Selling Music Online: CDBaby Vs. Tunecore

For independent musicians, availability is everything–if our fans can find our music, then and only then can they buy it. The Internet is a great tool for indie musicians for this reason, and with CD Baby and Tunecore’s digital distribution services, indie artists can easily put their music on some of the biggest online music distributors’ sites, like Rhapsody, iTunes, Amazon, Napster, eMusic, and more.

However, indie musicians are (by definition) not rich, and we need to get the most for our money. Here’s a breakdown of the differences in CDBaby and Tunecore’s digital distribution systems to help you choose the one that you need.

1. Annual fees

CD Baby is the clear winner in this category, as they charge a one time cost of for the entire setup. Tunecore charges a yearly fee in addition to their setup fee, which, depending on the stores you select, can be pretty significant. However, you do have to send CD Baby a physical product, meaning a produced CD ready for sale on their website. If you prefer to sell everything digitally, Tunecore has an advantage in this respect, especially when selling a single, which overall will end up costing less on Tunecore (though the yearly rates may eventually eat up the difference).

2. Speed

The time it takes either of the services to put your music up on iTunes, eMusic, and other online music retailers is pretty much the same. Tunecore does give you a projected date that your album or song will go “live” on, but it’s an estimate and often the processing is much faster. Expect to wait a few weeks in any case, but neither service seems to be able to determine when your songs are available, it’s all going to depend on the online retailers themselves.

3. Reporting

CD Baby’s reports are slow. So are TuneCore’s. Usually, iTunes and the other music stores send out sales reports about 45 days after the sales, so expect to be waiting at least a month in a half to see how your sales are going.

TuneCore does offer weekly “trending” reports for $2.97 each which show your buyers’ locations, what they bought, and more, but I’m somewhat irked that they charge extra without letting you know the amount of sales in the report–it might be worth $2.97 if I know that I can see the zip codes of 30 buyers, but if it’s just one, then it’s hardly worth it. Tunecore gets a slight advantage just for offering the reports, but they could be better implemented and more helpful.

4. Number of stores

CD Baby has more stores than Tunecore, but unless you’re planning on aggressively promoting at the websites of some of their smaller partners, it doesn’t really matter, you’re unlikely to see large amounts of sales from anything but the big boys (iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster, etc.). One annoying thing about the Tunecore service is that you’ll have to pay for each store added, including different stores from the same company, for instance iTunes Japan or iTunes Canada. CD Baby doesn’t put this restriction on you, and offers more stores (even if you won’t see more sales, hey, they’re out there, right?). If you want your fans to have variety, CD Baby has the better deal.

In the end, I give a definite edge to CD Baby unless you intend to distribute music completely digitally (or if you’re selling a single). Both services are useful, but CD Baby’s lower prices, simple interface, greater variety, and experience make them slightly more valuable to independent musicians than Tunecore’s services.