Digital Music Distributors Compared (again)

It’s been a while since we last ran through the comparison between our digital distribution service and those of our competitors. Let’s open with a table looking at the USD$ price of signing up various types of release to a few of the major digital distributors out there on the net, which we’ll follow with links to the information pages from which these figures were derived, and a brief look at the pros and cons of each service. [A UPC is a barcode, necessary for most online stores to identify your release as a unique product.]

Signup Fee – All stores – 1yr


Sales Percentage



EP (5 Track)

Album (15 Track)

CD Baby






























The Gene Pool












CD Baby – First thing to note is that signing up to CD Baby’s digital service means you also have to sign up to their physical program, and send them at least 5 physical CD’s (click and see step 2 of this page). [You can get physical distribution through RouteNote via Amazon’s on demand service] On top of the signup fee, you’ll also need to pay them $20 to set up a UPC for you [we do this for free], then they’ll take 9% of the revenue that comes back from their online retail partners [slightly less than our 10%, but we’re not charging you any upfront fees]. Their signup fee is a flat, per release deal, although they say that single pricing is “coming soon”. (DMD)This deal information document makes us feel very nervous. The company doesn’t seem to have seen fit to run their deal memo through a spellchecker, so it seems unlikely they will have run it past a lawyer. Their flat fee service involves you paying £100 [!] upfront for a 6 month release, after which your music will be removed from any services they uploaded it to, so our table has them in for double to make up the year. It gets even more worrying – they ask that you send the money directly to them by PayPal with a payment tag attached explaining what you want to buy from them, and then they’ll contact you… I’m sure you can email them first and open a dialogue, but I’d need some pretty serious assurance that my money was safe before I sent it. This can’t ever be an issue with us, as money only ever flows one way. From us, to you.

Emubands – UK based, with a flat fee up front model, their lack of an annual subscription fee makes them the most efficient of our competitors, but their admin process is offline; meaning you have to send them a CD and a cheque and co-ordinate the upload and distribution remotely. With us, you can do it all from your computer, and monitor your release, your sales data, and what payments are owed at any time. You’d also have to make more than $1,400 worth of sales through iTunes before you had spent the equivalent of an album’s sign up fee with Emubands on our back end percentage (a dollar on iTunes means about 58c in your pocket with us).

Musicadium – Musicadium have a flat fee system, outlined in this document [pg.4] and based on how many stores you want your music to end up in, rather than how many tracks your release is. You have to pay Aussie sales tax on their fees, which you can claim back from the Australian government if you send them the receipt, and they have a AUD$20 annual renewal fee on top of this, if you want to stay with them after the 1st year.

RouteNote – This is us. We don’t charge you anything for uploading, subscription, hosting or anything else. We just take a straightforward 10% from the retail revenue of your tracks. This means that we want you to succeed, and we don’t ask you to pay us for the privilege of being a part of your success. If you’re selling millions of dollars worth of music, then you aren’t going to sign up with us, as the 10% gets big, but then, you’re probably signed to one of the big 4 anyway, and things get a lot more complicated in that case. We’re here for independent artists looking to self-release music without having to cross someone’s palm with silver to get their music up online – hopefully this is you!

The Gene Pool – Charge exactly the same back end rate as we do, but with an added fee on top, and distributing to less stores. This should be an easy decision for you to make.

Tunecore – They have headline package prices for singles and albums, but once you start getting into the nitty gritty of their pricing, things get a bit more expensive. The numbers above are based on their $0.99 per upload per track to a release, and then $0.99 per online store you want that release to go into. They also make a $19.98 a year maintenance charge per release, so your costs can start adding up once you’ve got a few different releases online.

A lot of these stores cry up the huge number of retail partners that they’ve got, but a lot of these are duplications, counting the iTunes stores in different territories as separate entities, that kind of thing. We try and keep it simpler than that, deal with the major retailers, and only count them all once. It is important to keep in mind just how small a share of the market the minority stores have; iTunes represented about 88% of the American market way back in ’06 and has been growing since; we’ve done more analysis of their market share in this previous post. This means that once you get past the top 3 retailers, the additional revenue streams from the rest of the market are comparatively very small.

There are a few other distribution houses out there that don’t deign to put their deals out on the net for people to see – if you’ve got experience of working with The Orchard, Ingrooves, IODA or anyone else and would like to contribute to this discussion, please comment and let us know what you think of their services. You can also check out our previous post comparing digital distribution services that goes through some different scenarios to this one – read it by clicking here.

[EDIT: – I neglected to mention Zimbalam, another of our competitors based in France. They have a slightly bigger store list than us, take the same back end percentage (10%) and charge a £20 fee for singles, £30 for albums)]

27, M, U.K.

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    First off, I find your pricing straight-forward and reasonable, and will most definitely consider you for future releases.

    That said, however, there are two aspects missing from your discussion here:

    1) Widgets. The quality of the tools available to market one’s releases is a major part of the deal for me. A distributer goes beyond making your releases available, and actually helps in facilitating sales, would be my choice every time.

    This brings me to the next point:

    2) A modern distributer should do more than just pass your music along to itunes etc. They should also help with marketing, provide tools, and market to boutique retailers etc

    IODA and Orchard, etc. are, in that sense, much more like traditional distributers, whereas I think of almost all of the above-named (yourself included) more as “aggregators”.

    IODA etc actually market releases to boutique store like Boomkat, Beatport and Insound, not just the mass-market outlets. For the niche-market artist this is essential! Itunes having an 88% market share, doesn’t mean nearly as much as you think it does, once you consider that virtually the same percentage is made up solely of major label artists and very well established independent artists.

    For the same reason that an unknown artist sell more physical CDs in smaller independent shops, artists who can get their music into small boutique mp3 retail outlets ought to fare well.

    The real downside to IODA and similar distributers is, of course, that they are extremely selective about who they work with. Smaller artists stand very little chance of having IODA and the like pick them up.

    But given the option, I think it’s what they add over-and-beyond the big retail outlets that make them so interesting.

    The first “aggregator” to start offering those contacts and connections to boutique retailers etc. will fare best in this increasingly crowded market.

    – Mark

    You make some good points, Mark; we are less involved in promoting our artists music than a distributor like the Orchard would be, but then you don’t have to pay us for stuff that we don’t do. The widgets and tools you need to promote your music online are all out there and available for free through places like Sproutbuilder, Artist Data and Soundcloud, so do you really need to pay someone to provide them for you? I do agree that having contacts in the industry is important, but if you’re at the point where your revenues are going to support a team of people to help push you into big live gigs and international album promotion, then you’re probably selling a lot of music and ours isn’t the best overall solution for you.

    Regarding your comments on niche stores, we’re aware that a larger proportion of electronic music is sold through them than the mainstream stores like iTunes, and we’re in the process of expanding our retail partners roster to include a few of the bigger ones. Hopefully by the time your next release is ready they’ll be live!

    A little fact correction, Dashiel! Our singles are $9.99–I’m not sure where you got that huge number from. The $9.99 includes ALL stores you want (you still get to pick them), all territories, etc., and the yearly on a single is also only $9.99.

    Since you get to pick your stores, even albums can be less than you calculated, by $0.99 for each store.



    Hi Peter – I got the amount by using your online upload tool: 17 stores, 1 track 99c each and then the annual maintenance fee (does that apply or is it included in the 10 dollar payment?). I did put a link to your $9.99 headline rate, and in the interests of transparency I’ve changed the rate in the table. Sorry for giving the wrong impression! I would have gone back online and posted a screenshot to show how your site worked it out, but unfortunately:

    The Tunecore website is down for maintenance.
    We appreciate your patience, and we expect to be back online by Wed, Dec 2, 2009, 11:00 AM EST.

    Hi Dashiel,

    A few corrections.

    In your post it says we’re ‘offline’ which is false, as customers can upload (YouSendIt) and pay online (PayPal) and monitor their sales through their EmuBands login.

    The $1,400 figure is way off the mark as well – after $1,188 of album sales you’re better off with us – that’s 119 copies of an album. We would pose the question; why continue to pay your distributor for something they’ve already done?

    Kind Regards,

    Thanks for the comment Stuart – is that info on YouSendIt up on your site? One could respond to your question ‘Why pay a distributor if their service doesn’t make you any money?’

    A list of the stores that each distribute to (the major players at least) would have been handy.

    If a distributor doesn’t do Spotify I don’t care how cheap they are.

    I think your info on CD Baby is wrong. I looked into them before going with RecordUnion, who unfortunately aren’t on this list and are VERY competitive in terms of price. You don’t have to sign up to CD Baby’s physical distribution any more, you can just do digital. [EDIT – If you can find this on their site, I’d like to see it…]

    Thanks very much for this breakdown of costs and services. It’s nice to see the players in this space weighing in on their offerings. Makes for a great resource for artists who are at the beginning stages of the process and are looking for comprehensive comparisons. Will watch this space and hope to read more.

    Hey Dashiel,

    FIrst off, thanks a ton for responding to my comment. I think you might well be right in terms of widgets. It’s a science to get them right, and perhaps it’s better we let distributors do what they do best and leave widget designs to developers etc., rather than make some half-baked widgets oneself and drive up the overall costs and fees.

    Also, I’m very excited to see what some of the stores you plan on working with will be. I would like to point out that I did not claim that “a larger proportion of electronic music is sold through [boutique online retailers] than the mainstream stores like iTunes.

    Instead, I wrote:

    “Artists who can get their music into small boutique mp3 retail outlets ought to fare well.” Over 60% of my digital sales are through itunes, and most of the rest comes via name-your-own-price models with

    I am under no illusions regarding iTunes’ importance, but I do believe that the often quoted 88% market share is somewhat distorted by major label artists, and that were independent artists able to sell their music via high-quality boutique stores, that iTunes’ share would end up somewhat closer to 50-70%.

    Anyhow, best of luck with everything, and I’ll be certain to keep checking in with routenote.


    Thank you much for all the info and ‘responders’ with corrections. This type of upfront info is very valueable to an Artist. I used Tunecore for my first CD…have no complaints as a first timer.
    I’m looking to release a single; weighing my options – in search of the best bang for my buck.
    I’d like to know which of these offer XM Radio as part of their distribution package? Or is that a totally different beast altogether?
    Again thanks for the info and keep up the good work.

    I’m also interested in which services are best if you’re releasing multiple singles. It’s quite confusing trying to figure it all out.

    I too am interested in which ones inlcude Spotify.


    i put my music on all the itunes stores and myspace threw tunecore, it all cost about $25.95, i have made that back from very little sales, and am still selling and keeping 100% royalty, if i went with you guys i would loose money, your 10% does not make sense.

    i will be paying tunecore $19.95 a year for my album, but if i was to pay them 10% i would be paying out more, so people do not believe the hype, you only loose money if your music sells less then 100 tracks (tracks not albums), and if they do not you should not be trying to sell music.

    Hi Hakan Tuna:

    Lets say you sell 200 tracks per year at $1.00 (which in reality its more like $0.60 retained for the artist at most).

    Tunecore = $25.95 (but I think its more for an album) – sales of $200 = Total = $ 174.05

    RouteNote = $0 costs. $200 sales – Artist keeps 90% = $180.00 retained.

    i am going to do this based on facts, i deal in sterling which is easier for me to work out… i actually sell music on itunes so the figures are correct..
    i get 49p per track sold on itunes, so lets compare

    100 sales
    tunecore = £49.00 – £16.23 = £32.77
    routnote = £49.00 – 10% = £44.10

    200 sales
    tunecore = £98.00 – £16.23 = £81.77
    routnote = £98.00 – 10% = £88.20

    300 sales
    tunecore = £147.00 – £16.23 = £130.77
    routnote = 147.00 – 10% = 132.30

    400 sales
    tunecore = £196.00 – 16.23 = £179.77
    routnote = 196.00 – 10% = 176.40

    SO AS YOU CAN SEE IF YOU SELL LESS THEN 400 SONGS A YEAR ON ITUNES THEN ROUTNOTE IS FOR YOU, BUT IF YOU SELL MORE THEN 400 (and not 10’000 as stated by routenote) then your better of with tunecore..


    TUNECORE £490 – 16.23 = £473.77
    ROUTNOTE £490 – 10% = £441.00

    a loss of £32.77 in other words you loose 52 DOLLARS per 1000 sales if you went with routnote…

    so if your going to bring a single out and expect to sell less then 400 then routnote is for you, but if your serious about selling music and expect to sell more then 400 from your single then tunecore is the best way.

    Dear Dashiel,
    Thanks for the nice blog and also for all the comments posted here. I recently joined TuneCore and uploaded my album (containing 8 tracks). In a way what you say is right about TuneCore. By the time I added each of my tracks and also added them to each different store the amount got bigger and bigger and it all added up to 100+ dollars! I have even paid them that sum!! Am just hoping that it’s all worth it but am still unsure how much I will be spending each year?!!

    Again, you made a point very clear in your blog regarding 10% share. If someone is selling millions then fair enough try something else or if its for an independent artist selling small to moderate number I still think Routenote may be the option. I will see how my experience with TuneCore will be and will probably try routenote for my upcoming album.

    Any thoughts?

    Thanks for the comment – you’re right, we’re not aiming RouteNote’s back end deal at the big sellers, but at the people who don’t want to shell out a regular fee without knowing what the returns will be on the sales of their music. Hopefully that’s a good fit for some of you guys out there on the web – if so, we’d love to hear from you!

    I agree with what RouteNote is doing. If you plan on selling millions of records, you would be with one of the big 4 labels. Routenote is for independant musicians who aren’t sure what the response to their music will be. And correct, you might make more cash with TuneCore after 400 sales than you would with RouteNote, but remember, TuneCore charges maintanance fees to keep your music up. RouteNote doesn’t. Also, RouteNote is extremely easy to work with- they fix errors within a few hours that you email the error to them. I’m not sure if TuneCore does that.

    I for one am very interested in Routenotes ‘pricing’ and ideas.

    I’ve been with CDBaby (before the ill fated ‘re-launch’ completely ruined all confidence I had in them), I moved to Zimbalam – who had been above board, clear and fair – one off fee as stated above – for a while.

    Today I found out (quite accidentally) that Zimbalam have now changed to the annual fee structure (and 100% profit no cut). I do not like this.

    The guy further up saying ‘you shouldn’t be selling music if you can’t sell more than 100 tracks a year’… where do you get off?

    Ok an album with 10+ tracks, maybe if you are lucky in this climate you will sell 50 albums, maybe even 100 and easily make back your yearly fee… but what about SINGLES??? Singles that die off, that you still want on iTunes/Amazon for years but know they are more to complete your catalogue for new fans rather than ‘big money makers’… if you had say 20 singles out, after five years you would be paying upkeep on those (even though they are no longer selling really) of £100 (zimbalam) or worse with places like Tunecore etc.

    It’s very shortsighted to get annoyed at a 10% ‘cut’ and think that’s somehow worse than being annually fleeced regardless of your sales. 10% cut on actual sales is as fair as it gets! You don’t sell then you don’t pay. If you really sold so many hundreds of thousands that you ended up paying Routenote (etc) say, £10k in commision so what, you’ve just MADE £90k!

    The other side is when you sell little, and you end up paying every last bit of profit back to the distributor just to keep your releases ‘alive’ while you spend half a year or more recording a new album that will hopefully make more.

    It’s getting to the point that I don’t trust any distributor as I can’t work out why they would care about artists, Zimbalam has just proved this to me, I thought they were different but they’ve obviously seen how to increase their own profits while ‘taking’ from those who can least afford it (i.e not the big sellers who don’t care one way or the other, nor should as they laughing all the way to the bank).

    Routenote, I’m going to try out with a single perhaps in the near future. It’s very much about the ability to ‘release’ without worrying about an annual fee and being able to afford to creatively release (single tracks, 2 track singles, EPs and albums) without only being able to release 12+ track albums for fear of ‘breaking even’.

    As an aside, the vast majority of my sales in the past have come firstly via iTunes (of course) then via Amazon… everything after that is barely worth mentioning. I’m on spotify and have seen NOTHING in revenue from that though I treat it more as marketing to be on there… it’s good to be on it, but it will never make you money – i’m glad Routenote have spotify but I would use it optionally for different releases (I would perhaps NOT release entire albums to Spotify and try and get as much money back via iTunes/Amazon (routenote) and directly via Bandcamp).

    Oh also about ‘widgets’ etc. I use Reverbnation for ALL my widget needs, even on myspace (using RN’s player) because they actually pay for streams (a small amount but it adds up). Also it’s just ONE place to control for uploads/promotion.

    I see routenote (or an ‘ideal’ distributor) being the most transparent and painless way to iTunes/Amazon/Spotify without sending me into the red and without expecting them to promote me (or other artists on the service) for some abitrary fee that may or may not be worthwhile.

    Leave Routenote to do what they focus on, they have a good idea here on what a lot of ‘true’ indies want. We can take care of a lot of promotion/widgets/website stuff ourself – we just need that foot in the door to itunes at as good a price as possible.

    And as was stated there’s really little need for Routenote to provide widgets etc when many sites already do it well (for free). Especially if it mean they started adding on mysterious ‘admin fees’ which would put them right back down the list, lost in the mire again.

    If routenote is above board (and I’ll be googling as much as I can in the next few days) then I think they could be what CD Baby USED to be for physical CDs (but for pure Digital only), that is they understand what is needed and don’t try and glam up their package to inflate prices for things that 9/10 make no difference to sales in the real world.

    We are the labels now, and we bring in the guys who can do the slickest jobs in each area – none can do ‘all’ perfectly, it’s up to us to hand pick the best in each category and for distribution to the places that matter – I can’t fault routenote if everything is as good as it seems from looking around the site.

    Am really interested in RouteNote after reading this. Currently have 2 albums on CDBaby, but now need to release 2 singles.
    Zimbalam looked all set to be what we wanted and we all thought it was great (I was going to use it til this latest bit of research I’m doing). What worries me is this: will RouteNote go the same way and turn the tables on us once we’ve signed up?
    Apologies if this sounds negative, just don’t want to get burned!

    @kiden Its great that you have looked at our service and then finally decided to go with RouteNote. RouteNote today has just launched a new premium model, which we hope will appeal to all types of artists worldwide. Our Free version by which the artist can upload and retain 90% of revenues will never go away, but with the new additional payment model the choice is completely yours. There are no hidden fees like a lot of distributors and what you see is what you get.

    A couple of people have mentioned BandCamp above, but while they do offer a great deal it’s let down by their website. Every song you upload is available for preview in their player, but the music isn’t streamed it’s DOWNLOADED! Your listeners only have to copy the mp3s from their cache folder. It’s not entirely obvious I admit, but the bright yellow download progress bar incorporated into the player is a bit of a give away.

    The Soundcloud and FaceBook players are just the same.

    Hi all!,

    I must say this has been a very interesting blog to read including the stirr between everyone writing comments!

    What I think would be a good (and fair) idea is for people who have their work distributed to write a comment below stating what their ideal distributor would be and why (and keep it sensible and realistic!) as this way, you might find that some distributors might take the points into consideration!

    Give it a try!


    It all depends on where you want to go with your music.

    I’m more interested in getting music on TV, in ads or programmes, or in movies, than I am in topping the charts. A combination of Routenote, Sentric and Bandcamp is my ideal setup.

    That said, I’m part of two other more commercially viable projects and it has been left up to me to handle distribution… I’ll most likely still use Routenote. There’s no bullcrap and none of the raging egoism that you find with other distributors such as Tunecore and Ditto.

    They distribute to fewer stores, yes, but most of us only really need iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.

    The only thing I don’t about like about Routenote is the purple colour scheme!! :-)

    Zimbalam is clearly scamming people using automated scams and charging them for flaws to take down their albums,

    ive been reading and asking around about EU distributors, i found 4 artists who where ripped of by Zimbalam, 3 where automated scams, their albums went online with mismatched titles., the 4th one was a typo in no way the automated system could of been responsible since their receipts clearly show the title.

    the 4th scam exposes deliberate tampering with their system, manually!

    Zimbalam normally sends PDF receipts verifying titles of the album when you pay along with contract via email and paypal, once the album is approved, the artists gets a second email alerting that it was uploaded.

    Zimbalam sent an email receipt to this one artists, yet after a period of 45 days of waiting the artists goes to see why they never got a approval email to find out it is in stores on itunes etc,

    The Artists contacts Zimbalam to notify them of the title typo, Zimbalam instead responds in an email claiming the whole process was rejected by their automated system because the art work was the wrong resolution, but how can it of been rejected before uploaded yet online, so the artists responds to alert them its already uploaded, Zimbalam responds with a email error, can not reply to email etc.

    Artists sends another email to Zimbalam to alert them but they instead offer two choices, change artwork or pay to pull Album.

    this is clearly a scam and Zimbalam sounds arrogant about dealing with anything wrong on their part, i say this company is a fraud.

    We, the Macbrothers, Inc., released two songs at Tunecore, Priscilla & Egypt, over a year ago. We haven’t made a red cent on either song since the release date at the beginning of February 2011. In all the distribution outlets Tunecore is affiliated with you would believe confidently that one individual from the whole of the worldwide web would have bought a copy of one of the two inexpensive released songs: at least. Not so. Zilch. This smells of manipulation or favoritism on the part of Tunecore and whoever else is involved. We plan to elicit the succor of the U.S. Justice Department about the moral integrity of this online service for songwriters and musicians. I don’t believe Tunecore is as forthright as it boasts itself to be. In contrast, it doesn’t appear in the forefront to be shady, but when one plus one doesn’t equal two, as the Principia Mathematica teaches us, then one needs to check at the backdoor to find out what’s going on.

    Wesley McCants
    Member of BMI
    Disabled Vietnam Veteran

    Post Script: How can a company swindle a disabled veteran and sleep at night?

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