Cdbaby vs Distrokid: Which distributor is right for you?

You’ve put in the work, finished your dream album, and now you’re ready to share it with the world, but what’s the best way to reach the majority of your audience and get paid for plays on the streaming services they use?  

The answer rests in finding the right digital distributor. These companies get your music on services like Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, Tidal, Amazon, Pandora, Deezer, Youtube, and even TikTok. Digital distributors will also collect mechanical royalties on your master recordings.

This might seem like a relatively simple affair, but there’s a lot to consider when picking a distributor for your music. Distributors have a handful of different ways of charging for the same services and wrapping your head around all of the aspects of royalty collection can be a mind numbing process. With that in mind, it’s essential to have a grip on the fundamentals and set realistic expectations for your release before you begin to consider which distributor is right for you.

Mechanical vs Publishing Royalties

Let’s take a look at the royalties that Artists earn from streaming services before we go too deep into the services distributors offer.

Music royalties are earned in exchange for the use of copyrights. Every song has two copyrights attached to it. One for the published composition and one for the master recording. In short, songwriters and publishers earn royalties on the composition copyright (Publishing Royalties), and performers i.e. members of the band or musicians who played on the track (if songwriters agree to such an agreement)  earn royalties on the master recording copyright (Mechanical Royalties). There are plenty of resources online that can provide you with a deeper dive into the world of royalties, but we’re keeping it simple for this article.

A distributor’s core service is to distribute your master recordings across online platforms and collect money for artists from the sales of downloads and the number of streams in the form of Mechanical Royalties. Distributors will not collect the publishing royalties owed to songwriters and whoever may own the copyright of a song.

If you want to ensure that you are paid for your earnings tied to the composition of the song it’s best to work with a Music Publishing Administrator or opt into the pro tiers some distributors offer. Songtrust is the world’s largest royalty collection service and actually handles the publishing administration for cdbaby pro, but you can independently register with them if you choose to use a different distributor.

Cd baby vs Distrokid

In an effort to reduce decision fatigue, I’ve decided to focus on the two main players in the distribution game, Cdbaby and Distrokid. There are a wide array of other companies in the distribution game, but these two services have the broadest appeal and proven track records.

One of the most well known and longest-running digital distributors out there is Cdbaby. It’s likely the service you’ll hear about first when you start researching your distribution options as well. Admittedly, when I first started researching digital distribution, I found it hard to believe a company called CDbaby could be a leader in getting your music on streaming services, but it appears my preconceptions were mistaken.

Cdbaby’s distribution model operates on a per release basis. Distribution for “singles” starts at $9.95 and albums can be distributed for $29. The entry level tiers an array of services including: the ability to get paid for Youtube Content ID, makes your music available for posting on Facebook and Instagram stories, creates the potential for sync licensing in movies, video games, commercials, and television, and provides instant access to Spotify and Apple Music for Artists. Their fees keep your music online in perpetuity which is not a standard amongst all distributors. Not having to renew distribution rights or worry about annual fees is a huge plus to me.

Unfortunately, UPC charges are separate from your distribution fees. A UPC is an universal product code and you can’t get your music online without one. So no matter what, add an additional $5 per single and $20 per album to get your music online. Their Youtube Content ID package takes a sizable 30% commission fee, but it may be worth it to add another revenue stream for your music.  

Cdbaby takes a 9% commission on your mechanical royalties. For better or worse you’ll be responsible for splitting those royalties amongst contributors to the song. Some distribution services have features that calculate and distribute those fees automatically at payout.

As previously mentioned, If you truly want to ensure that you’re collecting all of your royalties, cdbaby offers a Pro tier that operates as a Publishing Administrator. Their Pro tier collects publishing and performance royalties, works with mechanical royalty collection agencies outside of the United States, and will hand global youtube Royalty collection. Another nice feature that the pro tier offers is they will administer or totally take care of your affiliation with PRO’s aka Performing Rights Organizations like BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC.

These Pro features come at a price of $29.95 for singles and $69 per album, but the one stop convenience is quite attractive. It’s hard to say no to their offer if you expect to get some traction on your music and don’t work with a Music Publishing Administrator already.

Distrokid has been rapidly gaining new users which has led Spotify to purchase a minority stake in the company. This doesn’t give the service any competitive advantages, but it does say something that the biggest name in streaming music is invested in Distrokid’s success.

If you’re a prolific artist then Distrokid might be for you based on their annual fee of $20 for individual artists. This annual payment method gives artists unlimited single and album uploads as well as offering 100% share on mechanical royalties on all of the major services like Spotify, Apple Music, TikTok, Pandora, Amazon, Instagram, YouTube, Tidal, iHeartRadio,and Deezer. Additionally, Distrokid will pay out monthly and automatically handle all the revenue splits for everyone who contributed to the song if they’re also using the service.

Distrokid promises to get your music on streaming services faster than competitive services. Apple Music often has works from Distrokid listed within 1 day of submission whereas most streaming services have your music available within a week. Cdbaby distribution time can as of 2020 can take upwards of 3 weeks due to slimmer staffs due to Covid-19 realities.

Like Diamonds tracking in the A Room

The Fine Print

Additional fees have a way of adding up with Distrokid’s services. For example, users can expect to pay an extra $1 per song annually for Shazaam access. This charge is an annual fee and on a per track basis, so your 12 track album will require another $12 annual fee if you want your future fans to be able to find you on Shazaam’s services. Youtube royalty collection requires an additional $5 per release, and payment splitting requires all performers to have a distrokid account. It appears that some of these charges can be avoided by opting for their single charge “Leave a Legacy” option that can be had for $29 per release, but the service ultimately proves to be a lot more complicated than the unlimited uploads for $20 headline implies.

I’ve been a semi professional musician for some time now, but the world of online distribution has always been foreign to me. I've heard a lot of buzz about distrokid from influencers online, but the additional fees really add up over time and prevent me from recommending it. The only argument I can make for using the service would be to test engagement of singles through distrokid and then transition to CDbaby to commit to distributing the material your audience engages with the most. That said, no distributor is one size fits all and you should explore your options and find the service that suits your needs and budget.

I’ll be choosing Cdbaby and likely Cdbaby pro to distribute my work in the future. Their long record in the industry and additional benefits that the pro tier offers streamlines royalty collection and will keep your brain focused on music instead of annual payments hidden fees.

I also want to take a moment to point to some resources that helped me wade through the dense world of Digital Distribution. Ari’s Take the website of Ari Herstand, the author of How to Make it in the New Music Business, is an incredible source of information for all things music business related. His book is considered essential reading in the industry and his website builds on that knowledge and has a lot to offer. I also found myself returning to the Indie Music Academy youtube page. His channel covers a wide array of topics that impact all musicians and manages to wade through the technical jargon in a clear and concise way as well as referencing his own personal and professional experiences.

Our passion at Pulp Arts rests in the recording realms, but we want nothing but success for the musicians who choose to work with us. Feel free to give us a call at (352) 505-3620 or email If you have questions about tackling the fun part of the process and getting into the studio.