Distrokid, Tunecore, Cdbaby: Prices, Costs & Hidden Fees

Article updated

How to Choose the Best Music Distributor for You

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.

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 comparaison.

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.

Table of Contents

Distrokid logo

Distrokid Prices, Costs and Fees

Distrokid's yearly plan price

Distrokid only has 1 plan and no free plan.

Distrokid's plan offers you an unlimited amount of uploads (singles and albums) for $19.99 per year.

If you are a label, you get a bigger discount the more artists you register, up to 40%.

$19.99 per year is Distrokid's pricing 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 $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.

Note: Distrokid does not provide a publishing service, meaning they can't act as your publishing administration.

Now, doesn't $19.99 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:

Example: You release your first album and want it in the YouTube CID and in new stores. 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.

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.

Distrokid lets you whitelist YouTube channels and specific videos. This removes all audio claims from the channels or videos that you add the link of in their allowlist.

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.

They did even disclose the license prices that are based on the buyer's YouTube channel subscribers (YPP needed, license usage is per video):

Distrokid will take a 20% fee on the YouTube Creator Music sync license price.

Tunecore logo

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:

Note: 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:

If you only care about big platforms, you will be completely fine with the Rising Artist plan priced 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.

$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.

Example: 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 hidden 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.

Tunecore YouTube Content ID

Tunecore's YouTube CID is a free feature in every plan (even in the free plan). Using it will allow Tunecore to monetize your music on YouTube.

Tunecore lets you whitelist your whole YouTube channel by linking it to your Tunecore account. You can choose whenever you want to opt-in or opt-out. But, you cannot whitelist specific videos.

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 Distrokid ones for a close approximate.

Cd Baby logo

Cdbaby Prices, Costs and Fees

Cdbaby's single and album prices

February 14, 2023: Promotion ended. Permanent new prices have been updated.

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:

Note: You will pay in $USD. The UK price in £ and EU price in € will be converted by your bank/PayPal with conversion fees.

Pro versions make 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.

If you pay for an album you also have the choice to use CD or vinyl manufacturers.

$9.99 per release is Cdbaby's pricing for both singles and albums if you don't choose Pro.

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.

Example: 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:

Only the 9% fee is displayed on their pricing page, while the remaining fees are hidden and can only be seen on the above page I linked you to. Similarly, when the UPC barcode was not free, it was also not prominently displayed.

Legacy information: 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.

Cdbaby YouTube Content ID

Cdbaby's YouTube monetization option is a free feature that you can opt-in per release (after you pay for your release, of course).

Cdbaby doesn't offer YouTube channel whitelisting. While they did in the past, nowadays they just said that they "can't" (source: my own emails).

Note: 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.

It was confirmed a few months ago that Cdbaby got an early access to the new YouTube partner library, see their LinkedIn post about Cdbaby YouTube Creator Music.

Nothing new appeared in my Cdbaby account, so I will assume that the YouTube Creator Music sync feature is already part of the sync-licensing option that you can opt-in for free.

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 Distrokid ones to get an idea.

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:

Updated: 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 go out of business.

Legacy information: 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.

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 equation).

The Best Music Distributor For You

To summarize what I just said in the payout comparaison:

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).

Note: 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 $180,01 and Tunecore $185,01 (because you keep 100% of Spotify revenue on both, only the yearly plan cost is substracted).

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.

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 comparaison 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.

January 2023: Added a direct follow-up article about SoundCloud for music distribution.

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