In May, co-founder Peter Wells exited TuneCore followed earlier this month by CEO and co-founder Jeff Price. Since then, the company has not named a successor, issued a statement or responded to inquires regarding these seismic changes to their executive team. For the first time, one of the co-founders, Peter Wells, speaks out in an exclusive Hypebot interview.
PETER WELLS: I was asked to leave TuneCore in May. My position at the time was "Specialist," as no single title exists that described my varied duties. I was in charge of high-end customer support, VIP sales and support, volume sales, product QA with Engineering and Finance, I was the "voice" of TuneCore in social media space (such as Twitter) and part of the social team, I ran the TuneCore Forum and the "TuneCouncil" mailing list, as well as assisting with corporate strategy and much more.
HYPEBOT: Tell us about your departure.PETER WELLS: I left TuneCore on excellent terms: they were very happy with my work, there were handshakes all around. I was told my position was dissolved, that's all.
I was extremely surprised. I was disappointed that no effort was made to find a place for me after my position was dissolved. I was even more disheartened that I wasn't given a chance to come up with something on my own. But I was assured my leaving was no reflection on my performance, but was best for the company's bottom line. Okay, sometimes a founder has to go. I understand there are phases in the life of a company. Gary Burke and Jeff Price, the other two co-founders, were still there, I knew TuneCore was in good hands.
HYPEBOT: More recently your co-founder and CEO Jeff Price also left the company?
PETER WELLS: More than a month ago, Jeff Price was asked to leave. This was lightning out of nowhere, and it gives me real reason to worry. Jeff was the heart and soul and brains of TuneCore, and I can't understand why he was asked to leave.
"So long as Jeff was at the helm, I had faith that vision would continue. "
I'm a considerable stakeholder in the company in every way; TuneCore is the foundation of my reputation and my legacy, always to do right by the artist while revolutionizing the music industry. So long as Jeff was at the helm, I had faith that vision would continue. More, Jeff would be the engine that drove innovation. Where another CEO might have restricted themselves to managing our core competencies, Jeff was looking for the next way to help artists. He conceptualized and realized the entire publishing initiative, hiring former Bug Music heavy-hitter Jamie Purpora and creating our new office in Burbank, CA. Now TuneCore has a whole new revenue stream, and artists have the opportunity to get money they never could before, and with unprecedented transparency. That's vision. But with Jeff gone, I worry that TuneCore will lose that vision.
"...the silence is distressing."
HYPEBOT: Why do you think Jeff was asked to leave?
PETER WELLS: I've not heard any satisfactory explanation as to why Jeff was asked to leave, nor have I been told who's running the company. I and the other shareholders need to be kept informed, and the silence is distressing. Since Jeff left, TuneCore appears to be merely following through on Jeff's initiatives as I understand them. Now Rdio is one of TuneCore's store partners: that's something Jeff worked on for months. It must have been the right move, or why would they have continued ahead with the deal? If it's the right move, why did they terminate Jeff? You don't let someone go if you agree with their direction.
HYPEBOT: Who is running the company now?PETER WELLS: Without communication, all we have to go on is rumor. Terminating a CEO is one of the few things a Board of Directors can do, but isn't it unusual for them to do so without a replacement in hand? It's common practice to reassure the shareholders that the tiller is still under a strong hand, but we've heard nothing. Rumor has it that Scott Ackerman is running the company. Is he CEO? Is he transitional or does the Board of Directors feel he's the man to bring the company to the next level? If he is, what's the plan? If Scott and the Board are going to carry out Jeff's vision, why isn't Jeff there to do so himself?
HYEPBOT: What role did Scott Akerman play previously at Tunecore?
PETER WELLS: If I remember correctly, Scott came on board more than a year and a half ago to head up TuneCore's Customer Service department at the executive level. Very quickly he became more involved with operations and was soon COO, earning everyone's trust and respect. I've worked closely with Scott, and consider him fair, capable, steady, very skilled in the day-to-day operations, and I count him as a friend.
"Sell your music, not your soul."
HYPEBOT: Are you concerned with the future of Tunecore?
PETER WELLS: Most concerning of all, the company is now in the hands of its big-money investors, principally Opus Venture. When TuneCore began in my living room with Gary and Jeff, we only had ourselves and the artist to answer to. But VC never has a pure motive: they enter a company to grow it, to make it a success, but not necessarily solely for the company or its vision, its employees or its customers. VC has to answer to its own needs, its return-on-investment, and its ultimate exit. This is the double-edged sword of venture capital: you get from them the money to grow, the support and know-how, sometimes even personnel. But you also dilute your vision. Your investors answer to different, at best mixed priorities.
TuneCore's original vision was to serve the artist, not exploit them. While Jeff was there, I knew he'd fight tooth and nail for the artist. It's not just ethical, it's great for business. TuneCore has had amazing success, with $300MM+ in artist earnings, the trust of superstars like Trent Reznor, Janis Ian, Beck, Jay-Z, hundreds more, while opening the doors to iTunes and Amazon for everyone, everywhere. It proves that serving the artist is the best financial move. Following that vision, TuneCore has lasted nearly seven years in a business that eats startups for breakfast, has ballooned to 40+ employees, created a whole new publishing division, and is already international, with TuneCore Canada.
"VC Works Differently"
But VC works differently, and if TuneCore changes its vision or its ethos,
that's my name up there as co-founder, that's my investment being used, and
that's my company losing its way. I don't want artists being exploited, I want
them served. Without Jeff to keep that going and with no communication from the
Board, the shareholders should be deeply concerned. It would be bad for artists
if TuneCore were to lose its way, and it'd be bad for business.
I'm immensely proud of what TuneCore has accomplished. I'm proud of the faith the shareholders placed in the original team that made it possible. I think we deserve answers. I truly hope the Board will make the time to talk to the shareholders and help us understand their moves. Of course, a shareholder's suit would bring everyone together for a discussion, but I'm certain no one wants that.
TuneCore's slogan is, "Sell your music, not your soul." I will do everything in my power to ensure TuneCore itself doesn't "sell it's soul."
"Everything I said about my relationship with TuneCore is magnified ten times for Jeff."
HYPEBOT: Have you spoken to Jeff Price about TuneCore since his departure?
PETER WELLS: Certainly. Jeff and I spoke the very day he found out he was terminated. It was shock all around, you can imagine. I've spoken with Jeff several times thereafter, and each time the question has been, "Okay, who's running the ship? What's the plan?" Everything I said about my relationship with TuneCore is magnified ten times for Jeff: it was his life and his passion, and his reputation and hard work features all the more prominently. We both want to see it succeed in every way. We're TuneCore's biggest fans.
HYPEBOT: What are your future plans?
PETER WELLS: TuneCore began with Gary, Jeff and me eating cold sandwiches, sleeping very little, trying to change the world--it was a rush. There's nothing like being an entrepreneur, especially when you're building something to help an underserved community. I miss that rush, I want it back.
I'm looking for the right project, one that will help people and create a new kind of business that leverages the Internet. Maybe there's a startup I can join that has the right idea and the right attitude. Maybe companies like Universal, Sony and Warners or the PROs want to open divisions with a scrappy, cutting-edge mentality--I'd be a great fit for that. Or I may just start entirely over. I'm lucky to have worked with some very good people eager to build a successful business that changes the world. Whatever happens, it's going to be fun.
[Peter Wells cna be reached at peterwells(at)mac(dot)com]