Exploring The Digital Music Distribution ‘Jungle’

I’ve touched on music distribution issues here before with Tunecore, Bit Torrent and even good old analogue vinyl but thought I’d dig around a bit deeper as there seems to be new distribution services springing up on a regular basis these days. Be they aggregator or ‘widget’ type tools. Ill be covering digital music aggregators here first and covering website widgets later in the week.

The Music Void – Denzyl Feigelson on MUZU

Things To Consider When Choosing Digital Music Distribution

With the Internet its easy to research background on companies these days. Thats what Google is for. Do it. Search around the distributors website. Look for the names of people running the company. Put a shout out on Twitter or music  forums if you need user feedback on any service.

What is the distributors background, how long has the company been around?  What is the revenue model ? Upfront yearly admin fee (like Tunecore) or a percentage of sales (CD Baby take 9%).

Which digital retailers do  the aggregators distribute too? Also, check the distributors  list of bands, artists and labels that are using their services. Always a good reference point. Its reassuring to know that Tunecore (who I use) also handle digital distribution for established artists such as NiN,  David Byrne & Brian Eno and Jay Z and newer MP3 blog faves like MGMT.

Also you need to know that you wont be signing away rights to your music and that you wont be tied down to any lengthy fixed terms

Music industry scribe Moses Avalon has a good breakdown of distribution terms for a few aggregators on his website. Its a couple of years old and as such covers only the longer established companies but is still very relevant.


Is the distribution deal exclusive? Does it allow you to distribute your music to additional regions or outlets or are you bound to a single distributor?

You should have the option to choose availability of your music by territory too. Maybe you want to be on iTunes in the USA but not Europe and so on. Several reasons for this, but mainly you may have a deal in another country so want to restrict a particular release.

Don’t rule out the possibility of using more than one distributor. Distributors like Tunecore and CD Baby don’t cover  niche retailers like Beatport and TrackitDown for instance.

For smaller ‘specialist niches’ ( electronic/dance music for one) you would have to look at other aggregators to get you into places like Beatport, DJDownload and TrackitDown and the like. If you’re releasing electronic music you really do want to be on the biggest electronic music stores. DJ’s head here first for the higher bitrate downloads and upfront exclusives, not to iTunes.

All distribution deals should be none exclusive. You’re not signing a record deal OK.  Use your logic though, don’t try and use multiple aggregators to get on the same stores.

The Stores

By default the major aggregators- at the very minimum- should be getting your music onto what I call the ‘Big Five’. For better or worse these are the stores Joe and Jane public get the majority of their paid downloads from.

The ‘Big Five’ are :  iTunes (and you can go worldwide with Apple, or just by territory), the now Best Buy owned Napster, Rhapsody, eMusic and Amazon MP3 (a ‘distant second‘ in market share). Lots of aggregators will bump up the number of “stores we distribute to”, claim by counting regional variations.

For instance Texas based Catapult Distribution claim over sixty stores, but thirty of these are iTunes and Napster regional variations. Just a small point really but worth noting.

Stores that I would call ‘second division’ outlets (ie: fractional market share, compared to iTunes) would include Zune, FYE/MusicNet, VCast and the like. For the UK you’d add Tesco Digital and HMV to that list. Big high street brand names, small online share.

BPI PDF guide to getting your singles online

The Digital Music Aggregator List

AWAL – (Sheffield/London, UK) – Take 15% cut but doesn’t seem to be a sign up fee. No upload area, good old fashioned mail in signed agreement and CD for encoding. Handling Arctic Monkeys, Sparks, Klaxons and Moby and 100s more.  Aimed more at labels as apposed to individual artists. Promotion and licensing services too. Co-owned by ex-Comsat Angel Kevin Bacon (no not that one!). No store listing but iTunes seems to be the biggest focus.

IRIS – (San Fransisco, USA) – Take a 15% cut of sales. Impressively comprehensive list of retailers  and mobile music outlets worldwide. Again, another outlet aimed more at label catalogues than DIY artists. Submissions for consideration are initially via an online form. In house marketing arm too.

CD Baby – (Portland, Oregon, USA)- $35 one off sign up fee and take a 9% cut of download revenue. Digital distribution sticks to the ‘big 5’ retailers and some of the ‘second tier’ stores. Can get your CDs into US stores via one stop distributor Super D. Now owned by New Jersey based CD manufacturer Discmakers@cdbaby

101 Distribution(Phoenix, Arizona, USA)Not sure what warrants the high costs here. But there’s a massive $599 sign up fee, then $49.95 a month. 100% payout of all sales. You’re gonna need it with those kind of upfronts! You can Twitter questions why, here: @101Distribution

Nimbit(Framingham, MA, USA)$15 per album sign-up fee and they take a 20% cut for getting you on iTunes, eMusic, Rhapsody and CDFreedom . They do the encoding so you mail in your CD and artwork. They have a number of extra services like CD duplication, merchandising, online storefronts, widgets and download cards@nimbit

IODA(San Fransisco, USA)One of the longest established digital music aggregators with an impressive list of distribution partners and services. Again, one of those services that is aimed at labels vs individuals. Hopefuls can apply here@iodapromonet

Catapult – (Frisco, Texas, USA) – $25 set-up fee (plus $20 for a barcode) which includes placement on the usual big five stores plus Verizon’s VCast, Tesco Digital and HMV Digital (UK), Puretracks (Canada), Zune and FYE. Full list here. Artist keeps 91% of sales which is inline with CD Baby and means you can expect something like 56c from a 99c download. Like most USA based services (excluding IODA) there’s a lack of niche outlets, with the majority being USA and Canadian mainstream retailers.

ReverbNation – (Durham, NC/New York, USA) –  RN looks like it was designed for the MySpace generation with its ADD inspired layout! Nevertheless dig around and there’s a bunch of great services. Digital distribution will cost artists a one off $34.95 sign-up fee and get you on iTunes worldwide, and the rest of the ‘big 5’.  100% of sales goes to the artist. Where RN possibly beats out similar priced outlets like CDBaby and Tunecore is with the additional viral marketing tools. There’s a bunch of free promo tools, widgets, email lists, and a Sonicbids feature beating EPK . @ReverbNation

SongCast(Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, USA) – Another relatively new name (to me at least). Songcast offer the basic ‘big 5 ‘ distribution deal for $19.99 signup and $5.99 a month. You keep 100% of sales but with the monthly fee that works out at $91.96 for the first year. Something like triple the fees of other ‘entry level’* distributors like Tunecore, ReverbNation and CDBaby. Oh, they throw in a free barcode. Difficult to see why you’d go here and pay more to get on the same major download platforms though.

KJER – (Brabrand, Denmark) – KJER use the services of IODA to get artists and labels on one of the most comprehensive retail store lists mentioned here (presumably the same list as IODA itself). Their client list seems to be mainly European independent labels though their services extend to clients worldwide and their website invites individual artists to submit material for distribution. Further details on their blog and on the main website FAQ. The lack of information on their website doesn’t fill you with confidence.

Ditto Music -(Birmingham, UK) – Ditto have a massive retail partner list including the usual big 5, all the major dance music stores, mobile music outlets and white label branded stores too. The service seems to be geared towards artists aiming to crack the UK download charts and Ditto claim to have ushered  seven unsigned artists into the UK top 40 already. There’s a sliding scale of sign up fees depending on the amount of stores you want to be on, from the basic 25 UK Pounds ($36) package which includes iTunes and Amazon UK but not eMusic, Napster or Rhapsody bizarrely. A total of 70 UK pounds ($103 approx) gets you just about everywhere in Europe, including those ‘illusive’  dance retailers Beatport, Trackitdown, DJDownload, Stompy, XpressBeats and Juno. Artists keep 100% of revenue. There’s an additional 55 UK pounds service to register your release with the chart authorities Catco/PPL. @Dittomusic , MySpace.

RouteNote – (Redruth, UK) – Routenote are another UK based distribution service (and a new service, less than a year old) that’ll get your music on iTunes, Amazon  eMusic, Snocap, iMeem and LastFM, though no Rhapsody or Napster. Nothing different here really, though there’s no sign up fee and artist share is 90% of revenue. @routenote

Symphonic Distribution -(Tampa, Florida, USA) Symphonic is aimed squarely at getting dance music artists across the variety of niche electronica and digital dance music retailers worldwide (and as such is of great interest to me!). They service just about all the dance specialists, including Beatport, Juno Download and TrackitDown . They will also get you on iTunes, Rhapsody, eMusic and Amazon and tons more outlets. 100% of sales royalties go to the artist and an album signup fee would be $29.99. Promising, I really like the look of these guys. Twitter  Facebook

Musicadium – (Brisbane, Australia/Tokyo, Japan)- Australian based digital distribution setup that lets you keep 100% of sales in return for a sign-up fee of $39Aus per album, (about $28US). They seem to be limited to iTunes, eMusic and Amazon MP3 right now though more retailers are promised.  Blog. @musicadium

Tunecore – (Brooklyn,New York,USA) – I like Tunecore a lot. I use them, I trust their service and they’re fair to the artist. They’re pretty transparent too with an informative blog, free PDF downloads and multiple Twitter accounts. They service the ubiquitous ‘big 5’ stores as well as smaller retailers and outlets like Lala, Shockhound and Amie St.  There’s a $19.98 sign-up charge which is yearly and artists keep all the sales $$$. More FAQs here. I think the common consensus into what would make Tunecore better than it is, is more stores. Recommended for the mainstream retail distribution. @tunecoregary @TuneCore @viva

Feiyr.com – (Traunstein, Germany) – German based digital distributor that is an offshoot of major vinyl distributor Dance All Day. Feiyr supply a massive selection of  dance retailers across Europe and also the ‘big 5’ retailers worldwide. Recomended for their wide and specialist coverage. Sign up fee is around 10 Euros and the artist share seems to be variable. Not the best website in the world.

The Orchard – (New York, USA/London, UK) – Another company (like IODA) that seem to have been around forever. Offer a comprehensive list of download stores worldwide and other services like sync licensing, marketing and video distribution. Again, like all the ‘higher end’ distribution services there’s an application process here. Not aimed at artists with one off releases.


Given my own niche (dance/house music),if I ever get around to getting my arse in gear with new tracks this year I’ll probably give Symphonic, Feiyr or Ditto the nod  for the additional coverage and niche stores. If I was just wanting distribution on iTunes, Napster, eMusic, Rhapsody and Amazon I’d probably head for ReverbNation for their impressive additional promo tools. Neither CDBaby, Tunecore, ReverbNation or Nimbit cover any different ground retail wise between them which means they’re all chasing the same market. ReverbNation and Nimbit probably edge it with their extra features.

For labels with a few artists or bigger names and a regular release schedule IODA is the one for me. They’ve been around since download stores were born just about and cover more stores worldwide than anyone else I’ve mentioned here.

*Footnote.  By ‘entry level’ stores I refer to the fact that these are aimed more at individual artists vs the bigger catalog/label distributors that have more barriers of entry. Not a sleight on any of the service providers here.

Related Reading

How To Effectively Promote and Sell Your Music on iTunes (MusicianWages.com)
How To Get Your Music Distributed on iTunes (And Keep Most Of The Money) (Buzzsonic.com)
The Future Of Music Distribution-Your Computer (EQMag.com)
Primer On Content Aggregators and Digital Distribution (TheMusicBizLawyer.com)
Download Store Comparison Part Deux (Fatdrop Blog)
The Long Fail-The Cost of Digital Distribution (MusicThinkTank)
Worldwide Online Stores Map (Pro-Music.org)
What Every Musician Should Know About Digital Distribution, Part II (Tunecorner)
Promoting Your Music On iTunes (ArielPublicity.com)
My Problem With eMusic (Hypebot)
9 Ways To Ride The Digital Music Wave Free eBook (Musicadium.com)
Online Music Distribution-The Indie Band Survival Guide (IndieGuide.com)
Official UK Top 40 Download Charts (TheOfficialCharts.com)
Getting Your Singles Online-A BPI Guide For Independents PDF (TheOfficialCharts.com)
IFPI Says 95% of Music Downloads Are Illegal (TechDirt.com)
How Can I Sell My Music Online? (NewMusicStrategies.com)
IFPI publishes Digital Music Report 2009 (FierceWireless.com)
Digital Distributors:Choose The Right One For You (MosesAvalon.com)
Why Most Digital Distribution Start-ups Will Fail (CNet.com)
Amazon’s MP3 Store, One Year In: No iTunes Killer; Probably Won’t Be (AllThingsD.com)
iTunes Competitors: We’re Number 2! No, We’re Number 2! (BusinessInsider.com)
Vanity Labels:The New Majors? (MosesAvalon.com)
Bacon And Quarmby (Sandman Magazine)

Twitter List
I’m going to start adding Twitter account link of people/companies mentioned in my posts simply because it ads transparency and more importantly allows you to ‘connect’ to people of interest. If you want too.

@Moses Avalon
@beatport @Beatportal