Distrokid - Digital Distribution Deep Dive
Distrokid is a great distributor with tons of really cool features. What artists like most about Distrokid is the price. For just $20 a year, you get unlimited distribution. It seems too good to be true, and it kind of is, but that doesn’t completely ruin it.
Though the sticker price for Distrokid can’t be beat, the devil is in the details. Let’s examine the $20 plan and see what’s missing.
Ability to set a release date
Ability to bring your own ISRC codes
Customizable label name
Ability to set a release date
A lot of good things happen when you get a lot of activity in a short window of time. Getting a thousand streams in a year wouldn’t be as impactful as getting a thousand streams in a day. Setting a release date gets all your supporters streaming, buying, and engaging on the same day. First week sales performance matters a great deal when it comes to charts, algorithms, and even pitching future releases for priority placement in platforms and stores.
Ability to bring your own ISRC codes
Distrokid’s solution to every problem with your release is to delete the release and re-upload. They don’t offer the ability to change or fix anything after the release has been distributed. When you delete a release, you lose its performance data including the number of streams, sales, and playlist placements. A re-upload is effectively a new release. The only way to not lose the performance data for the release with a re-upload is to attach the same ISRC code to the release. If you can’t bring your own ISRCs, that’s not something you can do.
Customizable label name
This is about your label name appearing in streaming platforms and in music stores. Without having the option to put a custom label name, your releases will say the label is Distrokid.
The $20 plan works great if you’re just messing around and your music is pretty much disposal. It’s not something for career focused artists. If you’re a serious artist, you’re going to NEED to upgrade to the $35.99 plan.
$35.99 a year for unlimited distribution is more than $19.99 a year but it’s still incredibly affordable so it’s not a turn off. At the same time, they’re not being completely open and upfront with artists about it, as you can’t see their full pricing until you create an account. That’s just one of a few things that rubs me the wrong way when it comes to the trust factor. They also hide their Terms of Agreement in the release upload process which means you have to pay for the service BEFORE you know the terms of using it.
Also, you can upgrade at any time without any hassle. If you want to downgrade you have to delete your entire catalog and start over. Because you wouldn’t have the ability to bring your own ISRCs, this would mean you lose everything you’ve built with those releases.
Distrokid is one of the most innovate distributors with tools like Hyperfollow, Synchronized global releases, Distrokid Vault, Leave A Legacy, Lyric uploads, and sending credits to stores. The tools aren’t essential but nice add-ons.
HyperFollow - A Smart url that Allows you to collect fan emails when they click to stream your music on Spotify.
Synchronized global releases - Makes it so your release becomes available at a specified time around the world. For example, you set your release to go live at 8pm on the East Coast. Usually, that would mean people on the West Coast would have to wait until it was 8pm their time to hear the release. Everyone wouldn’t have access at the same time. Synchronized global releases fixes that problem.
Alternatives - none.
Distrokid Vault - Download your original files in the event you ever lose them. This could be a life saver in the event your Hard Drive fails or something else happens to your audio files.
Alternatives - Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive, Soundcloud
Leave a Legacy - Keep your release in stores even if you stop paying the annual fee. This feature doesn’t make much sense to me. If you’re concerned about keeping your releases in stores forever, you’d be better off using CD Baby. With Leave a Legacy, you’d be paying a per release fee in addition to an annual fee.
Lyric uploads - Get your song lyrics added to streaming platforms. The thing here is, not many streaming platforms provide the ability to view song lyrics. I only know of Apple Music which gets song lyrics from Genius and any artist can post their song lyrics to Genius.
The point of digital distribution is to get your music onto streaming platforms and digital retail stores around the globe. People can’t buy your music if it isn’t available so you want your music in as many places as possible. We can take into consideration that some stores have no customer base and I did a breakdown of music stores and their importance in this report. It can’t be overlooked that having your music in less stores can result in less sales and consequently, less revenue. Spotify and Apple Music aren’t the number one streaming platforms in every country. There is Boomplay in African regions, Saavn in India, etc. The internet is global!
So how does Distrokid stack up to its competitors when it comes to the number of stores?
Number of Stores
Of all the top distributors, Distrokid distributes to the least amount of stores negatively impacting your visibility and revenue potential.
Store Maximizer $7.95/Yr Per Release - Have your release automatically added to new stores. This is an overlooked aspect of digital distribution. New stores pop up constantly around the world and artist barely keep up with the ones released in their own country, let alone the globe. Again, less stores means less visibility and less revenue.
Take these releases by Mankind Music Academy for instance
Their previous releases are missing from Distrokid’s newly added stores like Facebook/Instagram, Anghami, and KKBox. They have to, first, be aware that there are even new stores available, then manually add all eleven of their releases to those stores.
Shazam: $0.99/Yr Per Release - Shazam is the number audio recognition service. It’s huge! People use it to identify songs in TV shows, playing from cars on the street, playing in restaurants, etc. If someone wants to identify your song, it’s highly likely they either intend to buy it, stream it, or investigate it. Not having your music in Shazam is a major loss of an opportunity to connect with new potential fans. Shazam is included by all of the top distributors at no additional cost.
Content ID: $4.95/Yr per single or $14.95/Yr per album + 20% of revenue - Content ID allows you to monetize your music on your Youtube channel if you haven’t reached the monetization threshold. Your music videos will be on your Youtube channel and without Content ID, you wouldn’t be able to earn revenue from them if you’re not in Youtube’s Partner Program. All of the top distributors provide Content ID with no upfront cost, instead, they all take a percentage of revenue.
Transaction fees: 2% of payments (never more than $2 per payment) - Percentage of revenue taken by the service providing payment transfers. Most distributors will provide you with a means of avoiding transaction fees, Distrokid doesn’t. Withdrawing $100 per month for a year with Distrokid would result in an additional charge of $24 per year for their service through transaction fees.
It’s difficult to compare distributors with different pricing models against one another head to head. Instead, what I’m going to do, is show you the total cost of distribution as a percentage of revenue. Distrokid charges additional fees for services provided at no additional cost by other distributors. To exclude these services would be like comparing the price of a camera with no lens to one that comes fully equip. Distrokid, with the exclusion of these critical services, is incomparable to its competitors. We’ll be operating as if the hypothetical artist has all essential services.
Distrokid Essential service fees
Content ID: $14.95
Store Maximizer: $7.95
Transaction fees: $2/month
Our pricing chart imagines an artist withdrawing $100 per month for a year from the release of one album. In the case of distributors that charge a one time fee upfront, like CD Baby, that fee is being calculated as recoupable cost. So, for distributors like CD Baby, it’s your revenue, minus the price you paid for distribution in year one.
1 Album | $100/Month withdrawn monthly. $1,200 Total Revenue
Now we’ll look at the cost of 2 albums in the 2nd year. The reason for this is to show what you’d be earning from your releases every year after the first year. The one time fee for a distributor like CD Baby would be recouped which would leave just their 9% fee.
2 Albums | $100/Month withdrawn monthly. $1,200 Total Revenue | 2nd year
Now we’ll look at the cost of 2 singles in the 2nd year after all initial fees have been recouped. Pricing for singles differs from pricing for albums so it’s worth a look.
2 Singles | $100/Month withdrawn monthly. $1,200 Total Revenue | 2nd year
$1.2K from 2 singles in the 2nd year
All major distributors, outside of Ditto, take a percentage of revenue earned from Content ID. Let’s took a look at how Distrokid stacks up as far as percentage of revenue from Content ID. The scenario here is $100 earned from the sale of one single or album. Remember, Distrokid charges an annual fee per release, per year in addition to a percentage which is included in the calculations here.
Content ID comparison chart: $100 Earned | 1 Single | 1 Album
The less money you make, the more Audiam looks like the better option when it comes to augmenting your Distrokid distribution with Content ID. What happens when your revenue increases? Let’s take a look at how it all would shake down if you were making $1K from 1 release.
You see, when you’re making more money the extra 5% taken by Audiam means you’d earn more from Distrokid. Things can change if your revenue doesn’t increase with the addition of new releases because of Distrokid’s per release fees. More releases and stagnant revenue can result in Audiam being the better option .
When your music performs well, you can use that performance to get priority placement in streaming platforms and music stores through the assistance of your distributor. Distrokid doesn’t provide that as an option. Some distributors offer revenue advances and marketing assistance when your music has exceptional performance, Distrokid doesn’t. There is no upside.
What everyone loves about Distrokid is the price, but you only get that price if you’re buying the camera without the lens. Add the lens, and the price of the camera gets significantly more expensive. To come close to what you’d need to seriously do digital distribution, you’re talking about a base price of $35.99 a year with Distrokid. In addition to the base price, you’ll also be paying annual fees per release per year. So, you’d have to pay Distrokid $35.99 + $13.89 per single or $23.99 per album per year for every new single or album you release.
With Distrokid distributing to the least amount of stores, if you were to pay them for their full service, you’d be paying more for less than what you could get elsewhere at that rate.
Transaction Fee: 2% ($2 max US | $20 Max international)
Base Price: $19.99 - $35.99/year
Annual Price Per Release
Content ID: $4.95/Yr per single | $14.95/Yr per album
Store Maximizer: $7.95/Yr per release