I don’t think it’s an accident that companies like CDBaby and Tunecore make their pricing so confusing. If CDBaby say charges $49 to sell your music and Tunecore charged $38 to sell your music, most budget conscious musicians would probably choose Tunecore. The thing is these music selling middle-men, differ in many ways. In this post, I will point out in which ways they differ, as well as say which I think is the better choice for you. Keep in mind, I have used both services for a number of years and know many artists that have used both services and am familiar with the pros and cons.
To keep things simple, I’ll compare album and single sale options. But before we begin let’s ask ourselves a more philosophical question:
Should I Even Sell My Album?
For most musicians all that will matter is iTunes sales and Spotify streams as those will likely provide the most income to unsigned artists. In fact it is likely, you will make more from people streaming your songs on Spotify than you will on iTunes as the majority of albums on iTunes don’t get bought. Bet you didn’t know that 94% of songs on iTunes (that’s about 7.5 million songs) sold less than 100 copies? So the chances of you selling more than 100 copies is very slim. Just to make things even more depressing, 32% of songs on iTunes sold only one copy! That’s it 1 sale: a lot of proud moms.
So basically if your music is not getting any traction. Meaning you don’t have a music video with over 1 million real views, there’s no point putting your music for sale. Sure it may feel good to say go buy my album on iTunes but the truth is nobody is buying your album, not because it isn’t good, but because nobody knows about it. And it’s financially impossible for you to market your album to the masses. Why?
For simplicity purposes, let’s look at our friend rapper Drake. Drake’s Facebook page has 31 million likes. So it is safe to say 31 million people in the world have heard of Drake’s music (otherwise why would they like his page?). Now look at Drake’s album sales. Did his recent album sell 31 million copies? No. Will it ever sell 31 million copies. Hell no. Drake’s album sales for “Nothing Was The Same” clocked in at 1,129,000 as of November 24th, 2013. It’s still an impressive number but in percentage terms it is only 3.64% of the total amount of people that like Drake that bought his album. Only 3%! And Drake is a superstar! He’s the most streamed artist in the U.S. on both Spotify and iTunes Radio (Sidebar: Macklemore is the most streamed artist in the world on Spotify). For unsigned artists who only have say 2000 Likes, how many sales are they are going to do? Most likely under 100. And even more likely 1 copy.
I don’t want to sound all gloomy and shit but album sales are are following the typical 80/20 rule, or now the 99/1 rule. Just as we know that 1% of the world controls 99% of the wealth, 1% of musicians sell 99% of music. In fact, in 2007 out of album 8000 songs released on iTunes, only 102 albums sold more than a million copies. This trend is never going to reverse and will likely get more pronounced. So before you decide to sell your music, it may not be a bad idea to just give it away on Soundcloud until you have more traction.
But Andre how will I know I have more traction?
The most important metric today is YouTube views and YouTube subscribers. If you do not have a growing amount of views and subscribers everyday, you are not developing your fan base. Your music is just not connecting with the right audience as you are not marketing it to the right audience. Trust me, you’ll know your music is gaining traction when your Twitter mentions don’t look so bare, when you have more than 500 real comments on your YouTube video, when it becomes almost annoying how many pretty girls are messaging you. And the thing is you’re not even a tenth of the way there where you’ve reached that point.
Okay I get it! Nobody will buy my album except my mom, but I still want to sell it because I’m a crazy artist. Who should I go with CDBaby or Tunecore?
The Pros: CDBaby
The thing I like about CDBaby is that they only charge a one time fee of $49 to sell your album. They do have a $99 option to help collect your royalties but if you live in a developed country, your country should already have an organization that does this for you. Also they state you’ll need to pay an extra $20 if you’d like to be assigned a barcode, which is required if you want digital distribution, in-store distribution and SoundScan reporting.
Another thing I like about CDBaby is that they were founded and owned by Derick Sivers, an independent musician who sold it for $22 million in 2008, and gave the proceeds to a charitable trust. While this May sound trivial, I believe this is the reason
CDBaby really cares about independent artists.
The Cons: CDBaby
The main thing I dislike about CDBaby is that they take 9% of all your royalties to pay for admin fees. The good thing is 9% isn’t a whole lot if you’re not selling very much, which is likely the case. For this reason, I would recommend going with CDBaby as you will actually be saving money as opposed to using Tunecore (which we will review right now).
The Pros: Tunecore
The first thing you’ll notice about Tunecore, aside from its modern web design, is that it appears to be much cheaper than CDBaby. For only $29.99 you can sell your album through Tunecore. However, there is a catch this is a yearly fee. And next year and every year after you’ll be paying $49.99 per year just so they can continue selling your album. The reason they have an annual fee as opposed to CDBaby is that Tunecore doesn’t take any royalty fees. So clearly an advantage of Tunecore is that you don’t have to give a percentage of your royalties away.
Another pro of Tunecore is that you can use your earnings to pay for services on Tunecore such as the annual renewal fee, which although a small thing is kind of convenient. Tunecore also always seems to have little promos such as 200 free radio plays when you sign up now. How beneficial this is I really have no clue, because (a) I don’t know anyone that has signed up for this additional service and (b) Tunecore was very vague about what radio station would be playing your song (my guess is that it’s an internet radio station nobody listens to).
Another advantage of Tunecore that I haven’t found with CDBaby is that if your music has a prior history of selling (meaning your last release sold decently) or you have a good amount of media coverage/video views you have a better chance of being featured in various sections of iTunes or Apple Music or Spotify. For example, Apple Music has a “Recent Releases” section, which placement in is highly coveted for obvious reasons, I’ve known artists who’ve got their music featured on there just by going through Tunecore, I can’t say the same for CDBaby.
The Cons: Tunecore
Tunecore has a much more user friendly design than CDBaby but it seems to be only to make it easier to get you to part with your money. I could easily upload a song as we’ll as cover art without having to fill in nearly as much info as required by CDBaby. While this may seem like a good thing, when I can’t buy a barcode or don’t have to provide one, I feel I’m being duped. Where CDBaby shines over Tunecore is that there is a lot of helpful easily accessible information when your uploading your album. If there is a term or option you don’t understand, just click on the question mark icon and in easy to understand language an answer is presented.
It should be pretty obvious I favor CDBaby over Tunecore because while they do provide similar services, CDBaby seems to be more in touch with the needs of independent musicians. Let me know in the comments who you think is better and why?