D.I.Y.

Tuncecore CEO Jeff Price Responds: “When Artists Become The Product”

image from www.google.com Last week, Hypebot published a guest post, "D.I.Y. Music – When Artists Become The Product" by William Gruger which questioned the value of the growing "online industry dedicated to earning money and exposure". Today, Tunecore CEO Jeff Price responds.

JEFF PRICE: The challenge with articles like this is they imply some sort of "magic wand" which, if waved, allows musicians to have instant fame and success. This is just not the case.


The secret to success for a musician is in the art itself. If a snake oil salesman comes asking for money, promising, "Kid, I’m gonna make you a star"–it's most likely utter bull. A case in point: 98% of what the major labels released and promoted failed. They spent billions of dollars over the years pushing music they hoped would cause reaction, and 98% of the time they failed and the artists still had to give up their rights ending up worse than when they started.

Music needs to cause reaction. In other words, the thing that propelled Nirvana to superstardom was Nirvana's music. If people didn't react to the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” it wouldn't have mattered how often they heard the song or seen the video: it was the song itself that caused the fame.

The author of this article appears to forget that truth, and implies there is a magic bullet solution. There is not. However there have been two recent, fundamental changes to the industry that allow musicians the possibility of having their art heard in hopes of it causing that reaction. First, all music by all artists can now be placed on the “shelves” of the stores around the world, where people go to hear it and buy it. To get this distribution, artists no longer need give up rights or revenue from the sale of their music. Second, artists have direct access to media and marketing outlets which allow them to market directly to their fans and be discovered by the masses.

These are good things: all artists should have access to distribution without having to give up rights or revenue.

This article claims sites like ReverbNation are praying on artists: some do, particularly those that sell the possibility of "fame", but entities like ReverbNation are not. They do what they say they will do they way they say they will do it. They, like TuneCore, promise not a road to riches, but tools and services that do exactly as described. And that’s just what artists should look for: sites that offer a tangible and valuable service and do what they claim in exactly they way they state.   A site like TuneCore states it will place your music in the shelves iTunes, Amazon and other music stores around the world, and when your music sells, you get all the money and keep all your rights–and that’s exactly what it does. Although TuneCore does market and promote TuneCore Artists to the stores for feature placement, we do not mention this service on the homepage or within the site because it feels disingenuous to dangle a "possibility" as a reason to use the service.

One could claim that services that do take advantage of artists with false claims and promises are the same as someone writing and publishing a factually incorrect article to propel their prominence, or drive web traffic; the very thing artists should be aware of.

READ: D.I.Y. Music — When Artists Become The Product

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13 Comments

  1. Jeff, while I agree with the majority of your post, I take issue with the “secret is the art itself” point.
    I think that is the biggest problem with musicians – they focus too much on the art, and not on the business.
    For instance, rather than take a risk and create something unique, many bands trying to copy each other’s sound because “that’s whats hot”, and that’s what the labels are signing, so that’s what they do. Just listen to anything in the Alternative genre over the last decade – it all sounds the same.
    The other side of the coin, artists are creating really good music. Stuff that everyone should hear, but nobody does because they are operating under the myth of “If I sing it, they will come”. They have no plan to get it out there.
    The days of “the artist does the music, and someone else deals with the business” is over. It has been for a long time.
    Whatever the goals are for a band, they need to treat it like a business, not like art. They need to build relationships with fans, create marketing strategies, figure out distribution, create, manage and distribute merch and book shows. Yes, it’s a lot of work. Yes, it’s made more difficult with having that day job get in the way, but that’s what running a small business is – hard work, long hours, and a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that cannot be measured. You can’t have success without it.
    Artists who want to be successful with find ways around the obstacles, create good music, and invest both time and money into the business end. Those that don’t, will eventually die – no matter how good the tunes are.

  2. hi,
    Both articles have their share of truth and there are points of agreement and disagreement to both. However, I’d like to shed some light in some of Jeff Price’s lines:
    a. “A case in point: 98% of what the major labels released and promoted failed. They spent billions of dollars over the years pushing music they hoped would cause reaction, and 98% of the time they failed and the artists still had to give up their rights ending up worse than when they started.”
    Actually the major labels did nothing more than spreading the risk in their “portfolio”, a very well tested strategy to minimise the risk of investments. Their overall output was for many years (and probably still is) positively balanced.
    b. “First, all music by all artists can now be placed on the “shelves” of the stores around the world, where people go to hear it and buy it. To get this distribution, artists no longer need give up rights or revenue from the sale of their music. Second, artists have direct access to media and marketing outlets which allow them to market directly to their fans and be discovered by the masses.”
    Saying that artists do not give up any right or revenue from the sale of music, but they are charged with a fee for access to distribution and use of these tools, is a very good thing to have. But, this strategy is actually risk free for the providers of these “services” since their income is not depended on the sales volumes of any act. Artists bear all the risks of their music. Record labels used to finance every act they released. Now the problem is also financing, not only access to distribution and to promotional tools. Don’t get me wrong, services like Tunecore, ReverbNation etc, are very valuable to artists. I just suggest we do not stick only to “distribution” and “promotion” but to “finance” as well. I like to think that Tunecore, CDBaby etc are only the first steps, not the whole nine yards.

  3. Reality it the 98% failure rate is not going to change either for the majors or the DIYers … The reason most new artists still want deals with established labels is to use of Other Peoples Money (OPM) – and lots of it – and – more importantly – to gain access to the power of the labels expertise and invaluable insider connections. These are the ingredients that give artists a shot. Making product available through digital outlets means nothing if nobody knows who you are … and, for the most part, that won’t happen unless you go viral with some silly, soon forgotten video.

  4. “I think that is the biggest problem with musicians – they focus too much on the art, and not on the business.”
    “For instance, rather than take a risk and create something unique, many bands trying to copy each other’s sound because “that’s whats hot”…”
    I would say these statements are in complete conflict. Musicians consumed with copying and making what’s hot are not concerned with the art AT ALL. Deciding to copying something is more of a business decision than an artistic one.
    Most artists I know would be apalled by that first sentance. Perhaps a better, less pompous, way to convey or idea is to say that they need to balance their artistic and business decisions and understand how they effect one another. For instance, say, choosing to put an avant garde jazz solo in your alternative rock tune will have an effect on that songs profitability (but in may end up paying off in artistic terms of being interesting).
    I think an artist who can achieve a perfect balance will be very successful. As Andy Warhol said, “Business art is the best art.”

  5. Peter, even though they may be copying, the focus is still on the art. “If I do this kind of sound, then a label will sign me”. I gave examples of the extremes on both ends.
    While my intention wasn’t to offend anyone, I hope that people are at shocked, a slap in the face if you will, to understand that there are many facets to making it in music, and the art part cannot be center stage.
    Take any regular old business – they just don’t create a product or service and leave it at that. No, while the product is the thing the company is built on, there are many other factors that play into whether or not that product will be successful. That’s the part many artists don’t get. I’ve been at this for many years, I see it all over the place.
    I’m not saying the art isn’t important, it has to be as that’s what we’re selling – it’s just that the artists tend to forget that.

  6. “The author of this article appears to forget that truth, and implies there is a magic bullet solution.”
    No; the author implies that there is not a magic solution, and specifically that online distribution services, which make themselves seem like “magic bullets,” are largely ineffectual. The author argues that these services disingenuously market themselves as fast-tracks to success (by, say, prominently displaying a clip from Trent Reznor promoting a certain site’s ability to “get your music everywhere”), and in doing so misdirect the attention and focus of hardworking bands. Yes, bands need talent and artistic merit to succeed. The author doubts whether sites like TuneCore best serve their interests, or rather add artists to an ever-expanding long tail wherein the unheard and underappreciated (or rightfully unappreciated) remain so.
    That “this article claims sites like ReverbNation are praying [sic] on artists” is a misreading. The article focuses more on the delusions of amateur musicians whose desire for success is stoked by breathless assurances of exposure and community provided by such sites.

  7. Phil,
    Great response. I totally agree. I am a musician that has learned that lesson the hard way. I have been playing and writing for 18 years. It is just now that I finally am working on the business side of the music. I am putting a great amount of time and money into my new album. Paying musicians, making contracts, producers, web sites, distribution, marketing…all these things are what are needed to be successful. I am totally an artist! I am quite skilled at my art, and am just now realizing that aspect of relationship building and the small business side of everything.
    I will say that after reading this article and your response, it re-assures me that I am on the right path to success. And notice I did not say fame or stardom…to me success is being able to support my family, doing what I love and sharing my art with all who will appreciate and enjoy it.
    Thanks for a great response Phil!

  8. The art has to be the center of the value… No matter how many Mcdonalds commercials or ads u see….you wouldnt go back if the fries were horrible or if the double quarter pounder wasnt worth the price of admission(lol). Marketing brings u to the store…whats in the store decides if u come back or not

  9. “This article claims sites like ReverbNation are praying on artists:” I think the correct spelling is “preying”. Although I think a lot of artists are doing a lot of “praying” that some of these promotional programs are someday going to make them some money. I think you have to pick just a few things that work well to get your music out there. Then spend the rest of your time making GREAT music and performing it the old-fashioned way – live. I have found my website, live performance and our youtube channel the most effective for attracting fans. I have used both CD Baby and most recently Tunecore for distribution. I find that facebook and other social sites are a time suck and use them to promote only once in a while. I find that the people who come out to live performance are the best fans because they can get off their butts and actually express their interest. Also the most important component – the actual music – we sold over 100 CDs at our 20 minute intermission at a recent concert because the MUSIC moved them. That is really the core and then continue to attract attention with good ideas and music but not becoming spread too thin with your energy and time.

  10. It’s become easier than ever over the past decade, due to technology, for an artist to go from bad to good – to have sonically passable music. Companies like TuneCore, which have democratized the music distribution landscape, are valuable and essential to the new music business because they allow the independent artists to sell and distribute music around the world on equal footing with more established artists (via iTunes, etc.)
    However, I think it’s become harder than ever for upcoming artists to go from good to GREAT – and great music is what compels a listener to become a fan, and a fan to open her wallet and pay to see a show, buy a CD or download, etc. This is because many of the great and essential tools that exist on the internet don’t actually help artists DEVELOP great music – they help them market, sell and distribute music after it’s created.
    This is the key impetus behind what we’re doing at Music180.com – we’re trying to help find and develop tomorrow’s great artists, songwriters and producers, and help upcoming artists go from good to great – because I don’t believe one can do so alone. I believe there are many diamonds in the rough out there, but that it takes the right guidance and connections to really build a music career in the music business.
    After an artist has great songs, great production/recordings, and a great image that is consistent with the music, the artist can utilize sites like TuneCore, ReverbNation and others to sell and promote their “brand” to listeners and try to build a fan base. But if the core “product” offered by the artist isn’t really great, then all the marketing and sales in the world won’t help.
    I agree with Jeff that (i) sites like TuneCore and ReverbNation do what they say they will do, and they generally do it well – they don’t promise fame or success, but they do promise distribution, exposure via the Internet, etc. We’ve had to be very careful, and we’re constantly listening to our users to ensure that we aren’t promising anything we can’t truly deliver.
    Can many of the sites around today help an upcoming artist attain success, fame, money? Absolutely. Is this ever guaranteed? No. Would independent artists be better off without these sites? No. Should sites try to be ever more clear and transparent with their value propositions? Yes.
    At the end of the day, it all comes down to the music, and to a lesser extent the image that goes along with the music. When a new artist comes to Music180 for guidance, we always start back at the basics – the songs and the recordings. Once those go from good to great, we enthusiastically recommend companies like TuneCore, Pledgemusic, Grooveshark and others to help them market, promote and sell their music to as many people as possible

  11. Peace, it seems to me u simply either A) took the statement of art being the secret out of context or B) u misunderstood said statement. The article already explains the need for the ARTIST being more intuitive in the business aspect,hints the whole premise of tunecore in the first place. Business aside, it is right and exact to conclude that end of the day,building connections with fans etc means nothing without the RIGHT song in the first place. Will a restaurant with nasty food become a franchise simply because you serve it with a smile? NO…
    The article in no way implies what you suggest it does,it simply clarifies the obvious you seem to have overlooked. The producer who believes marketing is more important than his/her product is already half crippled in efforts..Make great art and even greater moves and you will succeed Phil, Peace..

  12. Peace, my sentiments exactly Blake. End of the day, the only risk either side takes is minimal. If I spend a grand on Discmakers,etc for CDs and they don’t sell anywhere near what I spent, I’m A) in the red and B) stuck with hundreds of CDs. With Tunecore, $50 ( peanuts really)
    I charge more for studio time btw- I can put that same project out worldwide and sell 10 copies and I’m already in the black.
    Distribution is just that, the rest of the job is on the artist as it should be. Great music won’t neccessarily self itself but it makes our job easier.
    Hold don broadway Blake #salute! Peace…

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