CD BABY, TUNECORE, AWAL, ReverbNation...
How to earn money distributing your music, and who is the best digital distributor?
For artists its very important to know how to get their music on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Amazon, Pandora, etc and who the best company to help them do this is. After you spent your money buying instrumental beat online you want to get your money back and earn even more (much more) with it, right?
DSP is Digital Service Provider, which is the generic term for streaming and download platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Deezer, Google Play, Amazon Music, et al.
Digital distribution companies are evolving into one-stop royalty collection shops for DIY musicians. Eventually, you will be able to distribute your music with one of these services and they will collect 100% of all your sound recording and composition royalties from around the world and you won’t need to worry about registering or collecting all your money elsewhere. Some of these companies are closer than others to this reality, but no one is completely there yet. For clarity, you need a distributor to get your music into Apple Music / iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Google Play, Deezer, Napster, etc. These distribution companies do this for you. You can use multiple distributors for multiple releases HOWEVER you can only use 1 distributor for each release, of course. You can't ask CD Baby and TuneCore to distribute the same song to all the stores, then that same song would be listed in Spotify, iTunes and everywhere else TWICE. Make sense? You have to pick one for each release.
These are not record labels. These are not label deals. Even though some of them offer "label services" they don't own anything. These companies are just providing services. You retain 100% of your rights no matter who you use. Even if they take a commission, it's just from your revenue. No ownership. None.
“It’s about upward mobility. If we see something happening, we can give you funding the next day. You want to put gasoline on the fire, we can do that for you” -Lonny Olinick, AWAL AWAL is under the Kobalt umbrella which immediately gives it cool points in my book. Kobalt is the most forward thinking (and powerful) publishing company in the world. As a company built on a tech-first (digital) philosophy, Kobalt boasts that it pays twice as fast (and finds more money - sometimes 30% more) than the major publishing companies. It has better transparency than any other publishing company out there. AND Kobalt doesn’t own any of their songwriter’s copyrights (unlike every other major publishing company). It’s no wonder so many A-list songwriters have jumped ship from their major publishing companies over to Kobalt. Just look at their roster. It’s the whose who of a-list songwriters. (Yes, I’m gushing, no I am not signed to Kobalt. And they aren’t paying me). Kobalt acquired AWAL in 2012 to be able to integrate their tech-first, transparent reporting, disruption philosophy in the distribution space. And to offer not just distribution, but ‘label services’ for their top-line artists. To clarify, Kobalt is a publishing company collecting publishing (songwriter) royalties for songwriters. AWAL is a digital distributor collecting master (sound recording) royalties for artists. If you need more clarification on how royalties are broken down, read Chapter 13 of my book. AWAL’s reporting, analytics, data and transparency are bar none. Some of the best in the biz. They are also highly respected with the DSPs (Digital Service Providers - Spotify, Apple, Amazon, et al) because they are exclusive and have kept their quality up. They claim to be great at “throwing gasoline on the fire.” AWAL doesn’t offer much in terms of personal support from the get-go, BUT if you start to catch, they can offer you marketing support (money for PR, etc) and pitch you to playlists. And potentially upstream you (if you’re a songwriter) to Kobalt and their in-house synch services (TV, ads, film, video game placements). I visited their LA offices and got a full app demo along with a full explanation on how the platform operates.
No fees Great analytics, demographics and trending reports Spotify/Apple Music analytics mobile app with push notifications when tracks are added to playlists. And it will tell you how many people skipped your track on Spotify (or listened through). Personal attention for artists with traction Synch licensing possibilities (for buzz artists) Playlist plugging possibilities (for buzz artists) Physical distribution possibility
Customer support. I've heard from numerous AWAL clients that customer support is extremely slow and it is very difficult to get a response. If you have an emergency, you may be SOL. Unless you have a dedicated campaign rep (PERSON), don't expect much in terms of direct support. No payment splitting 15% commission Must apply and be accepted to use AWAL High payment threshold ($45) No place to see all playlists No admin publishing partner to help collect songwriter royalties (must be ‘signed’ to Kobalt) Difficult to get releases distributed in under 4 weeks. Possible for priority clients, but oftentimes high delays for non-priority artists.
CD Baby has been around the longest. They were the first non-label company to offer ‘open to all’ distribution to iTunes back in the day. CD Baby was founded by musician, best-selling author, guru, author of the introduction to my book (!!) and all around brilliant dude, Derek Sivers. He sold the company in 2008 to Disc Makers, but many of the original employees still remain - like Kevin Breuner, host of the excellent podcast: DIY Musician Podcast. I love the energy and vibe of CD Baby. Everyone I’ve met at CD Baby has been awesome. Just all around, good people. I trust them. They have their hearts in the right place. Kevin, head of marketing, and Chris Robley who runs the blog, are both working musicians. I’ve been using CD Baby since 2003 when my high school band used them to sell our CDs. They have been around so long that you can feel at ease that they’re not going anywhere. Also Ingrid Michaelson has used them for every digital release she’s ever had. So there's that. CD Baby is leading the front in the “one stop shop” business for DIY musicians. They’re not there yet, but eventually they (as well as most distributors) will be able to collect 100% of your royalties so you don’t need to register all over the place to collect all your various royalties. But until then, read Chapter 13 to know how to get all those royalties.
No yearly fees. You pay once, your music is up forever no matter what. Physical distribution. They have partnered with Alliance Entertainment, Super D and Amazon to get your CD/record in record stores around the world. You must apply for this feature. Fulfillment and an ecommerce store for CD and vinyl They have an admin publishing service to collect your songwriter royalties via CD Baby Pro Publishing which I reviewed here. One of the few companies to collect your SoundExchange (Sound Recording Copyright Owner) royalties for you. It's a massive process (and headache) to signup as a rights owner (and fill out their catalog spreadsheet). CD Baby covers this for you. You still have to signup as a Performer on your own with SoundExchange, but this cuts a lot of the hassle down. Synch licensing possibilites (for select artists)
9% commission They charge $5 for a single UPC or $20 for an album UPC. These aren't optional add ons. You can't distribute your album without a UPC - so add on an additional $5/20 for each release. High YouTube commission (30%) No payment splitting No mechanisms in place to help artists who start to catch (marketing support, playlist plugging, etc) +CD Baby Pro Publishing vs. TuneCore Publishing
I’ve given ReverbNation a lot of shit over the years. They were a part of my first comparison article and I once trashed them in Digital Music News (which I’m sure they’re still shell shocked from). To RN’s credit, well I should say to their CEO Mike Doernberg’s credit, he didn’t get into a Twitter battle with me (ahem Ditto, MondoTunes) or threaten to sue me (ahem again, Ditto, MondoTunes), he asked to have a sit down Skype meeting where I told him all the ways I disliked ReverbNation and he told me all the ways he thought they were great and how I was misguided. It was an amicable conversation, mind you, two years ago.
Now, the one really great thing they had going for them was their “Connect” Artist Development program. If you bubbled up on their radar you could get connected with a RN Connect manager and they would assist your entire career. Unfortunately, last Fall they downsized the Connect program tremendously (says an inside source who was a Connect manager and was let go).
The thing I was most excited about after my call with Mike were the opportunities they make available for their artists. Like festival, label, playlist, radio and audition submission opportunities.
The other best thing about RN is their CrowdReview market research platform. RN acquired AudioKite last year and the AudioKite team hopped down from NYC to Durham, NC and RN’s new CrowdReview (built by the AudioKite team) is exceptional. The best market research out there. Expensive, yes. But helpful.
We registered a new (private) account on April 11th, 2017, and since then have received 332 emails for submission opportunities. Unlike Sonicbids, most (if not all) submissions on RN are free with “membership” which costs $10-20/month. I have yet to hear of any success stories from these opportunities (if you have any PLEASE post in the comments).
I know you’re thinking the same thing I was, how can these outlets possibly have the time to go through the thousands of submissions coming through RN? Well, they obviously don’t. RN uses their data to put the profiles with the most amount of traction (plays, fans, etc) to the top of the pile. But RN isn’t very transparent about this. So you wouldn’t know.
I don’t use ReverbNation for any of their services because they simply aren’t the best at anything (because they offer so much) EXCEPT CrowdReview. If RN makes every submission exclusive to those with a high CrowdReview score (like, "this submission is open to every song that has scored above a 7.5"), then I would be using it regularly. And I would encourage others to use it too.
Because then opportunities are solely based on merit. Not fake metrics like ReverbNation plays, fans, city charts which mean absolutely nothing in the real world.
Will they do this? Time will tell.
But CrowdReview price would need to be slashed. By a lot. It’s way too expensive. Having a $20/mo membership should cover at least one CrowdReview a month and discounts on others. There are creative ways to cover the costs of CrowdReview - like making a commission off of the opportunities (possibly even offering an 'either commission or fee' option).
Oh, they have a distribution service too. Ha. See below
Packages. For $19.95 a month they offer a mailing list service (up to 10,000 subscribers), free song downloads, the ability to submit to opportunities such as TV placements, label submissions and festival slots, and distribution of 2 releases per year.
Tons of Data. Because they have so many bands who have registered so many shows, they have a touring database built up (similar to indieonthemove.com) that can help bands find venues of similar size in multiple cities.
No commission. You keep 100% of the revenue.
Everything a band sets up with ReverbNation is branded heavily with ReverbNation. It's hard to operate independently from them in any respect.
No admin publishing partner to help collect songwriter royalties.
They are built for the beginning bands and don't offer "professional" services for bands that outgrow the beginning model.
The company is so huge now that communication is very slow and impersonal. Even though humans work at RN (and some great ones) it can feel like you’re communicating with a machine. I wish they’d shed the corporate BS and communicate like musicians do.
No mechanisms in place to help artists who start to catch (marketing support, playlist plugging, etc)
Stem Music Distribution Review:
Stem is run by CEO and co-founder Milana Rabkin. I first heard about her operation from a YouTuber friend of mine I collaborated with on an original song we released with Stem just under 2 years ago. At that time they were a baby operation with about 20 artists I believe.
They have grown into a beautiful new office space in LA with around 35 employees and thousands of artists. They are an investment backed company which enables them to grow pretty rapidly and hire lots of people, but this also makes me a bit nervous because if they run out of funds I’m not certain their current business model would sustain them. In the startup world operating on investment money is very typical. Hell, Spotify is still operating on investment funds and is STILL not profitable.
The company started focusing on YouTuber creators and was built with payment splitting integrated from the get go. This is huge if you have a producer or other collaborator who needs to get paid. Or you have a featured ("feat.") artist who gets a cut. Or just want to split the payment equally amongst band members. They have the best payment splitting infrastructure built in and front facing in your reports. All parties must approve splits before distribution. This can be a blessing and a curse. You know nothing is getting distributed until everyone agrees on splits, but at the same time, if this hasn’t been agreed upon well in advance some people could hold out demanding a higher cut. This is why you should work with split sheets from the get go!
Stem is the other invite-only service part of this comparison which allows the team to give personal attention to artists and managers.
Personal attention. You have a dedicated rep who you can communicate with.
In house playlist pluggers
No fees or up front costs for anything (none!)
Low commission (5%)
Automatic payment splitting
US mechanical download payment splitting (every US download earns 9.1 cents for the songwriters that the artist/label is required to pay. Most indies don’t know this so the co-writers never see this money). Stem is the only company who pays this as part of their payment splitting.
Very intelligible revenue and analytics reports
Analytics mobile app
Collects US YouTube mechanicals
Offer edits to songs already distributed without having to take down and redistribute the release.
Distributes to only 12 outlets (no Asia)
High payment threshold ($50)
No cover song distribution (for most artists)
No admin publishing partner to help you collect your songwriter royalties.
No daily trending reports
Tunecore has been around almost as long as CD Baby. And it’s the company that most lawyers coughcoughDonaldPassmancoughcough seem to think is the only distribution company catering to DIY musicians. It set itself apart from CD Baby initially because it offered 0% commission (you receive 100% of your royalties), but makes its revenue by charging yearly fees (which can really add up). Tunecore was acquired by Believe Digital a couple years ago and has become extremely corporate because of it. Once acquired, my access to human beings got squashed and I had to go through a PR company to get answers - which took for ever. It lost its human touch and now Tunecore feels cold and detached. And sources tell me that the Tunecore offices feel the same. No personality or life.
Tunecore is currently in the news because of drama with original employees who should have gotten payment from the major acquisition (price), but didn’t apparently. Jeff Price, the founder and former CEO who was infamously forced out by the board, doesn’t have many kind words to say about Tunecore these days.
Tunecore has a bunch of success stories with many of its artists getting millions of streams (and sales) like Ron Pope and Boyce Avenue. Jeff Price (with the help of Jamie Purpora of BUG Music fame) launched Tunecore Publishing (neither are still at the company) - which is an admin publishing company created to help collect mechanical royalties for their artist/songwriters.
Tunecore has the name recognition, but hasn’t been innovating as quickly as their competitors. Word on the street is that many artists have been fleeing Tunecore for DistroKid and CD Baby recently. There isn’t much incentive to work with Tunecore anymore.
I do have to give a shoutout for their revenue advances feature which IS super innovative - where if your past releases have generated consistent revenue, Tunecore will advance you the money for future releases so you can have more of a budget up front for production and marketing.
No commission. You keep 100% of your royalties
Has an admin publishing company which will help track down your songwriter royalties (Tunecore Publishing)
Revenue and analytics reports - some of the best in the biz. They are incredibly clear and very detailed. Very easy to interpret and understand without having to download CSV files.
Daily trending reports (for Apple Music / iTunes and Spotify)
Offers advances for future revenue projections
Costly yearly fees for each release
No payment splitting
Complicated, out of platform, way to get a mechanical license to distribute a cover song
Admin publishing company prevents you from working with a synch licensing agency to get your music in TV, commercials and films. Deal breaker.
Charges a fee for adding new outlets. Either $2 per outlet or an additional $10 per release to automatically add all new outlets.
No mechanisms in place to help artists who start to catch (marketing support, playlist plugging, etc)
There is no "winner" necessarily because each company has unique features that may be super important to some artists and not at all to others. Every artist's situation is different. You have to look at your own, personal situation and own, personal career to figure out what is best for you. There is no one way to make it in the New Music Business.
What these stand-alone distributors offer that major labels and publishers do not is transparency and intelligible reports. Well, most of them do. And many are starting to offer payment splitting (where they will pay your collaborators directly so you don’t have to deal with that headache). Some distributors are moving into "label services" territory. Where, if there is some traction on your songs, they'll notice and, as many of them put it, "throw gasoline on the fire," where they can put some marketing money behind it, plug it at playlists, push sync opportunities and other ways to help jumpstart your career.