Distribution players - Focus on CD Baby

Reading time: 4 min

Neither as young nor as small a player in the world’s biggest digital distributors as its name suggests, we would like to introduce you to CD Baby! This article forms part of our quick tour of these intermediaries between track creators and streaming sites, and will include a brief history, an account of how this service works, and a look at its pricing options. Let's jam!

Where does CD Baby come from?

A precursor within the digital distributor bubble, CD Baby was created in 1998 on the East Coast of the US, in Woodstock, New York. It was founded by Derek Silvers, a musician who, like the founder of DistroKid, was driven above all by the desire to sell his music directly to his audience and online, bypassing recording labels while keeping up with the shift in the music market from physical to digital. He gradually opened his sales site to other musicians, and from 2004 the platform began signing partnerships with streaming and download sites like iTunes, thus joining the digital distribution market.  

Since 2013, the company has offered publishing, synchronization licensing, marketing and monetization services on social networks such as YouTube to its subscribers, although since 2020, it no longer allows the sale of tracks from its site. That said, it still handles CD and vinyl orders and thus acts as an intermediary, between artists and not only digital stores, but also physical outlets.

CD Baby is one of the top 3 biggest digital distributors, with a repertoire of more than 9 million tracks. Like its competitors, it provides complementary services in digital, but distinguishes itself by its historical attachment to the CD and vinyl market, and also offers its subscribers the opportunity to market these products.

How does CD Baby work?

CD Baby is the intermediate step between artists’ recordings and the streaming platforms. You can :

  • Upload the files and data of your recordings, which are then transmitted to the streaming platforms that broadcast them on your artist profiles. CD Baby has more than 150 partners, including the biggest ones: Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, YouTube Music and Deezer.
  • Recover 100% of your royalties, the master rights from these distribution channels. If you take the pro offer, you also get your copyright royalties back; we’ll talk about that in detail later.
  • See how popular your broadcasted tracks are.

The first step is to specify whether you are releasing an album or a single, then you select the offer of your choice and follow the online instructions. The CD Baby upload process is classic: you fill in your artist information on the menu (if you have a Spotify account, you just have to fill in this ID and the other platforms are automatically filled in), along with the information of the other people who contributed to the recording, if applicable, the data related to the track – such as its genre or lyrics – then you upload your audio files.  

The whole process is dictated by the protocols of the platforms and it makes it easy for you to do things correctly – especially to instantly generate your ISRC code (the unique barcode that allows you to market your sound), and therefore to get your track online fairly rapidly. It usually takes 2 to 5 days for Spotify and 1 to 7 for Apple Music, but we recommend you to allow 2 weeks in advance of your release date to be 100% safe.

Once your streams are uploaded, you just have to wait for the green light from the streaming platforms to release your track on the date of your choice. You can then follow its popularity, thanks to the dashboards by DSP, which display the number of streams and subscribers per day, week and month. If you choose the pro package, the online sync services are included.  

CD Baby is a digital distributor – these are a mandatory and intermediate step along the way to broadcasting your recordings on streaming platforms. CD Baby allows you to: 1) Upload the files and data of your recordings, then transmit them to the streaming sites that will broadcast them on your artist profiles; 2) Recover 100% of your royalties, the master rights from these distribution channels. If you take the pro package, you also get your copyright royalties back; 3) Follow the popularity of your broadcasted tracks.

How much does it cost?

Two factors determine how much you pay to use CD Baby: whether you are releasing an album or a single, and what role(s) you played in creating the track. Once you have determined these elements, you choose between their 4 offers:  

  • Standard single at $9.95  
  • Pro single for $29.95
  • Standard album for $29
  • Pro album at $69  

The standard offers from CD Baby collect only your master rights. This makes them ideally suited for distributing your covers of songs from the public domain. Indeed, as long as you did not write the lyrics or compose the track yourself, you do not miss out on any possible remuneration.

The pro plans also collect your copyright royalties, so if you upload an original work that you have composed and/or written in your room, this is the package for you. If you want to distribute CDs and vinyls, this is also the place to go.

All the packages allow you to consult your dashboards to check the popularity of your release on the streaming platforms, to recover your royalties on social media, thanks to the YouTube Content ID technology (Shazam-like) and to benefit from their sync licensing services.

Another thing to remember is that you only pay once per product for these various tools – unlike TuneCore, where you have to renew every year just for the distribution. This is why CD Baby seems much more expensive!

You can use CD Baby’s online distribution, marketing and sync licensing services from $9.95 per year if you release a single and $29 if it’s an album. The fees increase to $29.95 and $69 respectively if you want to collect your copyright royalties as well – an attractive option when you have written the lyrics and/or composed the song.

What do I need to remember?

CD Baby is the 3rd biggest digital distributor in the world. It allows artists to share their tracks on streaming platforms like Spotify, Deezer and YouTube. Its services are available from $9.95 per month, bearing in mind that you get back 100% of your master royalties and can benefit from their sync licensing services. If you upload an original track, a pro option also unlocks the collection of your copyright royalties.

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