What you need to know about music distribution

NOTE: The CD Baby Pro Publishing service was discontinued as of August 8th, 2023. Any paid release which was signed up for CD Baby Pro Publishing prior to August 8th, 2023 is considered a Legacy Pro release and will continue to receive Pro Publishing services. CD Baby now offers a new expanded suite of revenue amplifiers called “CDB Boost” instead.

Distributing music is about more than making something available; it’s about making an impact.

Whether you’re about to release your first single or you’re a Grammy-winner putting out your 20th studio album, you need distribution for your music, plain and simple.

The songs have to move from A to Z, from here to there, from you to your listeners. The problem is your listeners access music in dozens of different ways, in hundreds of different places. That’s where music distribution comes in.

Let’s break it down.

What is music distribution?

Music distribution is what we call sharing your music among a number of recipients. That can mean such as streaming platforms or stores. Companies like CD Baby are music distributors, because we handle your music in a variety of ways:

  • Physical distribution, making your CDs and vinyl available to a network of record stores (both online and “brick and mortar,” the kind you can walk into).
  • Digital distribution, making your music available to download platforms and streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora Premium, Amazon, etc.
  • Additional monetization services, helping you earn money for the usage of your music on YouTube, Facebook, in TV shows, and more.

Why do I need a distributor for my music?

Another way to ask this is, “Why can’t an unsigned artist get their songs onto Spotify and Apple Music directly?”

To put it simply, you as the artist are not their customer. Your fans are their customers. These companies don’t want to take on the substantial customer service and development burden of dealing directly with millions of musicians. That’s where distributors come in.

At CD Baby, our principle client is YOU — and we create the systems, artist tools, communication channels, and informational resources you need so you can upload your music ONCE and make it available worldwide in a successful way.

Imagine having to create separate accounts and upload your music and artwork files for each and every digital music platform! Imagine the accounting headaches! Imagine the emails in your inbox!

CD Baby serves as a buffer between the creator of the music and the outlets that make that music available. But more importantly for you, we save you — the artist or label — a ton of time and work.

What to consider when choosing a music distributor

“Valuable” differs depending on your needs of course, but there are ten high-level benefits CD Baby provides to musicians:

    1. A wide partner network of DSPs and media outlets

You want to make sure that when your music gets out there, it gets OUT there, worldwide, in every possible place listeners are looking for you. CD Baby will deliver your music to 100+ services, so you can rest easy that you’ve got coverage.

But let’s be real. To varying degrees based on your genre and location, most of your activity is going to come from a handful of giants.

Some of the most important digital music services in the United States are:

      1. Spotify – The leader in interactive music streaming, with both paid subscription and ad-supported options.
      2. Apple Music – Apple’s powerful on-demand streaming service, with a heavy focus on curated playlists.
      3. iTunes – The biggest player in the music download business since its launch in 2004.
      4. Amazon – The undisputed giant of online retail has both download and subscription streaming options.
      5. YouTube – Though known as a video platform, YouTube is actually one of the dominant players in music streaming and discovery.
      6. YouTube Music– Previously part of Google Play, the service has rebranded. While closely tied to its namesake, it’s actually different from YouTube.
      7. Tidal – Offering high-fidelity digital music and exclusive content at a premium to subscribers.
      8. Pandora Premium – The paid interactive offering from the popular internet radio service.
      9. Deezer – An intuitive interactive streaming service competing for global listeners.

That being said, many of the other services we’re partnered with are big outside of the US, and you definitely want to make your music available in those places, even if you don’t see much activity on those platforms initially. Platforms rise and fall in popularity with some frequency, so be everywhere and you won’t miss out.

    1. Speedy (but verified) music delivery to digital platforms

CD Baby has long-standing relationships with the big digital music platforms, and we’ve developed a distribution system that combines fast delivery with manual (human!) inspection of every release, so if you spelled a track title incorrectly or listed the wrong publisher for a cover song, we’ll catch it!

Yes, CD Baby can deliver your music to our digital partners in a heartbeat, but are you really rushing your release so quickly that you need it live RIGHT NOW with zero strategy?

Let’s plan this out. Let’s spend some time so you can take advantage of all the opportunities CD Baby can offer, including:

More info about many of these items to follow. In short: Slow down and plan smart. You only get one chance to release this music to the world.

[But okay okay, sure, if you just got the masters for your album and you want the music live by Friday, we’re not going to say no.]

    1. Trust and reliability

In 1998 we revolutionized the independent music industry, giving artists without a label their first chance to reach a worldwide audience on their own terms.

Since our founding we’ve knocked down the barriers to both physical and digital distribution, as well as:

All of this is done with one mission in mind: empower artists, let them keep their rights and decide what’s best for their own careers, and pay them every single week. We’re immensely proud of the service we’ve provided for two decades now, and every day we feel honored by the 650k+ musicians who’ve entrusted us with one of the most important things in their lives, their own music.

Because of that history there is trust, experience, expertise, and influence — all used on behalf of you the artist to open up new opportunities as the music industry continues, inevitably, to change. This is why we’ve proven to be the industry leader time and time again.

    1. A sensible fee structure

There’s a cycle of growth and decline for every music release. This is the nature of things.

You don’t want to pay a large annual fee in order to keep your music on digital download and streaming platforms once sales for that older material are on the decline. Those annual fees can add up; the larger your catalog gets, the more you pay each year to keep all your music available.

You definitely don’t want to feel the pressure ten years down the line to drop another few hundred bucks in annual fees, otherwise your older stuff which is no longer selling that well is gonna get removed!

The smarter approach is to release a lot of music, build your catalog over a lifetime, put all that music to work for you, and NOT worry about annual fees. That’s why CD Baby partners with you; we only make money when you do (beyond our initial setup fee, of course).

One of our clients explained why CD Baby’s fee structure makes the most sense for artists in an article called “CD Baby is the only company to share the risk of your release with you.

    1. Robust services

With CD Baby’s standard distribution, you get much more than digital distribution to outlets like iTunes and Spotify.

With CD Baby, you get digital distribution plus:

      • physical distribution of your CDs or vinyl
      • warehousing of physical product and direct-to-fan order fulfillment
      • YouTube monetization
      • Facebook monetization
      • sync licensing
      • free online marketing tools
      • and more

With our CD Baby Pro Publishing package you get all of that plus worldwide publishing rights administration, helping you collect global publishing royalties that would otherwise be very difficult (if not impossible) to collect without a publisher, including:

  • All mechanical royalties from Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming sites. These are generated from every single stream
  • All international mechanical royalties from download stores like iTunes. These are generated from every single sale
  • All performance royalties from streaming services (like Spotify), radio, TV, live concert performances and much more
  • Global YouTube publishing administration for any video on YouTube that contains your music
  • Hundreds of other sources of songwriting and publishing royalties from around the world
    1. Clean and detailed metadata assurances

All indicators point to the fact that we’re approaching an era where digital outlets will demand correct and thorough details about every track on their platform, including songwriter info, publishing splits, and more.

Luckily for you, CD Baby has been requesting this kind of information from our artist and label clients for years and years. While that might take you a few more minutes to complete the submission form, it also means you’ve taken care of something that will almost certainly be required by digital services down the line.

    1. Curatorial and editorial reach

We don’t just send your music to our partners and wish you the best. We want to find the most noteworthy releases, the best new music, the overlooked gems of our catalog, and tell the world about it.

Here’s how:

    • Hundreds of thousands of music-buyers receive our Discover Music newsletter.
    • We manage a number of genre and mood- based playlists on Spotify, and you can submit your music for consideration HERE.
    • We feature unique artist stories on our DIY Musician Blog and DIY Musician Podcast.
    • We also have a team that is dedicated to finding and promoting the best new releases to our digital partners’ editorial teams, seeking opportunities for official Spotify playlist placements, iTunes banners, and more. You can submit your music for consideration HERE.
  1. Accessible artist support

    We’re approachable. You can get a hold of us. We have a detailed online Help Center so you can get your questions answered 24/7. You can email us and we’ll respond quickly. And yes, you can call us to talk on the phone (during PST business hours).

    We also host frequent artist meetups and organize two big DIY Musician Conferences, one in Nashville and one in Valencia, Spain. Come hang out in person!

  2. Strategic release options

  3. As I mentioned above, with a few months’ notice and smart planning we can work together to get the most out of your releases.

    Some of our strategic release options include:

    • Targeted physical distribution with advance notice to one-stop distributors and catalogs, letting them know that your CDs will be available, where you’re touring, etc.
    • setting up pre-sales and pre-saves so you can get your fans to actually DO something with your music before its release
    • getting songs into our sync licensing catalog for both pre-licensed options and pitching to music supervisors
    • editorial pitches (as mentioned above)
    • and much more

    Pre-sales on iTunes and Amazon allow you to capture download sales in advance of the release (usually a month in advance, though the window can vary). Your fans get one “instant grat” track at the time of the pre-sale, and then their card is charged and they receive the full album download on the release date. All pre-sales are tallied as first day sales, so you greatly increase your chances of charting.

    A pre-save campaign on Spotify is similar to a download pre-sale campaign. Your fans click “pre-save” and your new track will be saved to the listener’s queue. On the drop date, the music will be there waiting for them to hear it. Pre-saves can really boost your first day streaming activity, which juices the Spotify algorithm and helps your chances of being placed in algorithmic playlists such as Release Radar and Discover Weekly.

    Pro marketing campaigns through Show.co (available for free to CD Baby clients) give you an elegant and effective way to drive specific action with your music, videos, news announcements, and more. These campaigns are easy to create, and can help you:

    • build your Spotify following
    • boost streams on Spotify
    • increase plays on YouTube
    • encourage engagement on SoundCloud
    • grow your email list
    • and more
  4. Development for the future of the music business

  5. We’ve been around, broken down barriers, and continued to expand our industry-leading services, paying artists every single Monday for twenty years.

    Part of the reason why we’re the most trusted independent music distributor is because we’ve always kept our eyes on what problems will face musicians tomorrow, and what opportunities will arise as the industry keeps shifting.

    With CD Baby, you know we’re always looking for new ways to help you make money from your music.

    CD Baby gives you so much more than just digital music distribution

    CD Baby offers the most valuable music monetization services (not just distribution) in a way that makes the most financial sense for indie artists. I’m really proud that we’re now celebrating our 20th year at the forefront of independent music distribution, offering artists without the muscle of a major label the chance to reach listeners through:

    • Digital distribution to DSPs (“digital service provider”) such as Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, TIDAL, and more
    • Physical distribution of CDs and vinyl to over 15k record stores worldwide
    • Online order fulfillment for direct-to-fan sales
    • YouTube monetization
    • Music publishing administration
    • Sync licensing
    • Free online music marketing tools used by the major labels
    • And more

    I hope you’ll consider us for your next release, because yes, we can deliver your music lightning-fast to 100+ music platforms, but mostly for all the other stuff we provide — the extra reach, the manual metadata inspection, the strategic release options. That “other” stuff is anything but extra. It’s the difference between making something available and making an impact.

    Put your music to work with CD Baby today!