CD Baby is a pillar in the music distribution community.
However, how does their track record stack up against their competitors both new and old?
Read our CD Baby Distribution Review to find out!
CD Baby Distribution Review – What You'll Learn
- How CD Baby helped kickstart the independent music revolution
- What features CD Baby has to offer and why they are the benchmark for many other distribution companies
- How CD Baby’s pricing compares to the competition
- What learning resources CD Baby provides to help you succeed as an independent musician
CD Baby Distribution Summary
- Opt-in to sync licensing for free with Standard and Pro releases
- Comprehensive publishing admin services
- Many different physical distribution options
- Payouts made weekly with only a $10 threshold
- Artists keep 91% of earnings from sales on CD Baby’s music store
- Extensive learning resources
- Expensive submission fees
- Cover song licensing is only available for singles
- Barcodes are not free
- No payment splitting
- 30% YouTube commission
- 40% sync licensing commission
- Territory opt-out has to be requested manually
When it comes to music distribution companies, there’s no name better known than CD Baby. Pioneering the independent distribution route over 20 years ago, they are still the go-to service for many artists. But are they really all they’re cracked up to be? How do they stack up against the competition these days?
Today we’ll dive deep into these topics, giving you a full and comprehensive review of CD Baby. We’ll show you what features and services they have to offer and then compare them to the offerings of their competitors. We’ll then help you determine whether or not CD Baby is the best choice for your music distribution needs.
At CD Baby, what we’ve seen is an increased importance of having music available through as many digital platforms around the world as possible.
Who Is CD Baby For?
Now that we’ve learned all about CD Baby, let’s take a minute to recap…
As is probably apparent, their feature-set is nearly unrivaled by any other distribution company. They have been working hard to fill any and every need that an independent musician may have. They’re still missing some specialized features (like payment splitting), but in general, they have you covered on all bases.
However, all these features come at a cost – literally. When compared to the competition, CD Baby is one of the more expensive distributors out there. Their submission fees are pricey, plus they take a commission off of your sales. That’s not to mention the stiff commissions they take on publishing royalties, sync licensing, and YouTube monetization.
In the end, it really depends on your needs whether or not CD Baby is the best option for you. If you need an all-inclusive distributor who will also take care of all your publishing and licensing needs, then CD Baby makes a lot of sense.
However, if you want to save money and are okay with more simple and streamlined services, then another option may be better for you.
Fees & Commissions
One of the reasons many artists are attracted to releasing their music independently is the higher profit margin. When you cut out the middle-man of the record label, more of the earnings from your music go directly to your pocket.
When CD Baby first came on the scene in 1998 this concept was revolutionary. Even to this day they continue to focus on helping independent artists maximize their profits.
However, is their pricing system such a great deal today? Can you find better offers elsewhere? Let’s take a look…
To begin, CD Baby charges no fee to sign up with them. That’s right – it’s 100% free of cost to set up an account with CD Baby.
CD Baby’s breaks their distribution services into three pricing tiers. They are called Free, Standard, and Pro. Here’s what each means:
As the name implies, this first tier is free with no submission fees. Instead, they take just a 15% cut of your earnings.
The Free tier is quite limited, however: it only makes your music available for purchase and download on CD Baby’s online music store. If you want to distribute your music to iTunes, Spotify, or any of the other usual platforms, you’ll have to upgrade to Standard or Pro.
This tier costs a one-time submission fee of $9.95 for a single or $49 for an album. Then once your music starts making money online, they will take a 9% commission.
The Standard tier distributes to all of CD Baby’s partner platforms, including iTunes, Spotify, and all the others you’d expect.
This tier also gives you the ability to distribute physical hard copies of your music. The submission fee is the same, but the difference is that CD Baby takes a $4 cut of each physical sale.
The final tier, this one costs $34.95 for a single or $89 for an album. (Or, if you have a Standard single or album that you want to upgrade, it costs $29 or $49, respectively). Just like the Standard tier, CD Baby takes a 9% commission on your earnings.
The Pro tier is very much like the Standard tier with the exception that it includes CD Baby’s publishing royalties services. These services help you to earn money when others record, perform, or otherwise use a song that you have written. (More on that later).
The commission for these publishing royalties services are 15%.
Lastly, the Pro tier also includes physical distribution, taking a $4 cut per sale just like the Standard tier.
With CD Baby, there are none! Unlike some competitors that charge you to add new stores or to take down your music, CD Baby has no extra fees.
Now that we’ve laid out CD Baby’s fees and pricing system, how do they compare to the other distribution companies out there?
Well, first off, they aren’t particularly cheap. Their up-front submission fees are pretty stiff and they take a cut off of every dollar you earn. In comparison, competitor Stem has no submission fees and they only take a 5% commission off of your earnings. Much cheaper!
However, one of CD Baby’s longstanding merits is that they do not charge any annual fees. Once you’ve paid the initial submission fee, you don’t ever have to pay out of pocket again to keep your music in line. This stands in contrast to their main competitor, TuneCore, who charges you $49.99 each year to distribute, whether or not you make money on your music.
Regardless, the reality of the matter is that CD Baby isn’t the cheapest distribution company on the market. That’s not to say that their higher price tag isn’t worth it! Just know that if you’re on a tight budget, you’ll probably be able to find better deals elsewhere.
Outlets & Release Options
CD Baby has an extensive reach with their distribution, sending your music to over 100 stores and platforms. These include iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, and many, many more.
When you release your music you have the option to send your music to all of CD Baby’s distribution partners or only the ones you choose. You can manually pick out each store you want included or you can use CD Baby’s pre-selected lists. Here are the lists they have available:
Downloads only (iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, and more)
Downloads & streaming services (Includes all download partners, plus services like Spotify, Tidal and more)
Do it all — even unpaid
For a full list of all CD Baby's Distribution Partners Click Here.
CD Baby also gives you the ability to opt out of certain territories so your music isn’t distributed there. However, this has to be done through a formal, written request to CD Baby’s customer support. There is no automated service available for this feature.
Speed To Stores
Once you’ve uploaded your music to CD Baby, how long will it take for that release to go live in stores? Well, the answer is, it varies!
iTunes will take up to a week, while Spotify will take at least 5 business days. Other stores can take anywhere from 1-4 weeks, just depending on the processing speed that each platform operates at.
A crucial part of any music release is setting the date the release will go live. All of your marketing and promotion efforts will work towards that one crucial point when your music becomes available to the whole world.
Fortunately, CD Baby gives you the ability to set a release date easily and free of charge. They just advise you to leave at least a 2-week lead time to ensure your music has made it all of their partner sites. (Of course, we would recommend much more time than that for a strong marketing & promotional campaign).
Another useful tool in promoting your release is the pre-order. This gives fans the ability to buy your music before it’s released and then be the very first people to hear it once it goes live.
In the case of iTunes, you can also reward those who pay for a pre-order with an exclusive track available for immediate download. This is called the “instant gratification” track.
CD Baby makes pre-orders available at no extra cost to those using their services. However, it is only available for iTunes and Amazon – not for any other platforms.
One of CD Baby’s strongest suits is the host of features they offer along with their distribution services. These comprehensive offerings have helped to establish them as one of the most popular distribution services for independent musicians. Read on to find out why!
One way that CD Baby stands out in the crowd is all the services and support they offer for physical distribution. This stands in contrast to most other distribution companies who only help you with digital distribution.
The first and foremost of these services from CD Baby is their CD distribution, which claims distribution to 15,000 record stores worldwide. They also offer your CDs for sale on the CD Baby webstore.
While it’s true that physical sales are no longer as important as they used to be, for some artists they still are crucial. Consequently, CD Baby’s ability to help with physical distribution is a game changer.
Secondary to the CD distribution itself is the disc manufacturing from CD Baby. What do you do if you want to distribute physical CDs but don’t have any printed yourself? Why not pay CD Baby to do the heavy lifting for you?!
CD Baby’s disc manufacturing is well-integrated into their other services and makes printing physical CDs easy. They offer a variety of options and packaging styles, including jewel-cases, jackets, and wallets.
In addition, if you need help designing album artwork or creating liner notes, CD Baby has your back once again with their design services.
When it comes to the physical forms of recorded music, vinyl is the holy grail for many artists. Therefore, it goes without saying that CD Baby has services to help with that too!
While CD Baby doesn’t press vinyl themselves (you’ll have to go their sister company, DiscMakers, for that), they can still distribute your records to over 15,000 stores around the world. This is possible through their partnerships with Alliance Entertainment and Super D, two of the largest music distributors in the US.
The last of CD Baby’s physical distribution offerings are their downloads cards. What are those, you may ask?
Download cards are simple little cards about the size of business cards, printed with download codes of your music. The uses for them are plentiful! For example, you can give them out to talent buyers or the press for them to get a chance to easily listen to your music for free. Alternately, you can just straight-up sell them to fans at shows!
CD Baby makes these available with a simple pricing system: the cost of each individual card goes down the more you purchase.
Pro Publishing Administration
One area of the music industry that can be hard for independent artists to understand is publishing. As CD Baby puts it, “your music can generate more money than you may have realized.” This includes a variety of specialized royalty revenue from downloads and streaming, as well as royalties from when other artists cover your music.
In consequence, CD Baby offers their Pro Publishing Administration to help bridge this gap. This service is included for free with all Pro releases, or if you want to upgrade from a Standard release it will cost $29 for a single or $49 for an album. Once CD Baby starts collecting royalties, they keep a 15% commission for themselves.
CD Baby’s Pro Publishing Admin collects the following royalties:
Mechanical royalties from streaming services
International mechanical royalties from download stores
Performance royalties from streaming services, radio, TV, and live concert performances
Royalties from YouTube videos with your music
Plus hundreds of other royalty sources
“How can I get my music featured in a TV show or in a movie?” This is a common question from many up-and-coming artists and the reasons are obvious: the revenue is substantive and the exposure is unprecedented.
The answer to this question is sync licensing. Sync licensing makes your music available for placement in films, videos, TV shows, video games, and more. In their own words, CD Baby will “promote your music to thousands of music supervisors and licensing professionals worldwide.”
The great news from CD Baby is that this service is included for free with all Standard and Pro releases. No need to pay any extra fees to get your music pitched for TV or film placement!
However, there is some bad news too: once you start earning money from the licensing CD Baby takes a commission of 40%. You read that right: 40% of your revenue stays with CD Baby!
This is an unusually high commission – twice that of competitor TuneCore, in fact.
There’s another issue as well: what assurance do you have that your music will even get a placement? What’s to say your music won’t be lost amongst the endless other releases submitted for sync licensing? This is a question that has yet to be answered…
YouTube & Social Video Monetization
Check this out: “You are entitled to ad revenue generated from ANY video on YouTube that contains your music — even if it’s just playing for 5 seconds in the background.” This is what is called YouTube monetization.
CD Baby works with YouTube to ensure that you collect everything that you are owed through the monetization of your videos. This is included for free with all Standard and Pro releases. However, they do take a 30% commission of your earnings.
In addition to YouTube, CD Baby also works to monetize your videos on two other social networking platforms: Facebook and Instagram. This is groundbreaking, as most other distribution companies only work to monetize your videos on YouTube.
While CD Baby’s 30% commission on YouTube & social videos isn’t outrageous, it is one of the more expensive on the market. For example, CD Baby’s main competitor, TuneCore, charges just a 20% commission, while another competitor, Stem, only charges a 5% commission!
Cover Songs Licenses
What do you do if you want to release a song written by someone else? Is there a way to get the needed licenses?
With CD Baby the answer is yes! Within their platform they have seamlessly integrated the ability for you to get the license you need to release a cover song. It costs a one-time fee of $14.99 per song and then CD Baby will take care of paying the royalties to the songwriter.
Unfortunately, CD Baby only offers this service for singles. If you want to include a cover song or two within a full album you’re out of luck. They’ll instead redirect you to third-party licensing companies such as Loudr or Easy Song Licensing.
CD Baby Music Store
One of CD Baby’s flagship features is their own online music store. This store is a treasure trove of independent music, giving fans the opportunity to bypass the mainstream platforms and purchase directly from the artist.
What’s significant about CD Baby’s store is that artists earn more from the sales there than they do from their sales at traditional online stores. On CD Baby artists get to keep 91% of the sales revenue from their music, compared to 70-85% from any other store.
For this reason CD Baby’s music store is a big asset to any independent musician hoping to earn money from download sales. By funneling as many of their sales as possible through the CD Baby store they can earn far more than they would otherwise.
HostBaby Website Hosting
Every successful artist needs a website to help promote themselves, so why not use a web hosting platform specifically designed for musicians? This is the niche CD Baby fills with their service HostBaby.
HostBaby includes just about everything you might need from a web hosting service, including a site builder, domain registration, and email services. All of these are designed with the needs of musicians in mind.
CD Baby Music Player
In a similar vein, CD Baby also allows you to build an embeddable music player for sharing your music online. This player can be added to any website online as well as shared on social media sites. In addition, it has the built-in functionality of a mini music store.
Another web commerce tool CD Baby offers is their Link Maker. This tool creates custom “Buy Now” links, helping to push more traffic to your release on the CD Baby music store and selling more downloads of your music.
Pro Audio Mastering
If you need help mastering your music, CD Baby makes that possible through a partnership with The Sound Lab. Instead of spending extra time tracking down a mastering engineer, you can simply hire CD Baby to take care of the job for you!
DIY Musician Blog
Apart from their distribution services, CD Baby has also made a name for themselves with all of the learning resources they offer to independent musicians. The first of these is the DIY Musician Blog.
This blog is one of the best free options out there for learning how to navigate the music industry as an independent artist. It covers more topics than you can possibly count, all packed with pro-level advice and backed up with real world experience. In fact, this has been one of our personal go-to learning resources for years!
DIY Musician Podcast
Accompanying the DIY Musician Blog is the DIY Musician Podcast. Also free, this covers much of the same information as the blog, but is presented instead in an audio format. Great for those that would rather listen than read!
Free Musician Guides
For longer, more extensive articles than the blog offers, CD Baby has a whole collection of guides. These are available as free, downloadable PDFs and cover a wide variety of music industry topics.
DIY Musician University
If all the previous resources weren’t already enough, CD Baby offers a variety of paid video courses. In CD Baby’s own words, these are “years’ worth of music industry learning in 10 hours of video courses.” They are called the DIY Musician University and currently start at $29 for all 10 courses!
DIY Musician Conference
Lastly, CD Baby hosts the DIY Musician Conference, a popular music conference that is worth visiting by any and all independent artists. It includes guest speakers, concerts, info sessions, training, and much more.
A UPC barcode is crucial for any release as it is the industry-standard tracking method for all music sales. These sales reports are then sent to Nielsen SoundScan and Billboard, helping keep track of all the chart-topping releases.
With CD Baby it is easy to acquire a barcode – the option to get one is directly integrated into their platform. However, unlike many distribution companies, the barcodes are not offered for free. Instead, they cost $5 for a single or $20 for an album.
This is unfortunate, as these days we’ve come to expect barcodes for free from our distributor. In fact, CD Baby is one of the few companies to charge for them at all.
Analytics & Reporting
Understanding your listeners and fan-base is important for any developing artist, and this is why analytics and reporting are invaluable. CD Baby offers a very comprehensive reporting system, breaking down all the info into easy to understand statistics.
CD Baby’s reporting can be categorized by demographics, geographic location, sources of your plays, playlists, and more. Their system is very thorough and easy to understand, making it one of the best ones out there.
CD Baby offers a variety of payment options, making it simple and easy for you to receive the money you’ve earned from your music. These options include direct deposit, PayPal, or even paper check. (Keep in mind though that some fees apply to certain payment methods depending on if you are located in or outside the USA)
CD Baby sends out payments to their artists every Monday. You have to meet a minimum threshold to get paid, but you can set this threshold yourself – any amount from $10 to $10,000 is okay.
One of the features taking over the distribution world by storm is payment splitting. Payment splitting helps simplify and streamline the revenue payout for songs where you’ve collaborated with other artists.
Unfortunately, as comprehensive as CD Baby’s feature-set is, this is not something that they offer. Hopefully they’ll jump on the bandwagon soon!
Ease of Use
In general, CD Baby’s platform is straightforward and easy to use. However, it can sometimes be overwhelming simply due to how many different features they offer!
At the same though, their online help center is very thorough and informative – one of the best on the market, in fact. These resources help to cut down the learning curve a lot.
CD Baby has a variety of customer support options, a trait that sets them apart from many of their competitors. You can contact them by phone, live chat, or email. If you email them you can generally expect a response within a day.
If there’s one thing that CD Baby is known for, it’s for the quality of their customer service. They are intent on helping independent musicians succeed and this is very apparent through their quick and helpful customer support.
CD Baby is still one of the mainstays in independent music distribution and for good reason: they have a proven track record and continue to set the bar for what to expect out of a distribution company.
However, they are faced with ever-growing competition from more-specialized, less-expensive companies. If they are wise they will adapt to regain their competitive edge.