Digital Music Distribution – Simple?

I have another new album coming out and normally I would use Tunecore for my digital distribution. I have for all but one of my releases. I used CD Baby for my 2nd album to try something different.

But Tunecore’s recent 150% price hike on all new and existing album distribution has got me looking around at what others have to offer.

A Little Background

I wrote, recorded and produced a song a week for a year. During that year I released some download-only EPs. The at the end of the year I released an album with 13 of the best songs of the week. I also got some songs placed on TV that were neither on EPs or the album so I released them as singles.

So now I have 3 EPs and 4 singles from that project. At $49.99 per album (even a 4 song EP) and $29.99 per single, that’s a lot of money to pay every year for just over an album’s worth of songs. So I had to have a think.

Then, after being asked about releasing more of the songs of the week, I decided to take the best songs from the EPs, the singles and some never released songs, remix, rerecord and master them for Song of the Week 2. So 7 releases become one.

So that is why I started examining where to go for my distribution.

Tunecore’s Price Hike

My problem with Tuncore isn’t that is costs $49.99 per year to put up an new album. I think the price is reasonable for a new album. My problem is the price hike on existing albums. Albums that, over time, are likely to get less sales as the years progress. Albums, where the work to put them up has already been done. Albums that cost around a just a couple of dollars a year to host. It’s not is if we are allowed to modify or upgrade anything about the albums, yet they are costing us more.

They added new features like trending and widgets and bundled them together with the distribution but it feels a bit like they are saying “here’s a bunch of stuff you didn’t ask for, now you owe us more money”.

So the quandary for indie artists is that to take our business elsewhere means losing those precious stars, comments and ‘others that bought this bought…’. We need all the attention we can get.

By all means put up your prices for new business but don’t penalize old customers for something they can’t do anything about.

Attitude problem

And then there’s the attitude to those who were not overjoyed at the price hikes. I think they took take offence to the statement by CEO Jeff Price – “So we just said screw it, simpler is better”…  “Let’s give Tunecore customers all the things they asked for and not charge them for each and every new feature.” (from Digital Music News)

Simpler for Tunecore. I think customers would always prefer to chose what they are paying for. I have a feeling they paid for the development of these features and found that people weren’t as interested as they thought, so, as I said earlier, they have bundled them… for who’s convenience?

Distribution

But enough bitching. I still have the problem of who to distribute through. There seems to be 2 basic options. Pay a fee each year but pay no percentage of sales (Tunecore, Reverbnation) or pay a one time fee and pay a percentage of sales (around 10%) (CD Baby, Indie Pool). I did a little research and came up with this chart so I could see a comparison between many companies now offering music digital distribution. It’s not pretty but it’s as simple as I could make it. (click on the image to see in detail).

The Indie Artist Dilemma

Now if you’re a well known artist it’s a no brainer. Selling a lot means that you are way better off with paying the yearly fee and keeping all the sales. But for less well known indie artists then it’s a gamble. Especially if you have a lot of CDs out there. It adds up. But if I get a song on a TV show, which happens from time to time, then my potential sales make it worth paying the yearly fee. If not then which is my best bet.

What’s Next?

I totally get that it’s all business. I do. And if this was my first album I would most likely go with Tunecore. They have a great website, make it easy to get your albums on iTunes quickly and your money from sales is easy to withdraw. But I have a bad taste in my mouth and I think that there is one simple thing Tunecore could do to keep the indie artists happy, if they really want to… and Tunecore are all about keeping things simple, right?

Leave existing albums at the yearly price that they were originally signed up for. Simple and fair. Those albums require no more work, only the storage cost.

For this new album, Tunecore may still be my best option. I would be interested in other’s thought on this.

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24 comments

  1. Thanks for taking the time to think it all through, Helen, and so reasonably. You’re doing what everyone should do: examine the choices and go with the one you think is the best fit. But I do want to take a second to talk about the changes we made here at TuneCore, because only that will let you know the full scope of the service, and thus make the best possible choice.

    While we did indeed create a lot of new features, that represents only part of what’s changed. I want to make sure we’re all on the same page.

    We’re here to serve, and serving means more than it at first glance appears. It’s far, far more than a file delivery. We:

    – store your music and art,
    – make certain you are getting you money and accounting (and chase up anyone who is not paying – and believe me we have to, for some stores),
    – do a daily manual ingestion of iTunes trending reports, compile them and have them go into each account,
    – review every release going through our system to assure no one else is stealing your songs and/or recording of your song (we have a whole team whose sole job it is to protect your copyrights),
    – negotiate with and set the technology and infrastructure up with new stores so you can have your music delivered to them,
    – deal with the stores that are shutting down (it can be messy and we want to make certain you get your money),
    – re-deliver your songs and music to the stores you are already being distributed to as they change what they need,
    – add new opt-ins within TuneCore to accommodate the stores new features,
    – modify/update the art creation tool (we provide free album and full CD art),
    – modify and update the streaming media players,
    – modify and update the accounting system and display of your info,
    – set up streams and information collection on the streams through the TuneCore media player,
    – answer any questions you have via email or phone and now Twitter,
    – make any changes to your metadata (i.e., album title, song title, artwork etc),
    – set up requested Artist Ping pages or any new types of things that the stores launch in the future,
    – hire staff and create a system and process to send out weekly marketing and promotion tip sheets in an attempt to get TuneCore artists places and features,
    – reach out to customers with the marketing opportunities and pre-clear songs for inclusion on free download albums,
    – and a lot more.

    For example, we recently closed a deal with YouTube that will allow you to make money off the advertising if your recording or song is any YouTube video.

    We now have to build a new customer experience to collect and provide the information YouTube would like, as well as create an FAQ and educate the artist support staff on all the nuances so we can answer all questions.

    We also have to build tech to tie into their API so we can pull out marketing info. Then we have to build a way to display it all for you within your TuneCore account.

    Next up, I suspect, will be Apple/iTunes: the rumor mills seem to think it’s moving towards a possible streaming model. If this happens, we then need to see what changes will be made to the accounting side. That is, we need an automated way to ingest and display the accounting and if they make any changes to the way they report we need to build or modify existing systems to allow this to happen

    Then there are the incremental staff hires: for example, the new Executive Vice President Of Brand & Business Development we hired (your can read more on him at http://www.shorefire.com/index.php?a=pressrelease&o=4990). His sole purpose at TuneCore is to get our artists deals with brands.

    Then there are the new technical style guides from the digital stores, as some change how they want information sent to them, which means we need to change the way things are delivered and rebuild what we already built.

    This list can go on and on – but that’s the gist. These aren’t features in any narrow sense, they’re global improvements any company would have to make to grow along with the changing face of digital distribution and retail.

    As you pick from among the services, I hope you’ll go with the one that wants to remain dynamic, to match evolution the whole business is experiencing and seizing whatever opportunities it provides.

    Thanks.

    –Peter
    peter@tunecore.com

    1. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment here.

      As I said, I appreciate that this is a business and that prices need to go up. But it does not address the fact that the you have the indie artist over a barrel in the fact that they can’t quit your service and move to another, especially for older albums, which may not be bringing in much, if anything. If there was a transfer system where we got to keep all our itunes stars, comments etc, then that would give us the opportunity to re evaluate and maybe move to a different service. But we can’t.

      I am not arguing that this isn’t a good service for my new album, but I still stand by my statement that older albums should remain at the yearly price they were when we signed up.

      And please do an EP rate! My 4 song EP is now costing me $49.95 a year.

  2. We’re working on an EP rate, that’s on the way. I totally hear you there.

    As for the transfer problem, sadly, that’s not in our power. The whole transfer issue is decided by the stores. It’s not TuneCore policy. Stores simply won’t keep those peripheral data (star ratings, comments, etc.) when an album goes down and comes up again through another distributor.

    Thanks again.

    –Peter
    peter@tunecore.com

  3. Thanks for looking at an EP rate. I appreciate that.

    I know that you don’t have any power over transfer which is why I said that we are over a barrel. There is nothing we can do except suck up the rate increase for albums that are less current and will likely earn us less and less each year, while the cost to keep them available goes up.

    I was very vocal in recommending Tunecore to my many indie artist peers who are only just finding out now about the rate increase due to this blog. Please don’t make me regret recommending you and think about what I have said about older albums earning less money versus this rate (and potential future) increase.

  4. No regrets. And the things we’re putting in place will mean more money for future and existing releases–entire new income streams, in fact–that will go a long way towards helping those releases do even better in their second, third and later years.

    –Peter
    peter@tunecore.com

  5. @peter – I understand the need to be a viable business but i am totally with Helen, I doubt my CD’s will get anymore exposure for the extra money than the old amount and think that for CD’s that are already in the system it seems outrageous given that the main cost has already been incurred. Ialso find it odd that i only heard of the price change through Helen and NOT tuncore. Surely tunecore has a responsibility to notify of terms and conditions changes. I was one of the musicians that Helen recommended to your service and i will be sure to re-evaluate my position with tunecore when my current CD’s come up for renewal.

  6. I suspect, Sue, your releases aren’t up for renewal yet. Everyone gets notified a month ahead of time. If it’s earlier than a month before your renewal, we haven’t reached out to you yet. You’re reading about someone’s else experience.

    Why do you doubt that your music won’t get more options? Have you tried them? Why not try our new options out? But again, the things we’ve done are not “features” in any narrow sense. You’re already trying them out: our improved accounting. Our increased staff and 24-hour turn time on all emails to our support team. Our support on Twitter. Surely you want a company that’s working hard to improve support? And that’s just one thing–just look above to see a few more.

    It’s just not true that the “main cost” is over. Delivering a digital file isn’t the main thing we do, and it’s by no means the most demanding on our resources.

    You, and everyone using TuneCore right now, have been the beneficiaries of these improvements the last three years, and will be moving forward, and all the improvements and additions we’re planning. Yes, we adjusted prices this year, but the service is so much more than when it began, in ways that no one could (or would want to) opt out of. I truly hope you’ll see it this way, for it’s the truth.

    –Peter
    peter@tunecore.com

  7. @Peter- I’ve always found that Tunecore embraces outreach like this. I put out my 2nd EP with Tunecore because you commented on a post I made on Mahalo almost 2 years ago. That is very cool.

    That said, I recently let that EP lapse and had it redistributed with another company.

    My thinking is that Tunecore is doubling down on its old business model and not innovating. Truly revolutionary when you started, the truth is that what you think of as “global improvements” (you list 17) are not. They are features upon features upon features that, as Helen says, we didn’t ask for.

    In fact, we only want you to do three things: 1) put the music out there, 2) collect the money, 3) pay yourself fairly.

    Jonah Knight

  8. Jonah, it’s just not that simple. Can you imagine your frustration if we didn’t improve our accounting system and bring it into line with the way music is sold today? Think of how frustrating it would be if you had to wait 7-10 days for a customer service response? Or if we had only email support? Imagine how you’d feel about a service that just “delivered and forgot about it” as its motto, the moment a store made any kind of mistake, or changed its policies, or did anything like that?

    And how long would anyone trust a distributor who was constantly fighting these developments, trying to force simplicity on a world of music that was getting more and more complicated? It would be unfair to ourselves and to our artists to stagnate, to do nothing, to pretend things aren’t changing.

    We offer these features listed above and many, many more (I really don’t want to go into a giant list, Helen’s blog isn’t a place for me to sing about everything TuneCore does, she’s not offering ad space!) because we want to do MORE than just “keep up with the times,” we want to build features that our artists have been crying for. Trust me, they’ve been crying for them.

    We’ll never please everyone, that’s fine. But please remember, if we added features to the chassis and the interior, don’t let that distract you from the radical and vital improvements under the hood. Everyone uses those, and more is to come.

    –Peter
    peter@tunecore.com

  9. Thank you Helen for starting this discussion. My main concern with the above information is, when an artist signs up (enters the contract) and the agreement is to pay a certain amount every year, that agreement should be honored by both parties for as long as the album remains with Tunecore.

    Since April, we have begun to load several old and new Rovers albums, the new albums being the best sellers. I am now learning for the first time that the amount I agreed to pay could be increased at any time in the future. Is that correct? So it’s not the actually yearly rate, it’s “the yearly rate for now?” Doesn’t seem right.

    For a new album being added to the discography after the price hike, that album should obviously pay the new price, but not the album that was signed three years ago.

    Dealing with a library of over 40 albums in N America, and dozens more internationally, I see I should give this more thought.

  10. Hi there, very interesting conversation, i think we should keep it going! There’s allways some change somewhere on the net and beyond. What about ‘Mondotunes.com’? Seemingly not a bad choice but it scares me that no one mentioned it yet.
    Good luck all!

    1. thanks for alerting me to mondotunes… I had never heard of them. This looks like the cheapest option as they seem to take no % and their fee is one time only. Which makes me question how they will survive as a business. Do you use them?

    1. Great article! I’m in exactly the same situation, TV placement increase sales and I don’t want to give those % away but paying a yearly fee for a whole catalog is insane!.. This is how I found this article, by search for a solution.

      This “Mondo Tunes” sounds like the solution but I do question their credibility and longevity, I’ve never heard of them before.

      Has anybody had experience with them?

      I’ve also considered applying to become an iTunes content provider and just going direct.

      The requirements are having
      At least 20 albums in your catalog
      UPCs/EANs/JANs for all products you intend to distribute
      ISRCs for all tracks you intend to distribute

      All this can by purchased online.
      An album is essentially 25min so if you have at least 500min worth of music in your catalogue then this might be an option.

      I know there are other stores online and I’m sure the process is similar but as iTunes accounts for about 70% of all digital music sold in the US, this might be the way to go.

      Has anybody tried to go direct?

      Thanks
      Phill

      1. I am trying Mondotunes for my next album. It takes longer to get a release date so not great for something you want on itunes within 24 hours, but they deliver to a lot more stores and so far have been very helpful, including giving me a release date sooner than their system allowed.

        I will keep you posted on them.

        The direct to itunes sounds like a great idea if you have a large body of work.

  11. I think I just Googled Mondotunes vs Tunecore, and on 2nd page here you are (or there you were). And kind of in the same place I am. Struggling with Mondo vs Tunecore vs Bandcamp vs Whoever. So, how is it going with Mondo? Of courese, they all keep upping the ante, ie Tunecore with Publishing Admin. This is kind of an old thread here, so I will contact you also on your Home page. Interesting post and comments!

  12. Mondotunes seems to be good… you don’t get the personal webpage stuff that you get with tunecore, cdbaby etc, but they seem to distribute to way more stores. They reply to questions quickly and have been efficient but sometimes I miss that web presence that the others have…. swings and roundabouts I guess.:)

  13. Amazing, this thread lives on. Thanks for the prompt reply. Yes, Mondo has been very responsive to me as well…a good thing. Tunecore has gotten very negative press of late re: the firing of their long-time CEO. Though their Publishing Admin. seems interesting. Respond if you can, know your’e busy, with a JUNO nom and such. I follow you now, want to see how that turns out. I wish you well! Blessings, John Paul
    ps- I am about to do the Song A Week for a year, just as you did. Gulp…..

  14. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, it’s helpful to me. Actually I want to promote my music on different platforms. Can you please tell which is best music Distribution Company promote online music?

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