Why I Chose TuneCore over CDBaby

Back in 2008, I chose Tunecore over CDBaby to distribute my second EP. At the time it made sense for reasons that I no longer recall.

Since then, it couldn’t be any clearer to me.

I would never choose TuneCore over CDBaby ever again

TuneCore is a crap service that holds your music hostage indefinitely. You’ll have to keep paying their annual fee forever, which after a few years feels like absolute robbery. They actually go through the trouble of having your music removed from iTunes if you stop paying them.

I stopped paying them because I found it absurd and anti-human. I finally re-listed the album through CDBaby, which you pay for once and that’s it.

The one downside to CDBaby is they charge 9% of your sales. But if you’re an unknown musician like me, that will be about $0.00 after a few years when everyone who knows your music has already bought it. In which case you don’t want to pay just to have them keep your music listing active.

End of story. Sorry for the bad advice, nearly eight years ago now. If you expect your albums to sell for years to come then maybe TuneCore’s annual fee will end up cheaper than 9% of sales. But if you’re just a regular musician putting some music out there, you’ll regret using TuneCore.

12 thoughts on “Why I Chose TuneCore over CDBaby”

  1. I personally prefer CDBaby. You’re absolutely correct in that you have to do the math to see if the maintenance cost will exceed the 9% cut from CDBaby. If you’re not a full time musician who tours and just want to put out a CD, then most likely CDBaby will be a better deal.

    I don’t tour, promote, or anything like that. I just have a web site and I make music for fun. My CD has been on CDBaby for a little over 4.5 years now and I’ve made about $440 in digital downloads. The peak years were year 2 and 3, and it’s really trailed off now to where I make only about 3 bucks a month. For someone like me, I would start losing money with Tunecore by year 4.

    Having a physical CD is not a big deal these days. You can just burn a CD-R and send it to CDBaby. To me going to the post office is no more of an effort than going to the grocery store.

  2. Okay, I really phrased that wrong. I wouldn’t *lose* money at $3 a month in sales with Tunecore–I meant in comparison to CDBaby. 9% of $36 is $3.24, which is much less that $20.

  3. Hey Steven, you bring up a good point that, down the road, sales for small-volume releases may sink close to zero, in which case, you would eventually end up paying more to Tunecore over time.

    I think the idea of paying $20 a year to NOT have your CD taken down from iTunes, etc. is ridiculous, since I assume that taking a CD off iTunes requires more action on Tunecore’s part than just keeping it up there, which I think requires no action whatsoever.

    My initial priorities were minimizing my upfront costs, which largely swayed my decision. Perhaps innovation will do us all a favor and there won’t be a need to pay ANY album maintenance fees in the future.

  4. Ditto Music are the cheapest digital distributor with the widest worldwide coverage.
    For £25 http://www.dittomusic.com provide you with over 50 sites, and not just the US based ones.
    iTunes, Play, Amazon, mobile sites like Nokia and Jamster, iTunes Video, we7, HMV, Virgin and loads more

    Also online accounting, a fixed release date, 4 week turnaround and you can become eligible for the UK charts.

    They cover a total of 700 worldwide stores and take 0% commission on sales.

    They have had 7 UK top 40 singles, all with unsigned artists.
    They also have their own TV show on SKY for unsigned artists.
    A better service for UK and US artists

  5. You need to take a look at http://routenote.com. RouteNote is the leading digital music distributor in the UK and we now offer both FREE and Premium distribution options. Thousands of artists from all over the world use our service to get their music onto iTunes, eMusic, Amazon, Spotify and more.

  6. This is a letter I just sent to Hypbot about Tunecore vs CD Baby.

    I guess I’ve got this revulsion somehow to Tunecore – I’m sure in some ways they provide some sort of “service” as an aggregator – but they strike me as a a ripoff, as are many other aggregators – with recurring ANNUAL fees of $45 per album or $9 per song in perpetuity . If the annual fee is not paid in any given year, they take you out of their system and that album is no longer in iTunes or the other digital stores.

    So Tunecore creates an annuity for themselves for a lifetime by doing some front end programming and providing some ongoing “management” of the database.

    Contrast this with CD Baby, who charges a ONE TIME flat fee of $55 per album and $10 per song. One time fee. Plus a digital commission of 9% when sales happen. To pay a $45 annual sales commission to CD Baby, one would have to sell $715 worth of albums every year ($715 gross to iTunes -less 30% iTunes commission = $500 “net.” (And $500 divided by .09 commission = $45) forever and ever.. How much should an album sell for in this environment? $10? $7.50? If you say $10, then that is 70 albums per year. If $5 (more realistic) then that would be 140 albums sold per year. So to justify your $45 annual fee to Tunecore, you need to sell 140 albums per year, or about 12 albums per month. Though this sounds small, the reality is that most artists do not sell 70-140 of each of their albums each and every year through digital distribution. Sure, I know that each artist thinks they will be different, but on average this is the case especially at the beginning. After selling to friends and family, lots of your sales will be directly at gigs. Sales of CD’s or perhaps download cards which are getting more popular. Sure the hope is to eventually be huge and sell a ton of albums over time. But this takes time if it ever happens. Meanwhile, you need to pay that annual fee forever and ever to Tunecore.

    Somebody else (a blogger on cnet.com) did the math for CD Baby vs Tunecore for individual song downloads – they said the breakeven is 370 song downloads per year (here is the link http://news.cnet.com/8301-13526_3-9739478-27.html). If you sell over 370 song downloads per year, then that is the threshold of sales where it makes more sense to be with Tunecore and pay their recurring annual fee.

    One other nice thing about CD Baby -they have an actual CD distribution service and a retail website that is viewed by a lot of people What does Tunecore have in terms of retail sales on the Internet? NOTHING!

    The good thing about CD Baby is that you can slowly over time put up a large catalog and not need to worry about “maintaining” your digital listing each year. What if you have 5 albums eventually on iTunes? Or 10? Over 10 years that is a $2250-$4500 payment to Tunecore! ($225 to $450 per year for 5-10 albums.) And if you don’t pay in a given year? Well in this case you are out of their system. Some “artists” have stars in their eyes and expect to sell thousands and thousands of albums right off the bat -well this doesn’t happen. It it nice to know that at service like CD Baby will have your music in iTunes in perpetuity, and not require you to pay an annual fee just for the privilege of keeping your music in iTunes.

    Please note that somehow CD Baby is able to make this work without rip-off annual Tunecore type fees. CD Baby handles administration and accounting and royalty distribtuion of everything. Most of the royalties are through PayPal so there are no check writing and mailing fees . But somehow Tunecore needs to charge $45 per album per year? Or $9 per song per year?. For what? What does Tunecore do after uploading the album to iTunes? I’ll tell you what they do – they process payments to artists. Push some paper and manage a database and remit through PayPal accounts. Tunecore gets paid a lot for doing nothing.

    Besides, CD Baby is a good culture and a good company. A great “Musicians Podcast.” Great to work with. Very customer focused. And honest and transparent and artist oriented. CD Baby only charges about $55 for lifetime album digital distribution. Or $10 per song for lifetime digital distribution. No other fees, except 9% commission for digital distributon. Huge difference. I just don’t like the vibe of Tunecore – another New York City bunch of moneychangers!

    Plus, Tunecore nickels and dimes people for EACH additional online distributor they connect the artist with. They are hugely overpriced. ALL the digital distributors are included with CD Baby for the one time $55 flat fee. No recurring charges.

    In closing: go to the Tunecore site – it is so UNTRANSPARENT. They try to rope you in right away – sign you up. The sign says “$45” for distribution. Only later in the fine print do they reveal that it is $45 per album PER YEAR – plus an initial fee of something like $35 just for “set up” of the account. You have to create an account even to get any information from them? This is such a hustle. Hey Tunecore, how about providing me with the information I need to make a decision BEFORE you try to sign me up for one of your ripoff accounts and before you have all my contact information? This approach is galling to me and rather insulting. I find that Tunecore has an active PR department that seems to get various media types to reprint their half-truth stories and I wish somebody would do a full story on Tunecore vs CD Baby vs other aggregators. Perhaps this has already been done by your newsletter. If not, why not!

    Bruce, I just wish you would make a comparison between digital distribution services in your otherwise excellent site / blog. You never cover CD Baby – why is this? Everybody needs a digital distributor, and everybody needs an aggregator. So this is a cost to every musician. I am just surprised that you don’t mention CD Baby ever but always have some press release or new announcement about Tunecore. This is suspicious to me. You have such a great site and offer some wonderful observations about digital music distribution, but your love of Tunecore is misguided in my humble opinion.

    Again I do appreciate your blog and the extensive coverage you give to the music world. And no I don’t work for CD Baby !

    Here are the Tunecore terms of service. (Note that the ANNUAL FEE CAN BE INCREASED WITHOUT NOTICE at any time):

    In consideration of the services rendered hereunder, all music and videos delivered by Company require that you purchase an annual fee-based subscription. All fees may be amended from time to time by Company without notice to you. You expressly agree that Company is authorized to deduct your annual subscription fees, any applicable tax and other charges you may incur in connection with your use of the TuneCore service directly from your TuneCore account (your share of Net Income) or charge such fees to any alternate payment method (such as a valid PayPal account, credit card or debit card) (each, a “Payment Method”) you provided to Company. You are solely responsible for all charges, fees, duties, taxes, and assessments arising out of any use of your TuneCore account by you or anyone else using your account. If you notify Company in writing that you are canceling your annual subscription for one or more of your albums or videos, no further annual fees will be charged to your TuneCore account or alternate Payment Method for those albums or videos. All cancelled albums and videos will be removed from the applicable digital Internet consumer stores (e.g., “iTunes” and “Rhapsody”). You will not be entitled to reimbursement of any applicable pre-paid fees with respect to any cancelled albums or videos. It is your responsibility to notify Company if your Payment Method has changed by making the appropriate changes to your TuneCore account settings. If you do not provide a valid Payment Method your service may be disconnected or interrupted.”

  7. I just found your blog and I am thinking about a local record and CD distribution with books… but this is much more involved than I imagined and very interesting…

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