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How TuneCore Is Making Record Labels Unnecessary

One small company is rewriting the rules of of the music industry.

How TuneCore Is Making Record Labels Unnecessary
[Photo: Flickr user Lauri Rantala]

The music industry used to be a very different place. Artists would make a demo or figure out another strategy for getting discovered and signed by a record label. That label would then pay them an advance, facilitate the making of an album, and then put that album on the radio and store shelves.

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Fast-forward to today: With record stores gone and the Internet making it easy for anyone–from the most tech-savvy to total Luddites–to illegally listen to whatever they want, the industry has been reeling. And since every artist cannot be a Beyoncé, it’s a good thing that TuneCore exists. The company, started in 2006 by Jeff Price, Peter Wells, and Gary Burke, has figured out how to make the Internet work for, not against, artists and has grown to become one of the most successful forces to keep the indie music scene financially afloat. “TuneCore was founded on the belief that all artists should be able to get their music out to the public and sold around the world without having a label deal, without giving up their rights, and without handing over a sizeable chunk of their sales revenue,” says TuneCore’s CEO Scott Ackerman.

TuneCore began as a distribution service that could help indie artists get on store shelves. With the collapse of record stores, they had to shift focus and soon were providing music publishing. “We are constantly evaluating what we can do to help artists be heard while also enabling them to make more money,” says Ackerman. Today those services include everything from publishing deals to professional mastering of tracks to distribution in more than 80 of the most popular digital stores (often within 24 to 72 hours of signing up for the service). In addition, they work to get songs placed in television shows, films, and on commercials and have gotten spots on ESPN, HBO, Fox, and ABC Family. Just this summer they launched Track Smarts, a service that plays unreleased songs to selected listeners and then reports back to the artists, so they can decide what works, what doesn’t, what should be a single and what untapped markets they may want to focus on.

What TuneCore is doing is no different from what a record label would provide, but the all-important catch is who makes and keeps the money. A label would retain a significant percentage of ownership over the music, whereas with TuneCore, the artists have 100% ownership and are responsible for paying a flat fee, which can be under $10 depending on the service. “The traditional label model is an option, not a requirement, for success,” says Ackerman.

This model is clearly working for both sides, as there are currently over one million registered users of TuneCore, which has enabled the Brooklyn-based company to expand to a team of more than 40 employees. And, explains Ackerman, “Our artist community has made over $438.8 million in revenue and sold over 8.8 billion total downloads and streams.” While they’ve worked with household names like Drake and Fleetwood Mac, some of TuneCore’s biggest achievements are with lesser-known artists. “Ron Pope has been distributing music through [us] since 2008 (after leaving a label he had signed with) and he embraces all that TuneCore offers, including our unique Sales Trend Reports that allow him to pinpoint where his music is most popular and plan his marketing efforts and tours accordingly,” says Ackerman, adding that the pop singer is a “streaming advocate” who has made over $300,000 just from Spotify. Though his success may be remarkable, it is very much in line with TuneCore’s philosophy. Says Ackerman: “Our commitment to empowering musicians and songwriters to take charge of their careers is unwavering.”

About the author

Ayana Byrd writes about people, ideas and companies that are groundbreaking and innovative.

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