Ari's Take - The Biz Behind Full-Time Independent Music by musician Ari Herstand

CD Baby, Tunecore, DistroKid, AWAL, Ditto...Who is the Best Digital Distribution Company for Music

(Page 2) Digital Distribution Terms Defined

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8 Reasons Why Singer/Songwriter Shows Are Boring

12 Ways To Get More Facebook Likes (And Engagement) For Your Musician Page

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How To Objectively Pick Your Best Songs (Or Find Out If You Suck)

The Reason You Never Get An Email Response

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8 Things You're Forgetting To Do On Show Day

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How To Write a Press Release (And Get Press)

9 Reasons Your Band Isn't Getting Press

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7 Ways To Crack The Musical Gatekeepers

6 Types Of Emails You Should Never Send

How To Make Money From Your Music On An Ongoing Basis

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How To Hire Freelance Musicians

Why Music Managers Just Don't Cut It (The NEW Team)

How To Be A Classy Self-Promoter

When Paying For Music Works

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My Response To An LA Pay-To-Play Promoter

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The One Thing Musicians Should Never Admit

How To Kill a 30 Year Career in 5 Minutes

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Interview with founder of Indie On The Move

Why No One Cares About Your Music

Booking Your Own Tour: A How-To Guide

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Smash Your Shitty Guitar

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Friend Fatigue

Gatekeepers
Ari's Take

CD Baby, Tunecore, DistroKid, AWAL, Ditto...Who is the Best Digital Distribution Company for Music

446

This is the most comprehensive and accurate digital distribution review comparison piece on the web.

By far. I checked. Who is the best digital distributor? Read on…

Amuse vs. AWAL vs. CD Baby vs. DistroKid vs. Ditto Music vs. Fresh Tunes vs. Horus Music vs. Landr vs. MondoTunes vs. OneRPM vs. ReverbNation vs. RouteNote vs. Soundrop vs. Stem vs. Symphonic vs. Tunecore

4 years ago I reviewed 9 of the top digital distribution companies out there to help DIY musicians discern how to get their music on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Amazon, Pandora, etc and who the best company to help them do this is. I kept that list updated over the years, but it was time for a revamp.

So, today, August 30th, 2017 arrives the updated, official Ari’s Take Totally Awesome Digital Distribution Comparison Article.

Or ATTADDC for short.

So for the past few months I have been learning everything I could about these 16 companies.

It’s worth noting that my team reached out to INgrooves, Believe and The Orchard, but they did not get back to us after multiple attempts. Something to hide? Are they not proud of their service? If you work for one of these companies and want to be included, get in touch and I’ll include you! These three cater to labels and artists with buzz or representation. And they typically offer more personalized service for 15% commission or so. But this is just what I’ve heard because THEY DIDN'T GET BACK TO US so I don’t know for sure. I’ve heard mixed reviews about INgrooves, Believe and The Orchard. Very mixed. So I cannot give any of them my stamp of approval... yet. Maybe when I sit down with them and get a breakdown of their services.

Moving on.

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 DistroKid 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.

I also want to make SUPER clear that none of these companies OWN any of your rights, copyrights or music.

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. Capiche?

I spoke to reps at every company for this review, to get a full in-depth look at each company and for the reps to explain to me their company's best features (that I may have missed scanning their FAQ). Being a musician, I asked them questions I deemed most important for independent musicians. I have distributed 13 releases to date using a few of these services.

This review is just taking a look at companies that will get your music into digital stores and streaming services, like Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Google Play, Tidal, Amazon, Pandora, Deezer, etc and NOT about stand alone, digital download, self-managed stores, like BandCamp.

Full disclosure, I have used CD Baby, DistroKid, TuneCore, Stem and Loudr (now Soundrop) to distribute releases with my own project (and we tested a release with Amuse under a fake name).

Also, CD Baby, DistroKid, ReverbNation and Symphonic have advertised, currently advertise or have agreed to advertise in the future with Ari’s Take. I have spoken at CD Baby’s DIY Musician conference and will be speaking during AWAL’s sponsored sessions at Amplify in London. And I went to a party at the Landr House in the Hollywood Hills.

HOWEVER, I made super clear to these companies that their advertising does not influence my review AND I only allow companies I trust and support to advertise on Ari’s Take. I turn away more advertisers than I accept.

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 included on the chart the categories that I deemed most important. All the companies have extra services and I included some of their services in their review if I thought they were great and left out some of their services if I didn’t care about them. This is a distribution comparison, not a full review of these companies.

We are moving into an era of transparency.

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).

Also, the next decade will be heavily focused around Asia. For the first time in history, people in China are PAYING for music (via streaming services). This market is about to explode. That’s why I added it to the comparison chart.

And, 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 synch opportunities and other ways to help jumpstart your career.

If you have any questions or have experience (good or bad) with these companies, please let me know in the comments below!

QUESTION: What does DSP stand for in music?

ANSWER: 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.

OK ONTO THE COMPARISON

(in alphabetical order)



Amuse Review:

The second newest company to the party. I interviewed Andreas Ahlenius, co-founder and head of growth, via Skype from Sweden. Well, I was in LA, Andreas was in Sweden where the Amuse team is based.

The thing that sets Amuse apart from everyone else is that 1) they are app-only. Meaning, they have no desktop version. You submit everything via Dropbox (etc) links. And 2) there is no upfront cost and they take no commission. Their play is that they are hoping to swoop up the artists that start to catch and sign them to a 50/50 label deal by simply analyzing data. No real A&R, just data analysts. One of the founders used to study data analytics at Universal Music Group (Sweden), another came from Warner Music Group (Sweden), and their head of design used to work at Spotify.

This is a company that is all about “throwing gasoline on the fire.” They have very limited extra features and they aren’t really catering to career artists needing a distribution service but rather artists who want to test out a few singles to see if they’ll ‘catch’ and then get picked up by their team. Because they are so new they don’t have too many success stories to relay, but they are quite confident their method will work.

They have a bank roller who is investing in the company and helping provide them with marketing money for the artists they want to invest in. What worries me, though, is if this investor walks their entire business folds. They are a long ways away from becoming a profitable business.

The first two artists they have signed (since launching in March) are Pawl and Plàsi.

BEST:

  • No fees
  • No commission. You keep 100% of the revenue.
  • Extremely data driven/focused.
  • Give advances (for signed artists)
  • Pay for marketing (for signed artists)
  • Can upstream to a 50/50 (not 360) label agreement.

WORST:

  • New and unproven. If they lose their investor, their entire company folds.
  • No admin publishing partner to help collect songwriter royalties.
  • No desktop site to upload (app only)
  • Will not obtain mechanical license for cover songs


AWAL Review:

“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.

BEST:

  • 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

WORST:

  • No payment splitting
  • 15% commission
  • Invite only
  • High payment threshold ($45)
  • No place to see all playlists
  • Slow customer support turnaround time
  • No admin publishing partner to help collect songwriter royalties (must be ‘signed’ to Kobalt)


CD Baby Review:

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.

BEST:

  • 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.
  • They give Ari's Take readers 10% off CD Baby Pro Publishing (must be Pro - not just regular distribution). Use promo code "ARISTAKE" at checkout
  • Synch licensing possibilites (for select artists)

WORST:

  • 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)



DistroKid Review:

When I wrote my first digital distribution comparison just about 4 years ago, DistroKid was the new kid (pun intended) on the block. They (well, at the time it was just 1 dude, Philip Kaplan) had just launched and had already received praise from Derek Sivers (founder of CD Baby) and Jeff Price (founder of TuneCore and Audiam). Neither of these founders still work at their companies - obviously they wouldn’t be heartily praising a competitor.

DistroKid was the first distributor to offer unlimited distribution for one annual fee and DK has been continuing to push innovation and challenge the industry ever since. In just four years, DistroKid has become one of the top 20 distributors worldwide for total units sold/streamed.

DistroKid was built and is run by Philip Kaplan. Philip (known as @pud by the Silicon Valley community) was once on the cover of Inc. and Fast Company magazines for his early 2000s blog F*cked Company. He is also the founder of Fandalism. And he’s a kickass drummer.

DistroKid is one of the leanest operations of the bunch with just 7 total employees (two just got hired). DistroKid is very data focused with no bells and whistles. It’s sleek and simple. Just one page to distribute your song or album. Very, very simple.

Like the people at CD Baby, I’ve gotten to know Philip well over the past few years and he’s a great dude. There’s a lot to be said about the people and culture at a company. If your leaders are petty, thin-skinned, vindictive pricks (I’m not naming names here…) that ethos seeps into every aspect of the company and royally f*cks everything (and everyone) up. If your company is lead by good, honest, people, then your employees (and customers) will feel that. Philip is one of the good guys.

DistroKid was also one of the first to offer automatic payment splitting (all the others you had to manually write in and ask for this, but most don't offer it - which is a hassle). There is a lot that can be improved upon with their payment splitting (like the ability for the main artist account to cover the fees for everyone else and payments being split ONLY after one party has recouped all the expenses of the album. Like, I paid $20K for my new album. I owe my producer 20%, but ONLY after I recoup the $20K.).

It’s a great start, and hopefully the kinks will be worked out soon. However, if you want to split remix revenue with your producer or pay your featured artists or collaborators of any kind, they register an account and you can setup the payment splitting together. The only other company that has as streamlined process when it comes to payment splitting is Stem (see below). All the others that offer it work on a more manual process (writing in to request it).

Oh, and Ludacris used DistroKid for his latest release. So there’s that.

BEST:

  • No commission. You keep 100% of the revenue.
  • Unlimited songs for one yearly price.
  • Payment splitting
  • Single page signup.
  • Email every step of the way - upload success, when it appears in Spotify, iTunes, etc.
  • Next day trending reports
  • “Leave a Legacy.” If you select this option for $30/release, the release will never come down “even if you die.” If you miss your annual payment on any of the other services (or DistroKid without this option), your releases will be removed.
  • Ability to download the songs. DK stores everything in the cloud. And if you need to download the wav file of your song because your hard drive crashed or something, you can log into your account and download it.
  • Text message marketing (coming soon) which has the potential to be incredibly powerful. It was tested on Ludacris’ release and supposedly was quite effective.
  • They give Ari's Take readers 10% off here

WORST:

  • Reports and analytics. DistroKid gives very basic information in plain site (total money earned and total plays from each platform), but to see how much a single song earned or plays from a single song is virtually impossible and requires downloading a CSV then doing some excel magic which I am not smart enough to do. They give you ALL the data, but no one can comprehend it when it’s thousands of lines of single plays. And the totals are only by page (?!) not by song/artist/platform, etc.
  • $.99/year/release for Shazam - this is free with all other services and it isn't disclosed up front that this is not included for the yearly price. If you distribute an album of 10 songs, it will cost you an additional $10/yr for that album just for Shazam.
  • No admin publishing partner to help collect songwriter royalties.
  • Text message marketing feature has been ‘coming this week’ for months
  • No mechanisms in place to help artists who start to catch (marketing support, playlist plugging, etc)



Ditto Music Review:

Ok, deep breath. A lot has changed since I posted my first digital distribution comparison article 4 years ago. I’ve been threatened lawsuits (twice), companies have ‘pivoted’ and gotten out of the distribution business. Companies have been acquired (Believe bought Tunecore) and others have gone under.

Ditto Music is one of the companies that threatened to sue me. Well, the co-CEO Lee Parsons did, for asking a question about royalty collection.

Ditto Music is run by co-founders, co-CEOs, co-brothers, Lee and Matt Parsons. It started in the UK and was who Ed Sheeran first used to distribute his self-released music back before his record deal. Remember what I said about culture and ethos of a company? Well, I’m sorry to say that Lee and Matt have some of the worst reputations in the space. They consistently berate their customers (publicly on message boards) and get into Twitter battles with bloggers (me). They have very thin skin and cannot take criticism well. This is all personal, yes, but this attitude seeps into every aspect of their company - including customer service.

I have gotten more complaints from readers about Ditto than any other company on the list. By far. Complaints about missed payments. Complaints that the customer service is great ONLY UNTIL you pay them money, then customer service is non-existent. Metadata errors and mislabeling/misordering of songs on the album with it taking months to get it fixed. Removals taking months.

All in all, even though Ditto has a great marketing department (for the company - not their artists) and even though they have rapidly expanded to two countries with multiple offices and even though there are very good people who work at Ditto, I cannot recommend their service.

I was contacted by people at Ditto pleading with me to change my perception of the service and to alter my review. I said that I won’t hold grudges and I’m very open to seeing companies turn things around and acknowledge their past mistakes. All I asked for was an apology from Lee. Could be an email. A tweet. A phone call. That was 5 months ago.

Needless to say, this is the only company that I am confidently putting into the ‘do not work with them’ category.

BEST:

  • No commission. You keep 100% of the revenue.
  • Unlimited songs for one yearly price.
  • Reports and analytics reports are very clear and intelligible. Are they accurate? Who knows.

WORST:

  • Lots of hidden fees
  • Customer service
  • Lots of complaints from customers
  • No admin publishing partner to help collect songwriter royalties
  • No mechanisms in place to help artists who start to catch (marketing support, playlist plugging, etc)



Fresh Tunes Review:

This company is based in Moscow, Dubai and London. The headquarters are in Dubai even though 20 of the employees work in Moscow. I spoke with Andrew Rudetskih and Alexandra (Sasha) Aleksandrova out of Moscow to get a better handle on their service.

So, this is the only other company that does not take a commission OR a fee (like Amuse). They are funded by investors and the company makes money with upsells like Landr mastering, artwork design and marketing (Facebook ads).

Similar to Stem and Amuse, I’m slightly wary of any investor-funded company because if they lose their investor(s) the company goes under. They don’t seem to have a sustainable business model.

BEST:

  • No fees
  • No commission. You keep 100% of the revenue. (except from China)
  • Distribution to Chinese DSPs
  • Have ‘experts’ who will review your music for $25/song. Can be helpful to get objective feedback.

WORST:

  • Only 15 total outlets
  • They are new and unproven. I’m unsure that if they lost funding from their investors that they would be able to keep the lights on. If they go under, so do your releases.
  • No payment splitting. What’s payment splitting? Scroll down.
  • No admin publishing partner to help collect songwriter royalties.
  • No mechanisms in place to help artists who start to catch (marketing support, playlist plugging, etc)



Horus Music Review:

This is a new company to my review. One of the biggest complaints I got after my first comparison was that I only had one distributor outside of the US. Now I have 7. Like how OneRPM has cornered the Latin American market, UK based Horus is starting to corner the Asian market. They have seen success in India and Korea and are expanding into China. They have a lot of mechanisms in place to help with marketing and promotion (for a fee). Even though they are technically open to all, they do listen to every release that comes through to make sure it is of some quality. They want to keep their reputation high with the DSPs.

BEST:

  • Choose the plan that make sense for your project: Free (for 20% commission) or 0% for a fee
  • Distribution to Asian markets
  • In-house playlist pluggers (for a fee, with approval)
  • In-house playlist pluggers and other marketing services (for a fee and by approval)

WORSE:

  • No admin publishing partner to help collect songwriter royalties.
  • No payment splitting
  • High takedown cost for the first 3 months (if there’s an error with distribution and you need something fixed, it’ll cost you).



Landr Distribution Review:

So, if you’ve heard of Landr you know them as an automated mastering service. They have struck partnerships with seemingly every company in the music industry with their one-click mastering service.

Well, they just entered the distribution game this past June. Quietly. Without telling any of their partners. And word on the street is, it royally pissed off some of their distribution partners - which severed some of those relationships.

I reviewed their mastering service a bit in my book.

With their 1.3 million mastering clients, they are in a solid position to hit the ground running on distribution.

BEST:

  • No commission
  • ASCAP members get free membership and free distribution
  • In house playlist pluggers (for artists gaining traction)
  • Free distribution with any mastering membership
  • Shared workspace. Landr has a collaborative workspace where everyone on the team can work on a track in a centralized location. I haven't tested it yet, but it sounds very intriguing. Worth looking into.
  • Website is in 7 languages

WORST:

  • New and unproven. There is a big learning curve when it comes to the distribution.
  • Yearly/Monthly fees
  • Lots of missing features that other distributors offer.
  • No admin publishing partner to help collect songwriter royalties
  • Does not provide a mechanical license for you to release a cover song seamlessly (you have to go to Loudr, Harry Fox’ Songfile or Easy Song License to get your own).
  • No mechanisms in place to help artists who start to catch (marketing support, playlist plugging, etc)



MondoTunes review:

This is a case where a company can really turn things around (in my eyes). After my first review of them for my first Distro comparison article 4 years ago, their (former) CEO railed on me. You can read what happened here or see his comment below. He not only threatened to sue me but called me and left me a long message saying that I was equivalent to the man who slept with his wife and broke up his marriage of 25 years. No. Joke. He actually said that.

Well, dude is no longer actively involved with the company anymore. And my conversation with Javan, who now heads the company, was very pleasant. He was very apologetic of the former CEO’s behavior. Lee Parsons with Ditto could take some cues from Javan at MondoTunes or Mike Doernberg at ReverbNation. Or not.

MondoTunes, though, is still behind the curve. They seem to constantly be playing catch up. They offer very little innovation to the industry.

Their earliest investor was a dude who had some kind of connection to Interscope Records, so the distribution network is the same as Interscope's. They have touted this in all of their marketing which has gotten many young artists to fall over themselves to work with MondoTunes because they think they will be Lady Gaga or Maroon 5 (which they discuss in their promotional materials - even though these artists have absolutely nothing to do with MondoTunes).

MondoTunes distributes to the most outlets by far. BUT, and this is a big Kardashian but, it does not mean you will make more sales simply because your music is in more outlets. Just because your song is in a store does’t mean anyone will buy or stream it.

MondoTunes has very few major success stories to speak of and seems to target the young, inexperienced artists.

BEST:

  • Distribution to the most worldwide DSPs (including Asian markets)

WORST:
  • 10% commission
  • Yearly fees
  • No payment splitting
  • No admin publishing partner to help collect songwriter royalties.
  • No daily trending reports
  • Distribution speed - require 3-4 weeks lead time typically
  • Does not handle mechanical licenses for cover songs
  • No mechanisms in place to help artists who start to catch (marketing support, playlist plugging, etc)


OneRPM Review:

Even though OneRPM is based in Nashville (with 6 other offices in NYC, Miami, Mexico City, Bogotà, Rio De Jinero and Sao Paulo. OneRPM has the Latin American market (and specifically the Brazilian market) on lock. 70% of their clients are from Latin America, about 20% are from the US and 10% from the rest of the world. The founder and CEO, Emmanuel Zunz, told me that Brazil is 2nd to the US in worldwide audio consumption (I’m assuming he is excluding the entire Asian markets - since OneRPM don’t distribute there).

OneRPM is moving away from a DIY focused business and is focusing more on label/distribution deals ‘signing’ artists. 95% of their business are from artists they sign or labels they represent.

Much of their focus is on Latin America (and Brazil), which leaves serious blind spots when it comes to how the rest of the world operates. But, I would guess that no one understands the Brazilian market better than OnePRM. Emmanuel told me a story on how they were able to collect YouTube mechanical royalties for a Brazilian artist retroactive for 4 years.

BEST:

  • Best distributor for Latin America (especially Brazil)
  • Have their own popular playlists they can insert their artists into
  • In house playlist pluggers
  • 6 different MCNs (Multi-Channel Networks) with 5.5 billion views a month. This helps maximize YouTube revenue. They have video production studios where their artists can shoot videos.
  • Collect YouTube mechanicals in Brazil
  • Payment splitting
  • Analytics showcase playlist skip rate (access to detailed Spotify playlist API)
  • Give advances

WORST:

  • Not catering to DIY musicians anymore
  • 15% commission
  • No Asia distribution (with no plans to expand)
  • No admin publishing partner to help collect songwriter royalties


ReverbNation Distribution Review:

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.

You can get 10% off if you use my code AK-ARISTAKE on your next ReverbNation CrowdReview

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

BEST:

  • 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.

WORST:

  • 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)



RouteNote Review:

RouteNote has been around since 2008 and has held steady even though it hasn’t made the giant waves of the CD Babys, Tunecores and DistroKids of the space. It has a solid team of 25 in the office (most are actually in working bands) with 18 developers in India. The founder/CEO Steven is originally from Australia and moved to London to run a recording studio.

RouteNote was one of the first distributors to partner with SoundCloud. They have a small record label and management services. RouteNote moderates the data and if they see songs that are starting to catch they will target tastemakers and playlist editors. “Artists don’t typically know that they are being pushed” Steve told me.

RouteNote is one of the first distributors to reach all of the Chinese outlets in addition India, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Australia (with 193 total countries). They boast that they cover “95% of the world’s music market” and are “constantly partnering with extra stores.” Steve predicted that in “5-10 years (the Asian market) is going to be crazy.” They have gotten in on the front end of it all.

He said currently some artists are currently earning a living from the revenue just based from China. He said the Younger generation is very strong in China. It’s the same demographic as YouTube.

Steve told me that “mobile phones changed everything” in India and China. It’s driving the youth who might be in very rural areas who before would not have the opportunity to find, consume (and pay for) music.

BEST:

  • Strong in Asian markets - namely China
  • Internal playlist pluggers
  • No fees whatsoever

WORST:

  • Revenue and analytics reports. No clear interface to see your reports - you have to download a CSV file and work Excel magic.
  • Distribution speed - require 3-4 weeks lead time typically
  • No admin publishing partner to help collect songwriter royalties.
  • 15% commission
  • No payment splitting
  • No daily trending reports



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 (AWAL is the other) which allows the team to give personal attention to artists and managers.

I visited their LA offices and got a full run down on how the service operates.

BEST:

  • 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.

WORST:

  • Invite-only
  • 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



Soundrop Review:

First off, go check out their Twitter account. It’s hilarious. The best in the biz. Beyond goofy. It’s completely unprofessional and I f*cking love it for that.

It’s run by the head of Soundrop, Pony. Soundrop was created when CD Baby took over Loudr’s distribution service last year. Loudr, for the uninitiated, is the superb mechanical licensing company which specializes in obtaining mechanical licenses from publishers (for your covers), royalty collection, calculations and payments. They have struck partnerships with distributors like DistroKid, CD Baby and Landr to be their built-in mechanical license service (so you can distribute cover songs for a small, up front fee versus having to go hunt down your own mechanical license - from HFA’s Songfile, Easy Song License or Loudr directly on their website).

Soundrop is technically located in the CD Baby building, but the services are completely separated and Pony mentioned that he doesn’t really talk to the CD Baby people very much. There are just 2 dedicated staff members. It’s primarily for young YouTubers or video game music composers who are just getting started. It’s meant for collaborators. Like Stem, it had payment splitting from the very start. And is focused around getting everyone paid their appropriate percentage (so you don’t have to deal with handling paying your collaborators).

Soundrop isn't meant to compete with the other services (like their sister CD Baby). It’s meant to simplify distribution for a very specific kind of creator.

BEST:

  • No fees whatsoever for originals
  • Payment splitting
  • Free accounts for collaborators
  • Streamlined, no hassle cover distribution
  • $9.99 to obtain a mechanical license to distribute a cover song (cheapest of any platform)
  • Under the (established and beloved) CD Baby umbrella

WORST:

  • 15% commission
  • Revenue and analytics reports. Not very developed or intelligible. Very difficult to get granular data.
  • Payment splitting is not automatic (you have to email in and request it).
  • Only 5 total outlets: Apple Music / iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Google Play, Deezer
  • New and unproven
  • Lots of missing features that other distributors offer.
  • No admin publishing partner to help collect songwriter royalties.
  • No daily trending reports
  • No mechanisms in place to help artists who start to catch (marketing support, playlist plugging, etc)



Symphonic Distribution Review:

Symphonic Distribution is a small operation, but I see them at most of the conferences - so they are out there doing it. Founded and run by Jorge Brea in 2006, they have grown to over 50,000 artists. Worth noting that they have linked up with some other companies to offer services like their admin publishing partner is their competitor Tunecore Publishing and their physical distribution is powered by CD Baby. Which I found odd that they didn’t team up with SongTrust like the others do. But alright.

BEST:

  • They do not take a commission
  • No yearly fees
  • They distribute to Beatport and Pandora
  • Collect SoundExchange revenue for you (both Copyright Owner and Artist sides)
  • Have a deal with the global not-for-profit independent digital rights agency, Merlin, which allows them special preference and benefits and higher royalty rates. Merlin bargains on behalf of their 20,000+ members (labels/distributors)
  • In house playlist pluggers
  • 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

WORST:

  • High signup fees
  • No automatic payment splitting
  • No Spotify or Amazon trending reports
  • Pays quarterly (most pay monthly or weekly)



Tunecore Review:

So, 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.

BEST:

  • 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

WORST:

  • 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)

Click to enlarge




+What do these categories from this chart mean?

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Conclusion:


There is no “best” or “worst” distributor. 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. And there is no one way to look at music distribution.

If you have any questions, comments or experiences with any of these companies please list them in the comments. I'll try to respond to everyone.

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Ari Herstand (pronounced Ar*ee Her*stand) is a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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