Copyright © 2010 by David C. Coleman

Considering the fact that my company deals exclusively with independent artists and labels, we tend to hear about all the “latest and greatest” opportunities available for artists/labels to market, promote and sell their music. TuneCore burst onto the scene with what, at first glance, appears to be an incredible offer: the artist/label gets to keep 100% of the revenue received from digital retail sales. This, of course, is great news for artists/labels that have a solid following and are able to generate sales on their own behalf. But there is definitely a downside to the TuneCore model (there’s always a downside, right?).

An in-depth study of the digital retail phenomenon recently discovered that approximately 85% (correction – 77% is the accurate figure) of the content available on digital retail sites is NEVER purchased – not even once! This is a very alarming discovery for all the do-it-yourselfers out there. Considering the nature of the TuneCore model, the initial set-up fees and annual “maintenance and service” fee can cost more than many artists accumulate in a full year’s worth of sales. For instance, the initial set-up fee for an album containing 12 tracks delivered to 16 separate stores (iTunes, Napster, etc.) would cost $47.70. Boosting the track count on an album up to 20 tracks delivered to those same 16 stores would cost $55.62. Each year thereafter, a recurring $19.98 charge is assessed to “store” the content in the TuneCore database. As you can see, this can become quite cost-intensive, particularly as the law of diminishing returns begins to affect the sales of an album. Over the course of time, an album will typically begin to generate fewer and fewer sales per month. The various international iTunes stores are all counted separately so if you wish to deliver content to the domestic and five additional international iTunes destinations (Canada, Australia, Japan, etc.), you’ll pay $5.94 to deliver content to the 6 separate iTunes destinations.

CLG/JesusWired deals with many digitally distributed titles. Some sell very well but, honestly, a good portion of the titles never accumulate $19.98 in sales for an entire year, let alone the approximate $50 necessary to list a title through TuneCore for the first year. So, as you can see, the TuneCore model can actually be an expense rather than a source of income for artists/labels that aren’t generating a respectable amount of sales. Once the model is dissected, it is a little less attractive than the tagline “get 100% of the royalties” might suggest. Nothing is ever free but the air we breathe! Effective marketing can often disguise the true nature of an opportunity. For those just starting out, a risk-free digital distributor is a safer bet. Besides, TuneCore and virtually every other digital distributor do nothing to address the issue of marketing your title to the various sites.

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