When it comes to independent artists getting their music on streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon, working with a digital music distributor is virtually the only way to get it done.
Not making music available through these platforms essentially makes artists invisible in today’s digitally driven music industry. But with so many distributors to choose from, many artists aren’t sure who to go with. As far as industry reputation, reach, and trust among musicians, TuneCore and DistroKid can’t be beat.
But, like you might expect, these companies come with their own strengths and weaknesses. To help you decide which of these excellent digital music distributor’s is right for you, we’re laying out the case for each.
What is a digital music distributor?
The purpose of a digital distribution company is to deliver your music to the places where listeners are most likely to listen to it online.
This includes platforms like Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, Pandora, Amazon, Google Play, Tidal, iHeartRadio, YouTube, Deezer, and hundreds of others.
More and more music industry companies are lumping in distribution alongside other services like mastering, promotion, and websites, but the core purpose of a digital music distribution company is to make independent artists’ music available on streaming platforms and digital music retailers.
Why do I need to go through a digital distributor to get my music on Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon?
Most unestablished musicians record their own music and book shows themselves, so it makes sense why they’d want to send their music to the world’s biggest streaming platforms.
But the truth is that artists are far better off working with a reputable distributor to send out their music. Companies like TuneCore and DistroKid connect independent artists with hundreds of online music retailers based around the world.
Each platform has different rules for vetting music and methods for uploading it. There’s nothing stopping independent musicians from trying a DIY approach when it comes to getting their music on major streaming platforms, but it’s not worth their time because there’s no guarantee making the effort to send music to each retailer will result with their music getting posted.
Yes, digital music distributors cost money, but they deliver your music to the world’s most influential streaming platforms quickly and easily. If you’re serious about getting your music in front of the biggest audience possible, you’ll need a digital distribution company to get the job done.
Who’s better? TuneCore or DistroKid?
We’ll dive into the nitty gritty details of both of these companies later in this guide, but the truth is that there are great things about both of these companies.
Yes, the main purpose of both TuneCore and DistroKid is to get independent artists’ music up on major streaming platforms, but each works in a completely different way and offers unique things.
To help you decide which company is right for you, we’re taking a deep dive through everything TuneCore and DistroKid has to offer. From pricing, speed, and ease of use to customer service and extra benefits, you’ll find everything you need to know in this guide. Let’s jump in.
Founded more than a decade before some of its rivals in 2005, TuneCore boasts one of the best reputations in the digital music distribution space.
TuneCore began offering digital distribution services during some of the darkest days of the music industry’s downturn, and while other companies struggled to make the transition from physical to digital, it was ahead of the curve in many ways.
At a time when much of the music industry was still trying to prioritize selling physical listening formats like CDs, TuneCore and a few other companies saw that the future was digital, and acted accordingly.
The company got an early boost with coverage from ABC’s World News Tonight and on the music blog Pitchfork. TuneCore’s first customer was Frank Black, lead singer of the Pixies. In 2015, TuneCore was acquired by Believe Digital.
Today, hundreds of thousands of artists use TuneCore to distribute their music, including Nine Inch Nails, Drake, Ziggy Marley, Keith Richards, Jay- Z, Cheap Trick, Moby, and Public Enemy.
TuneCore enjoys one of the best reputations of any distributor in the music industry, which comes down to the length of time it’s been working with independent artists, and the close relationships it fosters with artists and industry professionals.
Yes, you’ll find far less expensive or even free digital music distributors out there, but most have unproven business models and less than stellar reputations.
Who does TuneCore distribute music to?
TuneCore distributes music to over 150 digital stores based around the world. You’ll get access to major music streaming platforms like iTunes, Amazon Music, Google Play, Spotify, as well as groundbreaking new industry companies like TikTok, Tencent, and others from the burgeoning Asian market.
In general, TuneCore does a good job of keeping up with industry trends and working with digital music stores that artists want to have their music featured on.
TuneCore’s uploading platform
TuneCore is far more reliable than some of its competitors, but it’s music-uploading platform is definitely a weak spot. It gets the job done, but it’s clunky, difficult to use, and aesthetically out of date.
One of the most frustrating things about TuneCore’s uploading process is that it demands that you do things in a specific order, but isn’t clear about what it wants you to do or when. Through some needless trial and error, you’ll get the job done eventually, but this aspect of TuneCore’s operations could be far better than it currently is.
The platform is thorough, which is one of the reasons uploading music through it can take a long time. Before uploading, make sure you have all the metadata details behind your music ready to go.
This includes information like designating roles for songwriters, performers, and producers, and making sure the cover image associated with your music is up to spec.
TuneCore lets you handpick which stores you’d like to distribute to, and will automatically send your songs to the new stores it adds for $10. It’s a very unflashy process, but it works (eventually).
When it comes to speed, TuneCore does just fine, and might work a little too fast for some musicians. No, you won’t be able to upload your music to TuneCore and see it show up on Spotify instantly, but it could take as little as a couple of days if you don’t set an advance date out of two weeks or more, and this isn’t necessarily a good thing.
This is because Spotify and other major streaming platforms have editorially curated playlists that musicians can submit their music to.
With at least two weeks of buffer time, you’ll be able to put your music up for consideration, but having your music post too soon will leave your songs out of the running. TuneCore is fast, but there’s no benefit to getting music up as fast as possible for most independent artists.
Customer service, outreach initiatives, and added benefits
TuneCore makes an effort to be as artist-friendly as possible, as evidenced by the local workshops and events they throw in music markets around the world.
Some of these events will be helpful for new artists, but not as much for experienced ones.
What experienced artists and serious career musicians will like about TuneCore is their dedication to customer service. Many music distribution startups are keeping costs low for musicians with flashy streamlined platforms where human beings play little or no role.
Many serious musicians stay away from these companies because there’s no telling how or if they’d get help if there was a problem with their music. TuneCore has its flaws, but it’s able to retain a large customer base because it’s predictable and can offer help to its artists when they need it.
However, this help won’t come right away, and you can expect to wait at least a couple days to hear back from a customer service agent.
At first glance, it’s hard to tell what TuneCore offers as true added benefits for artists from the fee-driven services they’re trying to market to them. For example, the company gives away free blogs and guides to help unestablished musicians record, produce, and promote their music.
But they also feature thinly veiled advertisements on their site that look like benefits. Most musicians will be interested in collecting revenue from YouTube and Facebook, and will find their publishing services and sync licensing opportunities worth looking into as well.
But most everything on their Artist Services page consists of banner ads for outside companies that aren’t included with TuneCore’s patronage. If you’re a musician that is looking for a publisher and licensing placements for your music, TuneCore is a good option, but working with them won’t guarantee your music will show up in movies or TV shows.
Reports and analytics
TuneCore falls in the middle of the pack when it comes to reporting and analytics.
Artists are treated to various graphs and visual markers that display how their music is faring online, but these tools pale in comparison to what Apple Music and Spotify are currently giving musicians for free.
There’s no getting around the fact that TuneCore charges more than many of its rivals, including DistroKid.
The company doesn’t force musicians into costly royalty sharing agreements, which is a big plus. But it does require artists to renew their subscriptions on a yearly basis. In other words, if you want your music to stay up on Spotify, Apple Music, and other digital music stores, you’ll need to pay year after year to make it happen.
For singles, TuneCore charges $9.99 per year. Musicians pay an initial fee of $29.99 and a $49.99 fee each following year for albums. And for ringtone distribution, the company charges $19.99 per year.
DistroKid couldn’t be more different than TuneCore for a company that essentially does the same thing. It’s sleek, affordable, and easy to use.
But many career musicians still prefer TuneCore because they believe it’s more reliable, and that they’ll have a better chance at accessing customer service for reasons we’ll soon cover. However, hundreds of thousands of artists including major names like Ludacris turn to DistroKid when it comes to digital music distribution.
Like with TuneCore or any other distributor, you’ll easily find artists who’ve had bad experiences working with DistroKid, but their reputation is generally solid, and there’s a sense that many musicians are excited about this company.
Founded in 2013, DistroKid was originally one aspect of a social media network for musicians that’s since failed. When founder Philip J. “Pud” Kaplan noted that DistroKid was gaining the most traction over the network, he focused purely on further developing the streamlined, affordable, and easy-to-use distribution platform. DistroKid has been endorsed by the former heads of some its biggest rivals, including TuneCore.
Who does DistroKid distribute music to?
When it comes to stores serviced, DistroKid and TuneCore are essentially indistinguishable. Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, Pandora, Amazon, Google Play, Tidal, iHeartRadio, YouTube, Deezer and more than 150 other stores work with DistroKid.
Also like TuneCore, DistroKid does a solid job of getting music in the stores where artists are likely to receive the most attention from listeners. These include not only the largest and most influential digital streaming platforms in the world, but also niche music retailers and up-and-comers.
DistroKid’s uploading platform
DistroKid’s platform is clean, simple, and a breeze to navigate. Rather than feeling like you’re filing taxes when you upload music, the process feels intuitive and straightforward without compromising on thoroughness.
For musicians who plan on uploading lots of music often, DistroKid’s attention to design and ease of use is a big selling point. Like TuneCore, you’ll need to have all your ducks in a row with metadata to ensure the uploading process goes smoothly.
A great feature you’ll find during this process is that ability to designate multiple songwriters to one track. This allows for easy payments and song royalty management.
Both TuneCore and DistroKid give you the power to allow pre orders for your releases, but DistroKid offers this for free at their higher tiers of service. DistroKid also makes it easy to add on extra benefits, which we’ll dive into later in this guide.
Speed is one of the biggest selling points DistroKid used to tout as a benefit.
The company can get your music through their system and sent out to streaming platforms “within 1-2 hours,” but it takes the same amount of time to show up as TuneCore on Spotify, Apple Music, and others, which ranges from a couple of days to one to two weeks.
The same advice we gave you for TuneCore applies for those considering DistroKid, which is that speed is not your friend when it comes to distributing music.
Giving yourself at least two weeks or ideally longer will give you time to promote your work and submit your songs to editorially curated playlists, like the ones Spotify offers. If you’re in a hurry to distribute your music, you’re not doing it right.
Customer service, outreach initiatives, and added benefits
As of 2017, DistroKid had just three employees: founder Philip Kaplan and two customer services reps. Today, that number is estimated to have reached 180, but that’s still quite low for a company that works with more than 100,000 artists.
Everything is automated when it comes to DistroKid, and customer service is no exception. When you have an issue that needs resolving, you’ll be directed towards articles and message board topics that are aimed at solving your problem.
You can speak with a human being that represents the company, but it’s not easy to reach live customer service reps by any means. For this reason, many career musicians will decide that TuneCore’s higher prices are worth paying.
However, a growing number of today’s young music creators will be more than happy to stomach the risk of not having issues resolved quickly because of DistroKid’s pricing structure and unlimited song uploads. More on that in a bit.
For the most part, DistroKid offers straightforward and accessible music distribution and not much else.
You won’t find the banner ads promoting services for other companies here, artist outreach initiatives, or publishing and sync options.
However, you will find some stellar free additions like lyric additions, free landing pages, and protections against other artists stealing your work and calling it their own.
There’s even a video generator that will pair your music with the likes of Baby Yoda or Marcel, a monkey that was featured on an episode of Friends.
Reports and analytics
DistroKid has bare bones, nothing to write home about reporting and analytic features.
Despite delivering music to over 150 stores, you’ll only be able to see statistics from Apple Music, iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon, and the information you get is essentially a dumbed down version of the powerful analytics these companies already offer artists.
It’s not a dealbreaker for most musicians, but you can chalk this area up as something probably won’t drastically improve the digital music distribution experience for you.
For a low yearly price, DistroKid will send as much music as you care to upload to major streaming platforms.
This fact alone wins over thousands of musicians every month in an industry climate where more music is being made now than ever before. The three pricing options DistroKid offers contain different features, and each are very affordable.
The Musician tier is $19.99 per year, and allows one artist to upload unlimited music. Musician Plus is $35.99 per year, and allows two bands to upload unlimited music.
Extra features like reporting analytics, and customizable pre order dates, and more are included at this payment level. For DistroKid’s Label tier, up to 100 artists can upload an unlimited amount of music with extra features for $79.99 per year.
When it comes to TuneCore and DistroKid, there’s something every independent musician can love. TuneCore is an excellent choice for professional musicians who thrive on music industry connections and reliable service.
DistroKid is designed for young, ambitious musicians who want to release as much music as possible for a price they can afford. Both distributors don’t take royalty splits from artists, but TuneCore is considerably more expensive than DistroKid.
But when it comes to reliability and the assurance of being able to talk to someone about distribution issues, many career musicians are fine with paying more for it.