As an independent, self-employed artist, chances are your finances are finicky to say the least. And that was before COVID-19 disrupted (or destroyed) your career. When it comes to releasing your music to the masses on the plethora of streaming services, there are many providers available to help get new ears gorging themselves on that tasty candy you are producing. Some require annual fees for each record you release (TuneCore), placing enormous strain on your wallet. Others just use a one-time payment per album (CD Baby) that is reasonable but can add up over time. However, there is one that stands out for its friendly appearance, affordable pricing and its access to all of the major storefronts.
And it flat out sucks.
I am talking, of course, about DistroKid. Its cute, green logo with the little snaggleteeth and annual fee of a meagre $20 for unlimited releases seems like a great deal. It looks amazing. It is easy to use. It allows for promotions to help you get your music heard on the global stage. And it will screw you so hard that you will feel empathy for the cork in a bottle of wine.
There has yet to be a single piece of music that I have submitted via DistroKid that has not been rejected, nor do I know of a single colleague who has been able to successfully release a record through this platform. Original songs and compositions are routinely tossed out with no specific reasons attributed to the rejection, and there is absolutely zero customer support for this issue.
When I first began producing albums, I chose CD Baby to handle digital distribution solely because it also had a storefront. Having their store and Bandcamp was a great way to promote my work and offered more visibility to my music as an independent artist. Then last year, just a week after the global lockdown began, CD Baby announced that they were pulling the storefront to focus exclusively on distribution to Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, etc. which cut my sales by 90% and forced me to focus on Bandcamp for just about everything in regards to sound.
The pandemic also meant that I would not be able to offer my services as a live performer or as an event and wedding photographer until at least June of 2022, and now there are serious discussions that the return of such things could be further delayed until the summer or autumn of 2023 if not later due to the incredibly slow and disorganized vaccine rollouts, along with developing uncertainties regarding new variants of the virus that could have an impact on the global immunization campaign. With that, my income for two years was eradicated and I am still working to pivot my attention to other sources of financial security while figuring out how to pay for the bare necessities that have only risen in price since this crisis began.
Due to CD Baby’s current lack of a storefront and the costs associated with each new release, I thought I would go ahead and try DistroKid as an alternative as I would only have one small annual fee for unlimited releases. This would allow me to distribute my back catalogue consisting of six records (two singles, three EPs and a full album) for a fraction of the cost of doing the same via CD Baby or other services.
I did not want to spam DistroKid so I figured I would go slowly and release a new record to streaming platforms once a month, allowing for everything to move smoothly and without any issues on either my side or the end of corporate moguls busy swimming in their lakes of gold and/or corruption. I submitted my single, Romance for Piccolo Bass, and everything was going well until the now classic email arrived stating:
We've been notified that this release has been rejected due to editorial discretion.
There are a few reasons why this may have happened. Some possible reasons are:
Sorry about this.
While the vast majority of releases are approved for distribution, stores do occasionally curate content. This is to ensure that end-users have a high-quality experience. This doesn't mean your music is bad. It just means that stores don't need this release at the moment.”
Alright, let us break this down:
The track I submitted is neither a beat library nor a sample pack. It is not “rain sounds.” The piece was recorded in my professional studio where I have worked for 14 years with no issues in regards to sound quality. The track was submitted as a .wav file at 44.1 kHz and 16-bit depth, the proper CD quality needed for digital distribution. The artwork was taken professionally (remember, in the before times I was a wedding and event photographer and am perfectly capable of creating my own artwork) and is at a 3000px by 3000px dimension. Finally, I have no other releases through DistroKid and this was a single track. There is no “flooding.”
So what happened? Did all of these stores reject my track at once, or did one store that is still in public beta reject it over stylistic grounds? That would be silly to throw out an entire record over one store; why not submit to the others and ignore the one that was causing trouble? I wrote to customer support asking which store rejected my work, and was bluntly told that it was “all of them” and that there is nothing DistroKid can do on their end, and that I should consider using a different platform to distribute this particular recording.
Am I to believe that Spotify, Apple, Amazon, Google, Pandora, Tidal, Deezer and every other streaming platform in the world rejected this one track, all at the exact same time, or that this issue was, in fact, from DistroKid itself?
I moved onto my next record, a minimalist EP of horror themed piano compositions. I received the same email to the letter as reproduced above. Moving on, this time with a jazz piano record. Rejected on grounds of editorial discretion within 3 hours of uploading. Now there is a pattern. These tracks range in styles from jazz to electronic to world music and incorporate solo bass or piano projects. There is a lot of diversity here, yet each submission is rejected on the same grounds and the blame is being laid at the feet of "the stores.”
Um, no. It is not “the stores;” it is DistroKid.
DistroKid is making this decision. I had a long read on Reddit from other artists facing the same sort of issues with their submissions. Some have had their music published through DistroKid for years and only recently have had their new submissions rejected. Others have dozens of records on the market only to have DistroKid outright ban them after submitting a new release. There was clearly a pattern of independent artists and even some major video game composers having their music rejected or even their accounts banned out of the blue with the same lack of customer service. Then there was this damning video by Indie Music Academy:
Apparently, DistroKid can just up and ban you because they feel like it and delete your library as soon as you are removed with no legacy options available because the legacy option is only available if you die. Nice company.
I decided to delete my DistroKid account and get a full refund that just came through today. I know that $20 is not much, but these are corona times! Give us a break! I have already submitted Romance for Piccolo Bass for distribution through CD Baby and guess what? It was approved by the same stores that “rejected” the exact same audio file, artwork and metadata. It will be available for streaming in 1-3 weeks (another delay caused by the pandemic). The “editorial discretion” was clearly that of DistroKid and nobody else.
If you are a musician on a budget, or just want to find a way to digitally distribute your music I cannot and will never recommend DistroKid. Take your business elsewhere to a platform where you and your works are treated with respect and there is a reliable customer service department that does not openly lie to you or disregard your inquiries for assistance. Personally, I would go with CD Baby as they have never let me down, but find what works best for you and avoid DistroKid as if it were the almighty source of coronavirus.