A simple guide to choosing a music distributor for independent artists and labels
A qualitative analysis a cross 50+ different publicly available distribution plans
For brand new artists and labels, we recommend RouteNote, who charge a 15% royalty but is a no-bs company with fantastic support.
For artists who really want to maximize their royalties, FreshTunes and Boost Collective are free options that pay out 100% of royalties, but have questionable support and ban practices.
For artists making over $100/yr from streaming, I recommend Amuse Boost, as they have a 0% royalty fee, and also allow you to downgrade to their free plan. Symphonic, Ditto, or Distrokid have similar offerings, but hold your music “hostage” as they’ll be taken offline if you decide to stop paying.
Labels should use Amuse ($60/yr), along with RouteNote if they need compilation support. Unlimited artists, unlimited releases, and 24 hour turnaround time.
Defining the “best” distributor
Finding the right music distributor is difficult, as there are dozens of factors to consider, such as royalties, features, value add-ons, subscription tiers, etc. With all those variables, it’s difficult to define what’s best for a specific artist, as everyone has unique circumstances.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on objective data: royalties, through the lens of two different personas: an independent artist, and an indie label. I have spent several days compiling the fees and royalty distribution of 50+ different distribution plans, with a few additional key metrics that I indexed towards for my own label needs. You will be able to look and filter through all these data points to research
Recording royalties/stream revenue percentage
One-time and annual fees
Content ID fee, availability and % revenue
Publishing representation fee, availability and % of revenue
Value and Convenience add-ons
Cost for additional primary artists
Downgrade, legacy and free-tier options
Quality of support
Payment splitting across multiple artists
Time to distribution
Convenience (Supports Content ID, SoundCloud monetization, etc.)
For some reason, Substack does not allow embedder iframes or tables, so you’ll have to access the data here: Click Me
Persona 1: A brand new artist
Let’s say this is you. You’re a brand new music producer who’s ready to release your new song, and dip your toes into potential stardom. Your priority right now is to get your song onto as many platforms as possible to maximize your royalty generation, and want to avoid things such as small value add on fees, as each dollar is the equivalent of 2,500 song streams. (Tough ask for a new artist)
You want to protect your music through content ID, and maybe even schedule a release date so you can tell all your friends and family through social media to pre-save.
In that case, the best choice is RouteNote, which takes a 15% cut of your royalties (including content ID), but they provide you with everything else. Solid support staff, release tools, and solid statistics. If you start to notice your song popping off, you can always switch your distributor to one of the options below for just $20 and capture 100% of your royalties!
Some may look at the spreadsheet and notice that there are a few DSPs that offer 100% royalties for $0 in fees, specifically Boost Collective and Fresh Tunes. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as truly free in this universe. These DSPs have rules such as “you must log in once every 3 months or your account becomes disabled”, or you end up waiting weeks for a response from support staff.
Frankly, I see no reason to go that far for an extra 15% - if that fee ever develops into a notable amount, you’re better off upgrading to one of these…
Persona 2: A more established artist
Ok - you’re more established now. You average more than 30,000 streams a year, and you’re collecting about $100 in royalties from RouteNote, maybe more.
It’s time to upgrade (and migrate your library) - and we recommend Amuse Boost ($25/yr) or Ditto ($20/yr).
Both offer 100% of your streaming royalties, but the main tradeoff is that you can downgrade your Amuse account to their free plan (and return to a 15% royalty cut), whereas Ditto will disable your account and remove all your songs from streaming services. This dilemma is similar to many artists who distribute on Distrokid, Antijoy, Feiyr, Record Union, etc.
On the other hand, Ditto offers 100% of your content ID royalties as well, whereas Amuse takes a 15% cut. This is unique as at that price point, no other distributor offers 100% of the content ID royalties.
Take a good look at your metrics, and think about if it’s worth it. Migrating your library could mean a more significant investment with a ton of releases under your belt - or maybe not!
Persona 3: An indie label
This is where things get more interesting - my dilemma was that I wanted to release a single compilation album, but basically every single distributor (that supported compilation albums, not all of them do) wanted to charge an additional $10 for each primary artist.
The ONLY ones that did not were RouteNote and Label Engine - which both charge between 15-20% in fees. Label Engine was also invite only - so I personally went with RouteNote. I also wanted to redistribute the songs as singles, but RouteNote does not support re-using the same ISRC on their platform…
So, I also joined Amuse Pro, which allows unlimited artists at just $60 a year. As long as I can make back $350 in streaming revenue a year, this will pay for itself! What a steal!! Seriously, this is the best deal in the industry. Now I understand that compilation albums aren’t a thing anymore, so you’re most likely not going to need RouteNote’s service and can service all the artists on your label with Amuse Pro.
It doesn’t look like there’s a perfect winner here, but after spending two days compiling data from each and every DSP, I’m happy with where I am and what I get.