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CD Baby, Now In Its 20th Year, Says It Paid Out $80M to Indie Artists in 2017

The indie distributor and publisher has also passed $600 million in payouts since its 1998 launch, according to the company
When indie distributor and publisher CD Baby first opened itself up for business in 1998, the record industry was booming, on its way to a high-water mark in terms of overall revenue that it would reach by the end of that year. What followed, however, would be a near-catastrophic decline that cut the biz in half within a decade, before modest gains from streaming exploded into a massive growth opportunity that has finally returned the record industry to health -- and, most importantly, to growth.

Throughout those ups and downs CD Baby endured, and now, celebrating its 20th year in existence, the company has unveiled a few significant milestones: in 2017 alone, CD Baby paid out $80.1 million dollars to independent artists, a 33 percent increase over 2016; and over its two decades of existence, it has paid out more than $600 million worldwide. According to the company's statistics, it distributes 650,000 artists and more than 9 million tracks and publishes 140,000 songwriters and 875,000 individual songs, representing artists in a total of 215 territories across the globe.

Key to these recent growth metrics, it should come as no surprise, has been streaming.

“Just six years ago, iTunes downloads were the main source of sales revenue for our artists,” CD Baby's vp marketing Kevin Breuner said in a statement. “With this shift [towards streaming], we’ve seen revenue increase dramatically. The overall pie is growing and indie musicians are getting their slices.”

To support the argument, CD Baby provided data to Billboard (graphics with the metrics referenced in this story can be found below) that said that in 2009, of the $33.3 million the company paid to indie artists, just $575,000 -- or 1.7 percent -- derived from streaming services. In 2017, less than a decade later, that percentage had ballooned to 58 percent, with $46.7 million of the $80.1 million total coming via streams.

While impressive, CD Baby's payouts are still a relatively small percentage of the global independent music market, estimated to have reached $6 billion in revenues in 2016, or 38 percent of the global recorded-music market, according to an October 2017 study conducted by the Worldwide Independent Network. Indeed, another metric from CD Baby indicated that while its overall payments have grown, its share of overall digital distribution revenue has actually shrunk within the past six years, from 4.5 percent in 2011 and 1.5 percent in 2017 as the likes of Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora cut into iTunes' previous dominance.

“We’re excited to see average artists’ earnings grow for a third consecutive year due to millions more consumers engaging in music discovery on streaming services,” company CEO Tracy Maddux said in a statement. “We’re very optimistic about the trend as we continue to lobby for higher per stream rates.”