You’re Losing Money: Why The Majority Of Artists Should NOT Use Tunecore

Cvp-logo9OP-ED by C. Vincent Plummer ( @cvpmusic ) is a Musician, Co-Founder, & Social Strategist for Bedloo.

If you're anything like me, your band is not famous.

You might have had some moderate success in local markets, but let's be real; your band's trajectory isn't heading towards Coachella any time soon. As a matter of fact, your band has internally combusted. Over the years the band mate relationships have dwindled into Facebook 'likes' on random posts. Someone just had a baby. Someone just started a new business. Someone just got married… and what's worse, the local bars have stopped buying you drinks. Ouch!

Five years later, the digital sales from all of your albums are next to nothing. Yet something just won't let you take your album off of the market. Is it vanity? Is it hope? I imagine it's the same thing that won't let you throw away the large boxes of dusty CD's in your basement.

If this is you, don't worry. You are not alone.
You are NOT Jack's sense of inflamed rejection.

In fact, a vast majority of people just like you have the same issue. No one is buying their songs either. It no longer streams on iTunes. It isn't connected to "Sounds like ___ artist" on Spotify. It's definitely not bangin' in Bangladesh – although the promise of a global market place sure did sound appealing.

I recently read a great post by Bob Lefsetz called, "The Most Important Thing You Will Read All Day." This confirmed my long time suspicion that a majority of artists/hobbyists aren't selling anything.

I was not alone.

In 2011: 94% of digital tracks in 2011 (that’s 7.5 million tracks) sold fewer than 100 units, and an astonishing 32% sold only one copy.

With this report, I ask the question: Why keep paying for your album(s) to be "digitally stored" year after year with an annual renewal fee?

1 album on Tunecore is $29.99 to upload to be digitally distributed, and it costs $49.99 (each) to stay put year after year.

If you live in the 32% range of the above sad statistic, you're in trouble. Hell, if you live in the 94% range, you're in trouble after a few years… especially when your music isn't relevant anymore to the ADHD consumer being force fed free content.

Let's say you have multiple albums – I have six from various projects. That's $300 a year for me to keep shelving those dusty digital tracks. Ack! This is not a good option.

4 Better Alternatives:

Bandcamp: If you're an indie artist and you prefer driving traffic to one location, Bandcamp is a great service with a beautiful storefront design that takes a 15% rake with no charge for upload. Set your own price or give away for free. Their platform also makes it easy to find out who the people are who download your music. Important!

SoundCloud: SoundCloud is a phenomenal service with a vibrant social network for the artists who just want to stream or give their music away (which I would argue should be you until you have your100-1000 true fans).

CD Baby: I know, you still like the idea that anyone in the world can access your music forever from wherever. iTunes is important to Grandma… That's cool. I get it. Then use these guys as a digital distribution service. If you're like me, you're much better off with a service that takes a 9% rake withno annual fee. Especially once you realize that the long tail towards irrelevancy is actually shorter than expected.

Topspin: Even though you pay monthly for the service, I think it's one of the most robust options on the marketplace for bands with momentum and traction. They also have storefronts and amazing options for direct-to-fan activity. I wish this service was available when my band was in its heyday.

Look, my aim isn't to pick on Tunecore. I just don't think their business model makes much sense for musicians like me.

Turns out, there's a lot of us.

More: 3 Critical Steps For Musicians To Build Fan Engagement


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  1. Very true, I try to tell artists that it all comes down to simply math. Whether paying the distributor through a small percentage or paying a fee upfront makes the most sense based on expected album sales. Usually the percentage makes the most financial sense, but sometimes people expect to sell more than they do.
    I’ll also add that http://www.DistroKid.com is a new option I think offers a nice deal for artists.

  2. “Topspin: Even though you pay monthly for the service, I think it’s one of the most robust options on the marketplace for bands with momentum and traction.”
    Except that the whole point of this article is that you’re wasting money if your band isn’t selling units. Bands with ‘momentum and traction’ surely are. Topspin is a waste of money.

  3. Why not host and sell them on your own site? There are so many tools available today. You don’t need to give away a percentage of your sales.

  4. – Scott
    What do you like most about Distro Kid?
    – Agenda
    I’m curious to know why you think Topspin is a waste of money. I think their direct-to-fan approach is one of the best. They have lots of tools to gather the necessary information from fans… and the bundling of the tickets with other merchandise is pretty attractive. Now… if your band isn’t really active (like a lot of bands) I can understand the argument, but as far as active bands go, I think they’re one of the best.
    – Neil
    Hosting them on your site is cool, but most of the time the social functions aren’t built into self hosting or with .mp3 wordpress plugins. Is that what you do?

  5. The thing I personally like about Distro Kid is that it’s $20/year for unlimited albums (for one artist). If you run a label, I think it’s $80/year or so. That’s much more manageable and not too hard to recoup. And if one is to look at the $ he/she spends in a year on little things (fast food, starbucks, etc.), $20 is a very small price to pay.
    Very interesting article, by the way! I enjoy CD Baby and Bandcamp as well! Bandcamp especially is just getting better and better. The one thing I would love to see from them is Artist embeds (vs. album/song embeds that they currently offer). Being able to put multiple albums in 1 embeddable playlist would be amazing!
    I haven’t used Soundcloud as much, but it’s obviously a great system and doing quite well.

  6. Or you could just work with a distributor that does both Physical and Digital Distribution thereby combining the best of both or not and giving your fans a choice about how they’ll be BuyingThis.

  7. CDbaby charge $50 per release and $20 for a barcode. Then you pay 9% sales. Thats a LOT.
    So putting them into this discussion without even mentioning prices makes me suspicious. Topspin is also expensive for a glorified mailing list.
    I get the feeling this whole article is from the CDbaby camp.
    If you don’t want to pay for distribution don’t but it does cost money to run these companies. I dont know why musicians think people are trying to rip them off as soon as they charge for something.

  8. Nimbit.com free plan for digital sales and embeddable store.
    Cool marketing tools for promoting and selling direct to fan.
    Facebook store as well.
    Much easier to set up and use than topspin.
    I use it for all my clients.

  9. For digital distribution with no upfront fee, collaborator splits and built-in cover song licensing, see also Loudr: http://loudr.fm.
    (Disclosure! Yes, I do work there. But am a former independent musician turned entertainment attorney who really wishes these tools were around when I was trying to make a living with music.)

  10. I certainly have my issue with TuneCore, but a flat fee for a service distribution is not one of them.
    Based on the arguments in this article, no artist should pursue a career in the music. Why buy that Gretsch, those drums, tour or even spend money to record? What’s the point? As the author of the article points out, artist should plan to fail and build a business plan around not succeeding (yes, this is sarcasm).
    That said, I do agree an artist should have choiche, and if they want to gamble that their music will not sell and would rather only “pay” after the music sells, by all means, use anthers service. And if/when you change your mind, you can go back to the a flat rate model
    Me, on the other hand, I want to know how much something costs. That guitar: $325. That pack of strings: $7. Distribution: $49 and thats that (or, take a look at DistroKid – flat rate of $19.99 a year provide unlimited song and release distribution into iTunes. Sounds like that might be a better fit for you).
    in regards to “The Most Important Thing You Will Read All Day” article?
    Although there is validity to some points, Im not sure what this study is measuring beyond download sales.
    some important points:
    1) download sales are no longer the sole indicator of “success”
    2) Nielsen data is far from complete
    3) this data ignores that consumers have shifted (or are shifting) to streaming
    4) this study ignores composition revenue (which is where the money is shifting to)
    In some ways, its like complaining that people are not buying 8-Tracks anymore
    Jeff Price
    Founder TuneCore & Audiam

  11. Nimbit has the coolest functions for the least $. I use a QR Code from the fan checkin feature on business cards and it’s a huge hit at making connections!

  12. Jeff,
    I say this with respect.
    The point of this piece is absolutely NOT that artists should plan to fail. I’m not jaded, I continue to make music, promote music, and support the creative community. I also like to know what something costs. I just don’t like to pay “$325 for that guitar” and then keep paying $49.99 for it yearly to store it in my guitar case. 🙂
    The point is that an overwhelming majority of artists should choose a different service because (according to the data) re-upping every year with Tunecore doesn’t serve them financially. I haven’t seen too many people getting excited and running marketing campaigns for their college band’s 4-5 year old record.
    Also, I do not work for CD Baby and I’ve never owned an 8-Track.
    C. Vincent Plummer
    Co-founder Bedloo

  13. “Based on the arguments in this article, no artist should pursue a career in the music.”
    Well, if we’re talking numbers, there’s an argument to be made there, too.

  14. Honestly this article is right. Here are two best options that I have found to work. You can easily set up a woocommcerce website for free if you have a little bit of WordPress knowledge. You can also use a site called Ribbon to accept sales easily. Then you can accept sales without having to give away any percentage.
    Option 2:
    You can use Routenote which sends your album to all of the digital stores that people use. You can send it for free and they will take 15% or you can keep 100% and pay $20 up front. You can go back and forth in case your situation changes. You may want to have your music in iTunes because remember that most people get itunes giftcards for the holidays and it’s easier to get them to spend the remaining giftcard money on your album than it is to actually make them spend their own money. Also people are hesitant to put any type of financial information online. This is the only good thing about itunes. People are already signed up to it and they trust it.
    Any questions just tweet me, i’m here to help.

  15. What about Reverb Nation? Any one have an opinion on how it stacks up with the ones listed in the article?

  16. Hi Cvpmusic,
    I agree with you on some of your points. Personally, in this new music business, it’s all about the catalog. That’s where the real bet is. Sure a flat fee distributor would be more viable for high volume artists. However, for those who wants to dip their toes into distribution and even those who have a very large catalog will have a tough time with that kind of model. Why should you pay $49.99 per year? What if you have 1,000+ albums?
    This is where a percentage-based distribution service has the advantage. Because with a large catalog you don’t have that barrier to entry. Like Jeff, while I do encourage companies like DistroKid to enter the market (providing more demand), business models like that can be extremely dangerous.
    Why? Because unless there is a REALLY large driving force in revenue to compensate for maintenance/server cost, a model like that can’t last. It’s not sustainable as a service.
    Now while I am bias (so you can use this at your own leisure), I encourage you (and anyone else reading this) to check out Venzo Digital. With what we offer, we can help large catalog size artists like yourselves better monetize your music. Like TuneCore, we offer iTunes Daily Reports (in fact we are the FIRST to invent & fully automate this process.). You can also sell unlimited ringtones + create your own iPhone app. All for free!
    Unlike all the other services out there, we don’t see ourselves as a music distributor or aggregator. Being a music distributor/aggregator simply implies that your service distributes to more than one store. Venzo Digital only distributes to iTunes. Why? Because we are an iTunes Platform service. We focus on iTunes to give you the best possible advantages the iTunes Store can offer.
    While we do have direct agreements in place with many other digital retailers (with new services rolling out next year), we’re creating a whole new way to better manage your digital content with the start of Venzo and its only the beginning.
    I appreciate your thread and I find this to have been a very good read. Best of luck to your music career.
    Kevin Rivers
    CEO, Venzo Digital

  17. I appreciate your thoughts Kevin and see value for those people only looking to be on iTunes. I appreciate the uploading of the tracks for free and no continual yearly fee.
    I think providing people with stats from iTunes is super helpful. I’m curious how detailed the stats are that Venzo provides? Name, email, location, etc from the purchaser?
    Vincent (cvpmusic)

  18. Hi Vincent,
    We provide a more summarize version of iTunes Trending Data. This is because we feel its more practical as an artist to see what your top market is as oppose to top region. Don’t get me wrong, detailed stats can be extremely helpful if you’re planning on doing tours in regions where your music is selling the most. However, we believe the best advantages of a summarized version is that you get the broader scope of your music, not just the region.
    Basically, we give you what iTunes would give you if you were dealing directly with them. We also provide you iTunes Trending Data for Apps, Music Videos, and Tones. Our system is the world’s best.
    You never have to second guess when you will receive your trending data. Our system gives you the best precision to the point that you “just know” when you can expect to receive your reports, financial data, and payment.
    Definitely give us a try!
    Kevin Rivers
    CEO, Venzo Digital

  19. It sounds like the best solution is a combination of a couple of services. If your LP is not selling, why not just stop having it distributed? Then it doesn’t cost you anything. I’m a new Artist and my goal is to find the company that will best “get my money” and “give me my cut” when I do make money. I’d want to work with a distributor who gives good advice which would benefit both of us. I dont’ care about 50.00 a year if you made me 1500.00 or more that year. If you think your music is not relevant then make relevant music.
    As a new Artist I do realize that most musical purchases made in the US are based on POPULARITY.With this knowledge I know that I will probably make as much or more music abroad than I will here in the U.S. I’m cool with that. My only concern with distributors is when my music DOES sell, do you give me MY money? I’ve heard a lot of Artist say they either had to wait a long time to get their money (over the usual long time) or they never got it at all.
    I’m not a fan of reverbnation. I believe they are looking for music that fits into their client’s needs and I’m not talking about the musicians. Their “Crowd review” is a joke. How are they gonna have someone who doesn’t even like your Genre’ review your tracks? Reverbnation told me they do not do reviews by Genre’.
    in Conclusion
    If I’m worried about paying 50.00 a year, then I’m in the wrong business. If you can’t sell 5 albums a year then you either need to try harder or try something else…or do something else. Many Artists have this idea that as long as they make “good” music, they don’t have to hustle. It’s a proven fact that it’s the “hustlers” Who get over.

  20. This article is a drag and not as true as the few of you have agreed upon.. Cdbaby has been moving my music since 2004 and sales are getting better and better on a daily basis.

    You have to promote your stuff. Sombody out there will like it. Don’t give up reading doomsday reports like this article…. If you do you’ll wish you hadnt. I hear that all the time ” I wish I had of kept going.”

    Pick the distributor YOU like, stick with them. Sales are up and down sometimes but let that encourage you to push harder….

    Bet they won’t post this one.. Forget that doomsday malarkey…..

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