With technology making gigantic strides towards revolutionizing the entertainment industry, digital music distribution is hitting fever pitch. Through incremental innovation, online distributors have radically transformed the industry, opening new horizons, and creating a platform for music to permeate all corners of the globe. Fortunately for musicians, this presents a slew of music distribution services that are just a click away.
Unfortunately, with the plethora of distributors comes the complexity of choosing the right service for your music. This is because such distributor services offer near-identical features and services within a packaged deal or boutique. There are differences, however, which stem from the scope and magnitude of these services. As such, you have to dissect these distributors to pinpoint one with a suite of services that is perfect for you in terms of budget and target audience.
In this article, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you. We’ve rigorously scrutinized the top music distribution service, unearthing their scope of services, royalties, added services, and features. In this way, after reading this post, it should be easy to pick a distributor that can help your work of art reach as many ears as possible.
In 2018, music streaming accounted for nearly half (47%) of all global music industry revenues. Add the 12% market share of digital sales, and digital distribution plus streaming accounts for a total of 59% of all music industry revenues that year. In comparison, physical sales held 25% of the market share.
For artists and musicians, the current model of music distribution means better access to their target markets. For their target markets, the music aficionados and listeners worldwide, the current age of digital downloads and streaming means they get more freedom to choose and be exposed to more artists than a few years prior when a handful of record label deals dictated what local radio stations would be blasting on air 24/7. The record label monopolies are largely out of the picture, and this structure has been replaced with music services and the distribution companies that feed them.
Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music — these digital stores and streaming platforms continue to fuel a shift in music tastes the world over, not to mention an increase in music appetite. Nielsen, in its 2018 year-end music report, indicated that “overall on-demand music streaming volume, including video, surpassed 900 billion streams, an increase of 43% over the same period last year.” The report’s subtitle is telling: international acts are going mainstream, and female artists are taking the limelight.
The 10 companies below are the best music distribution services for artists and musicians, and are largely, if not directly, responsible for the ongoing trend.
At the top of the charts, so to speak, is CD Baby, besting competition with its one-two combination of a massive network of over 150 stores and partners and a suite of features, most of which are all under the CD Baby brand.
Artists and musicians pay for every single or album uploaded, and they get a package of features depending on the pricing tier they choose. This setup requires no annual fees, and artists are paid 100% of royalties weekly. CD Baby offers digital distribution, streaming, and physical distribution via CDs and vinyl, as well. Cover song licensing is also offered, and reporting and analytics tools, including income boosting features such as professional publishing administration and social video monetization, are available.
Finally, the company also offers marketing and promotion tools all integrated under the CD Baby brand. Pricing starts at $9.95 per single and $49 per album, with a higher pricing tier for more packaged features.
Aside from a similarly massive network of partners and stores, Distrokid’s push is being 10 to 20 times faster than any other distributor to get artist music into digital download and streaming platforms. Its biggest difference from CD Baby—aside from the speed claim—is its business model: artists can distribute unlimited songs for an annual fee and get paid 100% of their royalties monthly.
Distrokid also allows artists to set up earning “splits” to route a portion of royalties to others, distribute cover songs legally, and play with backend music sales administration features. The company also offers bespoke value-added services that have separate price tags from their music distribution service. Curiously, Distrokid is the only one in this list highlighting its unlimited data backups.
Like CD Baby, Distrokid distributes to over 150 partners. Pricing starts at $19.99 every year for a single artist, with additional plans for two artists, and five to 100 artists.
As the slogan “Artists First” attempts to impress on musicians, ReverbNation paints itself as more than just a music distributor, but a career-maker for artists. Artists with tight budgets will also be glad to know that the company offers a free tier with direct selling, but digital distribution has separate price tiers.
ReverbNation is the only one in this list that highlights a website-builder for artist branding, as well as fan feedback for music. Indeed, ReverbNation’s suite of features surrounding the basic music distribution panders to the artist’s career: marketing and promotion tools with email and social messaging functions, social media and digital ads, crowdsourced listener reviews, and feedback, and even sponsorship under the ReverbNation brand where artists are introduced and exposed to music industry partners and events. These value-added services come with a separate price tag.
ReverbNation starts at the low price of $0 for direct selling and a basic package of features, but also offers three, larger paid packages with more functionality. For free tier users, they can pay for digital distribution starting at $1 per single or $9 per album per year.
LANDR is unique in this list because, at its core, it is not a music distribution company, it is an audio mastering software. LANDR offers music production and mastering via a desktop app with digital distribution services.
LANDR takes advantage of AI-powered audio mastering for its software (that also performs audio mastering for video), attempting to give a professional feel and finish to every track produced by its users. Once done with the production process, artists don’t have to go elsewhere for digital music distribution with 100% of earnings and creative control. LANDR also has its own promotional tools and offers free sample packs for inspiration and use. Where ReverbNation offers crowdsourced listener feedback and reviews, LANDR lets producers hear feedback from fellow users.
Pricing is split between audio mastering and release and just digital distribution. Mastering and release start at $4 per month that works out to $48 billed yearly, while digital distribution only starts at $1 monthly, working out to $12 billed yearly, for 10 tracks.
Tunecore is a straightforward distribution service that prides itself on being one of the first in the market, starting the business model in 2006. Artists keep 100% of their royalties for an annual fee.
Aside from music distribution to over 150 digital stores, Tunecore provides its users with comprehensive sales data, and as value-added services: social media promotion and music publishing administration. Essentially, a complete dashboard of backend reporting, marketing, and administration to go with the digital distribution. Note that the value-added services incur a one-time fee.
Artists can distribute via Tunecore starting at $29.99 for their first year and $49.99 each following year for a full album, and $9.99 a year for a single. Tunecore also distributes ringtones for $19.99 a year. Finally, the company also offers distribution credits that can be exchanged for an album, single, and ringtone plans.
RouteNote offers free distribution services for 15% of revenues, while also offering artists a premium plan that requires upfront payment but lets them keep 100% of all royalties. RouteNote claims to cover over 90% of the digital distribution market.
Artists and musicians can expect the fundamental digital distribution and direct selling services from RouteNote’s plans, as well as referral rewards, data and reporting on streaming and sales, and inclusion and IDs for Youtube Music Network and Soundcloud. RouteNote also provides free ISRC and UPC codes, as well as a community called RouteNoteStudio that helps members grow audiences faster on Youtube.
Pricing starts at $0, with a 15% cut off any royalties earned as well as two other annual pricing options.
OneRPM actively leverages its global network of users for more visibility and opportunities for its members, amplifying the reach of its artists with the help of fan engagement from its existing user base. Also noteworthy is that it offers a free pricing tier, though OneRPM keeps 15% of all royalties—even for paid tiers.
The fundamental offer is music distribution, direct selling, and cover licensing, but extends to marketing, including social media, business intelligence, rights management and publishing, and a Music Video Network that also includes video production.
OneRPM pricing starts with a free tier for audio and a one-time fee for video and ringtone distribution. The company keeps 15% of royalties from audio, 30% for ringtones and Youtube, and 50% for specialty video.
Ditto’s offer is simple: unlimited music distribution to over a hundred digital stores for an annual fee, and artists keep 100% of royalties.
Ditto is the quintessential music distribution service without a lot of fluff. Aside from distribution, the company offers pre-release and promotional tools, streaming and sales data plus reporting, free ISRC and UPC codes, and chart registration.
Pricing starts at $19 a year for one artist, and two higher paid tiers for more artists and packaged features.
Established in 2014, Fresh Tunes took the value-add approach. The distribution itself is free of charge, but value-added services are what bring in revenue for the company.
Heavy on Youtube and Facebook, Fresh Tunes’ paid value-added services focus on advertising and audience growth on these two platforms. Aside from marketing and promotion, the company also provides professional consulting for tracks submitted by artists. If accepted, these tracks are branded for promotion, and the artists receive feedback on their work.
Because of its business model, Fresh Tunes’ pricing starts at $25 for promotion, but the total price tag depends on how much the user wants to spend—it functions as a modern advertising program such as pay-per-click ads. Meanwhile, the price tag for professional consulting depends on how many tracks are submitted for consideration.
While several companies in this list have partner stores in China (e.g., Netease), Musicinfo is the only distributor solely focused on the Chinese market. Musicinfo distributes to major Chinese music services such as QQ Music, Kugou Music, and Qianqian Music.
Musicinfo offers annual pricing per year per album, song, or EP, and the starting package includes streaming and sales reports as well as social media promotion and localized content. Now, this does not seem like much, but for any artist or musician who wants to break into the Chinese market, Musicinfo is probably their best bet. China’s digital market is closely monitored and, for the most part, closed to foreign influence. Anyone who wants to sell directly to Chinese consumers from outside the country requires partners like Musicinfo.
To its credit, Musicinfo understands the importance of localized content and social media promotion on China’s leading social networks, as well as the value of partnerships not only with Chinese streaming services but also promotion organizations and the like. Musicinfo’s pricing starts at around $34 a year (prices are in Euro), and around $11 a year after the first year. Higher paid tiers are available for more content releases and more packaged features.
While CD Baby may be the top contender on this list, it does not automatically dominate the market due to practical considerations. Artists looking to break specifically into the Chinese market, for instance, will do no better with Musicinfo. Meanwhile, producers who need mastering software and distribution services tend to lean towards LANDR. Musicians who want to start to reach more and more audiences with as little monetary investment as possible may choose some of the free options, such as Fresh Tunes.
All of these companies offer the same services at their core: direct sales and digital distribution of music. Often, cover licensing is included, and usually, they offer within their paid packages administration, reporting, and marketing to varying degrees. Artists and musicians should, therefore, attribute more significance either to unique offerings or value-added services and how well these contribute to their goals, aside from other considerations like budget constraints.
There is no doubt, using the best music distribution service will lift your music career to heights you never thought possible. As you scale the heights in this industry and establish your footprints all over the globe, new opportunities will emerge. For example, once you garner a commendable social following, brands will come after you persuading you to be their brand ambassador or influencer. Be sure to check our compilation of marketing statistics to learn more about the trends, data, and stats in influencer marketing. This way, you’ll have the insights to make a decisive move when such opportunities show up.
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