Distributors slash prices & add services in battle for DIY musicians

CD Baby is offering a single album release for $4.99 compared to its usual $29 one-time fee. It’s billed as a limited-time offer but is part of a growing trend that sees DIY music distributors slashing prices and adding free services in order to compete.

Tunecore recently shifted from per release pricing to unlimited releases starting at $14.99 a year, and full-service distributor Symphonic, which normally charges label and artist clients 10-15% of revenue, just launched Symphonic Starter, offering DIY artists unlimited releases for $19.95 per year with no additional commission.

The DistroKid Effect

Most other DIY and independent distributors are also joining this race to the bottom, fueled in large part by the success of DistroKid.

DistroKid serves more than 2 million artists and is said to distribute more than 35,000 new tracks every day, or about one-third of all the new music in the world. It has kept its prices consistent at $19.99 a year for unlimited releases and competes by adding new free and low-cost services.

Most distributors offer a variety of free and paid add-ons in their bid to attract users.

CD Baby also adds strong educational resources and community with its DIY Musician conference and ongoing webinars and blog posts. But CD Baby faces a pricing challenge that its top two competitors, Distrokid and Tunecore, do not. While CD Baby’s sign-up fee is one-time rather than annual, it charges a 9% commission on all revenue that the other two don’t.

For full-service distributors like Symphonic, offering a lower-price alternative is more about attracting future success stories than fighting for DIY market share.

“There are many providers of DIY distribution, but when we looked closer, we found that the offerings at the intro pricing levels are very limited,” said Jorge Brea, Symphonic Founder & CEO. “Indie artists need all the help they can get… I know because I was a new indie artist back in 2006, and I still produce music today.”

Switching Distributors Can Be Tricky

Attracting early-stage artists is also critical because of a built-in bias against change.

Switching from one distributor to another can be tricky and lead to music being unavailable anywhere for days or even weeks. So once an artist picks a distributor, the tendency is to stick with them.

Bruce Houghton is Founder and Editor of Hypebot and MusicThinkTank and serves as a Senior Advisor to Bandsintown which acquired both publications in 2019. He is the Founder and President of the Skyline Artists Agency and a professor for the Berklee College Of Music.

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