers (YPP needed, license usage is per video):
1k to 100k subs: $9.99 per license
100k to 500k subs: $24.99 per license
500k to 5m subs: $39.99 per license
5m+ subs: $74.99 per license
Distrokid will take a 20% fee on the YouTube Creator Music sync license price.
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
In the top navigation menu of their webpage you can choose your country and see prices in your local currency.
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 are the additional features you'd 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).
$14.99 per year is Tunecore's pricing for their cheapest plan.
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.
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.
Tunecore's new free and flat-fee yearly plans introduced a 20% fee on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok revenues.
There are no additional fees on top of that, you'll keep 100% from all sales and music streaming on other platforms.
If you want Tunecore to also be your publishing administration, there is a one time registration fee of $75 and they will keep 15% of your publishing royalties. You can then opt-in for sync licensing and Tunecore will take a 20% sync commission.
YouTube Creator Music
Tunecore now has an option to send your music to the new YouTube partnered program library (only people part of the YPP can license your music).
Tunecore YouTube Creator Music seems to be part of a new free feature called Tunecore Accelerator (I got a pop-up linking to this page when sending my latest single, March 2023). But, to opt-in your catalog, you'll have to sign-up for their publishing administration first (see the section above).
Tunecore takes a 20% fee on the YouTube Creator Music sync licenses that people buy. They didn't disclose their prices but you can refer to the previous Distrokid ones for a close approximate.
Cdbaby Prices, Costs and Fees
Cdbaby's Single And Album Prices
Cdbaby has not switched to unlimited releases, unlike Distrokid and Tunecore. Additionally, Cdbaby does not offer a free plan.
This is Cdbaby's pricing per single and per album:
Pro Single $49.99
Pro Album $49.99
CDB Boost $39.99, on top of the initial $9.99 price
CDB Boost is the new name for the Pro Publishing, it's still the same price: $9.99 + $39.99 = $49.98.
The change from Pro Publishing to CDB Boost is both a cover-up for removing features of standard releases and an attempt of driving some new sales (more in "Publishing Administration" and "Cdbaby's Hidden Fees" below).
You will pay in $USD. The UK price in £ and EU price in € will be converted by your bank/PayPal with conversion fees.
Adding CDB Boost makes Cdbaby your publishing administration, they will register your songs to performing rights organisations like BMI or ASCAP and global royalty collections. It is something you can register on your own.
Also since August 2023 the digital performance royalties (the ones from radios like Pandora) you get from SoundExchange are now no longer part of new standard releases. But you can also just register to SoundExchange yourself.
If you pay for an album you also have the choice to use CD or vinyl manufacturers (not included in the price).
$9.99 per release is Cdbaby's pricing for both singles and albums if you don't add CDB Boost.
Cdbaby's Flat Costs
The good thing about Cdbaby's pay-per-release system is that you pay once and you are done. No yearly payement, only a one time payement.
You release an album, you pay $9.99 and that's it. You release a second album, you pay the same amount again.
Now, while this is the only direct payement that you will have to make, Cdbaby's fees and hidden fees are hitting hard. Here they come.
Cdbaby's Hidden Fees
The UPC barcode is now permanently free since the promotion ended on February 14, 2023. They used to sell it for $5 per single and $20 per album (which was a significant hidden fee).
Here are all Cdbaby's 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 add CDB Boost)
40% on sync placements and YouTube Creator sync licenses.
You now need CDB Boost to opt-in syncs. They are no longer part of standard releases after August 8th, 2023. Releases before that date are unchanged.
Only the 9% fee is displayed on their pricing page (you will have to scroll down), while the remaining fees are hidden and are only listed on the previous page that I linked you to. In a similar way, when the UPC barcode was not free, it was also not prominently displayed.
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.
No Channel Whitelisting
Cdbaby doesn't offer YouTube channel whitelisting. While they did in the past, nowadays they just say that they "can't" (source: my own emails).
It's not that they can't, it's that they don't want to. So, on your end you will have to dispute every single video claim, which is very time consuming.
YouTube Creator Music
It was confirmed early 2023 that Cdbaby got an early access to the new YouTube partner library, see their LinkedIn post about Cdbaby YouTube Creator Music.
As of August 2023, the sync is no longer part of standard releases, so CDB Boost is now required for YouTube Creator sync licenses.
Unless stated otherwise in the future, Cdbaby takes 40% on YouTube Creator Music sync licensing. Like Tunecore, they didn't disclose their prices, so you can refer to the previous Distrokid ones to get an idea.
Distrokid vs Tunecore vs Cdbaby: Payout Comparison
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 $22.99 flat fee. That makes it $177.01. 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 makes it $165.01. No fees on top of that.
You choose Cdbaby: your payout will be $200 minus the $9.99 album cost and 9% + 30% fees. That makes it 200-(9.99+100x0.09+100x0.3) = $151,01.
Cdbaby is now clearly the least interesting option. Even making the UPC barcode free (they did) and reducing fees (they did not) wont help at that point. I expect them to switch to an unlimited plan like their competitors (they did not), or slowly run out of business.
Old companies are often unable to make the right choices against recent competition. Cdbaby has chosen the "hype marketing" way instead of providing a better service for independent artists. Promotions and plan name changes are common practices in this, it just shows their age.
Cdbaby had a limited time offer from August 2022 to February 2023 for $4.99 an album with a free UPC barcode. This made the current payout $156.01. This didn't remove the fees which were the biggest issue, but made the payout more inline with their competitors and was an experiment. In the end, for their permanent prices after the promo ended: they kept the UPC free and doubled the previous promo prices.
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 $77.01 (this is why I leave it out of the equation).
The Best Music Distributor For You
To summarize what I just said in the payout comparison:
If you want the highest payout and already have a monetized YouTube channel: go for Distrokid.
If you don't have a monetized YouTube channel and want a free YouTube CID service: go for Tunecore.
There is no current scenario where choosing Cdbaby is better then the others. Your per-release payout will just become lower and lower the more you release the same year.
For starters: you should use Tunecore. Don't waste your time going through 1000 additional payed features on Distrokid. And don't waste your earnings, getting drained by Cdbaby's high fees.
For intermediate/experts: if you have a high presence on social platforms, then Distrokid letting you keep 100% of revenue instead of Tunecore 80% will be better for you (your YouTube channel needs to be partnered, because both take 20% on YouTube).
My previous payout example assumed an equal distribution between streaming platforms and social platforms. If, for example, 100% of your streams would be on Spotify, then the Distrokid payout would be $177,01 and Tunecore $185,01 (because you keep 100% of Spotify revenue on both, only the yearly plan cost is substracted).
Additionnal Useful Information
Music Takedown If You Stop Paying
Distrokid and Tunecore will takedown your music from all platforms if you cancel your subscription or if you don't renew your yearly plan.
Cdbaby will not takedown your music, because you already pay per release and not on a annual basis. You pay once and it's out there forever.
Spotify Discovery Mode
In short, Spotify's Discovery Mode boosts your selected songs in Radio & Autoplay, and Spotify takes a 30% extra cut of the royalties.
When using either Distrokid or Cdbaby, and meeting the eligibility requirements of Spotify's Discovery Mode, this feature will appear in your Spotify for Artists dashboard.
Most recently with the launch of the Tunecore Accelerator program, Tunecore can now also use this feature, but it wont be through Spotify for Artists.
On Tunecore, if you opted in the Accelerator program, some of your songs will be automatically selected. The first campaign started in June 2023.
My Personal Take
Updated: I have personally used Cdbaby for my albums before the new Tunecore unlimited plans. I will be switching to Tunecore (I did) for my next ones. Distrokid isn't attractive to me because of the pay-per-feature business model.
Every single or 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 fact, they make it way worse.
In the payout comparison example I gave you, just the Cdbaby fees of 9% ($9) and 30% ($30) are already more than the yearly plan cost of its competitors. And those fees will always follow you, the more streams you get, the more you'll pay.
Just to make things very clear: even IF Cdbaby gave you FREE releases, it would still be BETTER to PAY for Tunecore or Distrokid, because of the current FEES.
Tunecore had a very close system, they changed it for a far better one.