What is the Best DistributION SITE for Your Music?

This is by Ari Herstand and has been edited from the original post on Ari’s Take blog. A few distributors included in the original post have been left out here as they were deemed 'Don't Work With Them'.  You can visit the original post here:

Who is the best digital distributor?

Full disclosure, I should say, I have used CD Baby, Tunecore, DistroKid and Loudr to release my music in the past. I just released my latest album and this piece honestly helped me decide who the best company for this release was.
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.

I spoke with Kevin Bruener, Director of Marketing and a musician himself. He has been at the company for 8 years and worked alongside founder (and music biz icon) Derek Sivers for many years. This is one of the biggest (and the first) independent digital distributors in the world. They have over 330,000 artists signed up to their service.
* Because they have been along for so long, they are proven and aren’t going out of business anytime soon (your releases (and reports) are safe).
* They offer physical CD and Vinyl distribution as part of the digital signup price (they will fulfill (mail out) CD/Vinyl orders for a fee of $4 a pop).
* No yearly (or hidden) fees. Once you signup an album you never pay again for any service (other than publishing).
* iTunes weekly Trend Reports. Still don’t get paid for a couple months, but you can see how the new release is doing.
* They also offer their publishing service CD Baby Pro that will link up. I did a full report on that here.
* Only company to collect SoundExchange (Rights 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 Featured Artist on your own with SoundExchange, but this cuts a lot of the hassle down.
* They take 9% commission.

I spoke with the founder, Philip Kaplan about his service. He is a musician and programmed it all himself. He is also the founder of the musician meet up site, Fandalism with over 600,000 musicians signed up. DistroKid is the newest service on the market. It opened up to the public on October 10th, 2013. It’s a completely different model than all the other digital distributors. They have been recommended by Derek Sivers (founder of CD Baby) and Jeff Price (founder of Tunecore) – who no longer work at the companies.
* Unlimited songs. You heard right. Whether you release 1 song or 1000 songs, it’s still $19.99 a year.
* Their website is SUPER clean and simple and you can get started with no headache.
* 2-4 hour upload time to iTunes (if it doesn’t get flagged for an audit by iTunes)
* They do not take commission.
* They clear cover songs with a check box (and get you the proper mechanical license)
* Email every step of the way. Every step that you complete you will receive an email – including when it’s live on the store (only company that does this).
* They charge for their “Store Maximizer” feature which automatically adds all your releases to any new store that comes out. Worth noting, you can manually add your releases to new stores (for free), but who is going to keep checking back to see if any new stores are added? Adding releases to new stores should be built in for free. **Update 5-4-15
* Extra features prices (like the Store Maximizer) is not clearly stated in their FAQ or their pricing page. It’s only on the actual Upload page.
* They charge $.99 PER SONG for Shazam atop of the $20 a year

I spoke with the founder, Chris Crawford. The service was created by 8 musicians. This is the 2nd newest service (by 16 days) and launched October 1st, 2013. Chris had a previous distribution company primarily used for A Cappella groups. Loudr’s digital distribution service is mainly for cover artists to easily get their music on iTunes. Loudr goes directly to the publishers and gets licenses directly for their artists (instead of the artist having to hunt these down). Chris used to work at iTunes so has “an in” there still and understands it a bit better than most new distribution companies. They have a stand alone download store, similar to BandCamp, which is their main focus, but I felt it was worth to include their digital distribution feature as it’s innovative and unique.
* No signup fee. You heard right. This is the ONLY company that is free to get unlimited music on iTunes. Whether you’re releasing a single or 10 simultaneous albums, it’s free.
* Obtains mechanical licenses for your cover songs
* Revenue splitting. If you have multiple artists creating a song together (like collaborations) and all artists are owed revenue from the downloads, they can all sign up for Loudr accounts and Loudr will pay out the respective percentages to each artist. This is especially great for “YouTubers” who constantly collaborate on cover song videos.
* Submission to Pandora. The only company that will submit you directly to Pandora.
+Watch Out Harry Fox, Loudr Is Coming For You
* They only distribute to 7 outlets – the fewest of any company
* They take 15% commission. (If you want Loudr to clear cover songs and obtain the mechanical license for US downloads it’s 30% – just for US downloads though, it’s still 15% for streams/international downloads)
* Most of their features like iTunes pre-order setup and digital booklet creation you cannot do on the site, you have to work with a support member.

I spoke with reps from ReverbNation twice. First with Ferol Vernon, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Artist Services, when I initially worked on this report for Ari’s Take (11/2013), and most recently for this updated report I spoke with the CEO, Mike Doernberg.
ReverbNation is a one stop shop, “all in one package” for new, young musicians. They don’t target established musicians and they have built up a huge network of bands just starting off who don’t know where to begin (their website boasts 3.56 million). RN tries to keep everything in house (email services, EPK, social media sync, etc), which is great for bands starting off, not good for more established, mid-level bands. They also do not have direct relationships with outlets but use INgrooves Fontana for distribution (like Mondotunes).
Doernberg explained to me the vision of ReverbNation and explained they are currently in a company transformation. Since I first posted this initial report on Ari’s Take, ReverbNation has updated many of their policies, price points and distribution outlets. I guess blogs can make a difference!
* 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 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.
* Everything a band sets up with ReverbNation is branded heavily with ReverbNation. It’s hard to operate independently from them in any respect.
* They are built for the beginning bands and don’t offer “professional” services for bands that outgrow the beginning model.

The newest company to this comparison review, however, not the newest company on the list. I added Symphonic because I’d been getting many questions from readers and felt I should check them out. Right off the bat, I’m impressed. I sat down with the founder and president, Jorge Brea. They are another boutique operation (like DistroKid and Loudr) and only have 15 employees. Symphonic is one of the few distribution companies out there that caters more to EDM artists, DJs and Producers (but distributes artists of every genre). Symphonic was started in 2006 by Brea and now has a roster of over 15,000 artists and 3,500 labels.
* They do not take a commission
* No yearly fees
* They distribute to Beatport and Pandora* Have a deal with the global not-for-profit independent digital rights agency, Merlin, which allows them special preference and benefits like Pandora/Beatport acceptance and higher royalty rates. Merlin bargains on behalf of their 20,000+ members (labels/distributors)
* They offer physical CD and Vinyl distribution (in part, powered by CD Baby). They have also partnered with Alliance Entertainment to get your records in shops around the world (must apply for this – not all are accepted).
* They have an opt-in admin pub service (they use Tunecore Publishing)
* They distribute to China and Korea
* High signup fees
* up to 2-3 weeks to get up in stores
* They don’t distribute cover songs (automatically). Their FAQ actually states they don’t. Period. But Jorge mentioned that they will if you write in and send the paper work. This is a lot of work, whereas other companies either do this for you or have a check box.
* Their slogan is “Become Major” which is misleading as every musician equates “major” with “major label.”

I spoke with Chris Mooney, Senior Director of Artist Promotions and Strategic Relationships. That’s a mouthful. They are one of the biggest distributors and he mentioned that 1 in 3 artists playing SXSW this year was a Tunecore artist.
**Update 9/21/15 – Tunecore has been sold to Believe Digital. Chris Mooney doesn’t seem to work at the company anymore. I’ve been in touch with Zach Bloom for the most recent updates.
* They do not take a commission
* iTunes, Spotify and Amazon MP3 Trend reports. You can see how much you sold on iTunes and Amazon (and streamed on Spotify) THE NEXT DAY. You still don’t get paid for a couple months, but this is a great way to see how a release is doing.
* They’ve been around a long time and are proven. Like CD Baby, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. Your releases (and reports) are safe!
* They have a publishing service linked up that you can read more about here.
* Yearly fees
* Additional store costs. Every store they add after you initially sign up costs $2 to send your existing release to them. Or you can signup for their “Store Automator” for $10 per release to distribute to all future stores at no extra cost. Imagine my horror that releases I had with Tunecore from a few years ago were NOT sent out to a bunch of popular (newer) stores and now I owe over $150 to get it to them?! That’s great they continue to add stores. It’s super shitty they charge for each store. Ouch. No other company does this.
* High fees for most extra features
* They are now owned by Believe. I don’t trust Believe after what they did to Zimbalam artists once they acquired Tunecore (they made every UK artist take down all their releases – losing all reviews, ratings and playlists – and redistribute through Tunecore). Whose to say they won’t do the same to Tunecore artists down the line for another company they acquire? Or just directly through Believe.


Clearly, there is no “best” service. You’ll have to decide what is best for your situation. Distrokid is best for constant creators; for those who don’t work in album cycles, but create music all on their own and want to put it out in the world immediately. Loudr is ideal for cover artists, collaborators and those who don’t want to pay any upfront fees. CD Baby and Tunecore are great for all their extra features and because they’ve been in the game for so long. Symphonic has a deal with Merlin, so they get some special benefits. ReverbNation is good for beginning artists who like everything bundled together with the utmost guidance. Where do you belong?

Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter and the creator of Ari’s Take. Listen to his new album, Brave Enough, on Spotify or download it on BandCamp. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake