Breaking: Believe Digital Is About To Screw 100,000 Musicians

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Earlier this year, the indie label digital distribution company, Believe Digital, acquired the indie artist digital distribution company TuneCore. All well and good. This stuff happens with companies all the time. It seemed like a great deal for TuneCore artists. They’ll now have access to Believe’s wider distribution network, offices in 29 countries and a staff of 250.

There’s just one thing.

The indie artist digital distribution company started in 2009 by Believe, Zimbalam, is a direct competitor of TuneCore. Zimbalam’s model was $30 to distribute an album while the company retains 10% commission. TuneCore’s model charges $50 a year ($30 first year) per album, taking 0% commission.

So what is Believe doing with the 100,000 artists who have distributed their music with Zimbalam over the past 6 years?


Zimbalam artists now see this message when they login to their account.

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Artists must take down their releases from Zimbalam and redistribute them with TuneCore. They have until November 30th to do this, otherwise Zimbalam will take your release down for you.

Artists will receive an email from TuneCore in “a few days” with a promo code to re-distribute their releases “for free” for the first year.

Sounds reasonable right? Except, it’s not at all.

For one, Zimbalam artists were promised when they signed up that there would be “no annual fees” and “no hidden charges.” Except, now there are. $50 a year PER ALBUM and $10 a year per single. You distributed 4 albums with Zimbalam over the years? Well, now you owe $200 A YEAR if you want to go with TuneCore. Been putting out a single a week for the past year? It will now cost you $520 a year on TuneCore.

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And worst of all, Zimabalam is currently still up and running, allowing artists to distribute their releases TODAY.

Fellow digital distributor, MondoTunes, just pulled a similar bait-and-switch last week, changing their “no annual fees” model to now include annual fees.

+DISGUSTING: MondoTunes Pulls Slimy Bait And Switch On Musicians

At least Believe/Zimbalam/TuneCore isn’t forcing you to signup with TuneCore. You could just choose another digital distributor right? Well not so fast.

Taking your album off of iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Deezer, Rdio, Google Play, etc etc will also rip down all your reviews, ratings, play counts, and worst of all, remove you from all playlists.

A very upset Zimbalam user who will be affected by this wrote me stating:

“90% of my revenue comes from old Spotify playlists that have been shared publicly, and it’d take years to regain that revenue if the releases were taken down.”

All these artists’ songs that have been included on Spotify, Deezer, Rdio, Apple Music, Tidal, Rhapsody and all other playlists will disappear overnight. So will their play counts. Zimbalam in their support emails to confused and frustrated users is pretending that when you (re)distribute the “new” release with the same ISRC and UPC codes (Apple doesn’t actually allow you to use the same UPC code) everything will go back to the way it was. This is flat out untrue. I smell a class action lawsuit.

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And here is the email from TuneCore today. Note it doesn’t explain shit.

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Can you imagine if Yelp did this? They get acquired and then tell all their businesses, “Sorry, you now have to take down your page and create a new page on our new partner’s service. All your reviews and ratings will be lost. But hey, you can build them up again!”

Some artists who put up enough of a fuss to Zimabalam/Believe support will be able to “upstream” to Believe. Meaning, they will be able to leave up their releases up on all services, but will now administer them through Believe. Believe will now take 18% (versus 10%), but will not charge an annual fee.

Believe Digital did not return a response in time for this publication.

Correction (11:22am 9-11-15), The change is currently only affecting Zimbalam UK customers, not Zimbalam worldwide customers (yet). The number of artists currently affected is closer to 2,200 states a rep from the company. At least for now. A source close to the situation, though, discussed that Believe is (or was) planning to discontinue Zimbalam worldwide in the future and similarly make the remaining customers switch to TuneCore. Hopefully, they will clean this transition up for the rest of the world when the rollout inevitably comes.  


So, what are these affected artists to do? Here are some of the other distribution options for you to consider. Really too bad Believe didn’t think this through.

Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter and the creator of the music biz advice blog, Ari’s Take. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake

54 Responses

  1. Craig

    Ari,
    I read your digital distribution review from a few years ago that compared all the big players at the time (e.g. CD Baby, MondoTunes, DistroKid, etc.).

    I chose DistroKid based on your review, and it’s worked out well. Not many frills, but the price is rights.

    I really hope they don’t pull anything either.

    Thanks for holding these folks accountable!

    Best regards

    Reply
    • DistroDodgy

      I also read the same article that Ari posted…and based on the info, I went ahead and used DistroKid.
      We uploaded our debut EP and despite myself and several friends and family members purchasing our EP from iTunes…DistroKid claims that only single tracks were ever sold and they refuse to pay for EP sales.
      So I was surprised to ready that you are happy with DistroKid.

      I would be interested to hear whether anybody else out there has experienced problems with DistroKid.
      We have been looking for an alternative aggregator to go to…and were looking at either TuneCore or CD Baby. But with the recent turn of events with TuneCore, it appears that CD Baby may be our best option.

      Reply
      • Esol Esek

        You need to provide more proof than that of your story. Tunecore being a disaster is a given, but people have run into copyright issues with CDBaby, and I’ve read plenty of less than stellar reviews of them as well. I’m on Distrokid, and not a big fan of their stripped down approach, but they do answer emails quickly, and considering the rotten landscape out there, they are the best price. I’ve heard bad things about Mondo in regards to copyright also.

        Ari, will you do a real piece again on distributors? That’s really what this entire website should be about, but seems to rarely fill in that info in any real detail.

        Reply
    • Miguel

      DistroKid was a waste of time for me. They do not accept any album from African artists who sing in their original language. They have languages from all continents except Africa. Can you believe they ignore the whole continent? So, if you work with African music and African artists, forget DistroKid.

      Reply
  2. Literati X

    The landscape is doing the digital artist very bad like a ruthless villain ! I’m glad I’m a ‘ Terror Poet ‘ and not afraid to claim sole responsibility for splitting , Motorola in half on wall street during the credit crisis era . Sorry ,Carl , verify that for me and take me into the Greek lore like , Hercules, the slayer of kings that slay other kings. . .

    Reply
  3. Versus

    I’m all for artist and label rights, but I don’t really see the dastardly deed here.
    Companies merge and customers can adapt or leave. Worse, companies fail and disappear, in which case, customers are out of luck completely.
    The terms are not so different.

    Reply
  4. Phantom X

    Well these guys are yet another connect–person to meet inside the industry in the endeavor to be successful . I’m just going to drop the spoken word cut real ; if you’re not family or a friend it’s going to cost you one million per minute to meet me , get spat in the face and kicked out the door for my crew to toss you inside the back of my company’s car trunk. . .: Spoken X Digital Media Group

    Reply
  5. John

    After reading all of this im glad I didnt go with Tunecore. I really dont think they are a company people should trust.. they have also increased their prices before without telling anyone.

    Lucky I ended up going with RouteNote. There free model is awesome and has a lot of wicked features like Soundcloud and YouTube network.. and if a release does will you can just move it to their Premium, which you keep 100% and cheaper than any of other companies.

    Thanks for telling all of this to artists.. I hope someone takes action

    Reply
    • Universal Indie Records

      I always use Route Note as well as Record Union… I’m pretty happy with both for the time being.

      Reply
  6. There is something...

    Ari, do you have any proof that the fact they can re-upload songs without losing anything is untrue ? I think you don’t.

    Believe is a quite big player and they probably have some leverage to negotiate with Spotify or Apple to make the track re-upload process painless. Of course, we’ll have to see how it turns out “in real life”, but I feel you’re a little fast at jumping to conclusions here…

    Reply
    • Miguel

      Believe is such a big player that they do not reply to their web-filled forms, emails, tweets, Facebook messages… so that you know…

      Reply
  7. Musicservices4less

    Termination of an artist/independent label’s distributor has traditionally presented a number of challenges. In the era of digital distribution and the many different digital retail outlets that technology has created, it becomes even more complex when terminating. It seems that since types of digital outlets are changing so fast that artists/independent labels that don’t or cannot go direct with the digital retail outlets must pay careful attention to this issue of termination events.
    One possible solution would be based on the mechanism that is in use today called a Letter Of Direction. The concept basically is that the account is in the name of the artist/independent label but for payment and accounting purposes only the digital retail outlet is directed to pay the digital distributor ie tunecore, etc. In the event of termination of the digital distributor relationship, the letter of direction is withdrawn and payments and accountings revert direct to the artist/independent label.

    Reply
  8. Shlomo

    Ari

    Usually agree with most of your posts but what’s really the big deal here? See I’m sure you realize that the majority of people who upload on Tunecore don’t even sell enough music to recoup their fee. So most artists who have to pay the extra 20 bucks next year to renew probably won’t sell enough music to recoup that 20 bucks.

    However isn’t that a good thing? If you can’t recoup your service fee from any aggregator than you probably shouldn’t be using any service. If you can recoup, than spending an extra 20 bucks to get back the 10 percent zimbalam was taking sounds like a good deal to me. Of course you have to be an artist who can sell 200 plus singles to recoup.

    If you can’t than discontinue servicing your crap music to stores. If you can, than be transition will put more Money in your pocket.

    Side note, I have considered using distro kid and switching from Tunecore, but tunes backend upload system and royalty portal is amazing and I can actually get someone on the phone if I need too.

    Reply
    • Anonymous Coward

      Shlomo, the big deal here is that if you DO make money out of this, particularly on the streaming side, any loyalty that’s accrued from years of your tracks being on playlists will disappear overnight. Any reviews on iTunes, Amazon etc. will disappear overnight. The only alternative is to haggle with Believe to pay out a higher percentage than you’re already paying.

      Reply
      • There is something...

        Not really true…

        Zimbalam used to take à 10% cut from your sales. Tunecore take a fixed 50$ fee and no cut from your sales. So if you sale for more than 500$ / year, Tunecore is in fact a cheaper option. Now if you sale less than 500$ / year… losing your playlists and Amazon reviews are not gonna change your life anyway… If you make a ton of money from your playlists, then paying the Tunecore fee is a better deal than the 10% cut from Zimbalam.

        Reply
        • ThomasG

          it’s not about the yearly fees. i’d say it’s more about losing playlist positioning as that really can affect revenue. ever notice how some artists songs on Spotify have millions of hits and others have just tens of thousands? it’s most likely because the songs with millions of plays were included on popular playlists. happens all the time.

          “90% of my revenue comes from old Spotify playlists that have been shared publicly, and it’d take years to regain that revenue if the releases were taken down.”

          All these artists’ songs that have been included on Spotify, Deezer, Rdio, Apple Music, Tidal, Rhapsody and all other playlists will disappear overnight. So will their play counts. Zimbalam in their support emails to confused and frustrated users is pretending that when you (re)distribute the “new” release with the same ISRC and UPC codes (Apple doesn’t actually allow you to use the same UPC code) everything will go back to the way it was. This is flat out untrue. I smell a class action lawsuit.

          Reply
      • Shlomo

        How much does this bulk of playlist revenue amount to? 50 cents? Saying makes up 90 percent of my revenue but if your revenue is 30 bucks than how much is that playlist positioning Costing you? Listen Reviews are great if the lead to sales, if not who cares? Again, playlist positioning is great, and unfortunate if the switch affects that, but if it doesn’t put some mula in your pockets than who cares?

        Reply
    • Miguel

      DistroKid was a waste of time for me. They do not accept any album from African artists who sing in their original language. They have languages from all continents except Africa. Can you believe they ignore the whole continent? So, if you work with African music and African artists, forget DistroKid.

      Reply
  9. Jay

    You mean people using a service which provides them with a conduit to selling their creative products to fans have to pay money for it?

    Are you saying that a company should create an interface for you to place your album art, track list, audio and metadata in one place then distribute it to digital retailers around the world, should do this for pennies on the dollar?

    We have to remove that naiveté from our mentality that business is not part of the music business. These companies are for profit entities, not the Goodwill. Remove the romantic idea of people fostering your creative expression just because you made it.

    Like the artists, business owners have to pay rent and reinvest in their business or guess what? There would be no services for artists/labels to use. The alternative to paying the fees would be to A) Find another service B) Build your own e-commerce solution on your website and sell directly to your fans; negotiate a deal with the digital retailers to carry your music; take on the responsibility of tracking ISRC’s and merchandising your music within the stores.

    Trust me that will cost a lot more than $50 bucks.

    Reply
  10. BS

    You are promoting another digital service advertising client at the top of this article. Wonder what the motivation
    of this article is? You guys are so transparent, but not in a good way.

    Reply
    • Jorge Brea - Symphonic Distribution

      Just wanted to reply to this point. The ad that is displayed is of our company Symphonic Distribution but we don’t have anything to do with the post itself as this is news to us as well. The ad shows on various posts on Digital Music News so not out to fully speak for them of course but want to clarify that I think Ari is just reporting on facts that are public knowledge and his opinion of it.

      In terms of my opinion on this (if it matters to anyone). I think it’s a bit ridiculous as well that Believe, a company with vast resources, and financing, can’t really dedicate personnel to make the transition easy for its clients under the Zimbalam brand. As a company that has also adsorbed distribution brands (albeit, smaller brands) we dedicate time and funds to make the transition for a record label or musician seamless and easy and I think in this regard it shows a misstep. I will however say that they do seem to be stating that they can help in the process but who really knows.

      Time will tell.

      Reply
      • Max Pantero

        Sorry bud. As a competitor you’re not qualified to interject and I can assure you most high level execs would advise you not to. It appears you’re lacking in that area. Pick and choose your battles; this isn’t yours. I have spent months as a wannabe musician (full time businessman) doing homework on distribution entities and Symphonic never crossed any reputable radars. Not saying you’re not worthy but implying that focusing on your brand showed be your A, B and C. Advertising on DMN isn’t helping you.

        You do have a fellow disqualify(er). Yes, you Ari. You earned and just as fast lost the respect of most working musicians the moment you were constantly found in bed with Distrokid. How can you be taken seriously when you take advertisement dollars from them??? What is next, equity shares if you’re not a shareholder already? You want to help Distrokid? TELL THEM TO RESPOND TO THEIR ARTISTS! I signed up with them after your article and left 4 weeks later because of their phantom customer service. Thanks for that. Now you’re maliciously and misleadingly attacking top tier distributors because they’re trying to expand and grow? You sound and look ridiculous.

        BREAKING: Any company Ari considers shitty can have an overnight makeover by spending a few advertising dollars with him. That’s a cheap date. DMN and Arisfake, you lost your journalistic integrity and your supporters.

        Reply
        • Ari Herstand
          Ari Herstand

          Hi Max, I’ve never altered a review for an advertising partner. If anything, I’ve become more critical of them to make sure there is absolutely no perceived bias. As you’ll note in my comparison (the one you reference) I’m actually quite critical of DistroKid. I called them out again in the MondoTunes piece from last week (“hidden fees”). There are pros and cons to every distributor.

          If you can forward me the emails that you sent to DistroKid from which you never received a response, I’ll investigate. And I’ll add to their “worst” category “customer service” if in fact that’s the conclusion I get from my research. ari [at] digitalmusicnews.com

          Reply
          • Max Pantero

            Have you been on DIstrokids social media pages? It’s not just me but countless unsatisfied artists. It’s no secret – It’s public!

            Your nuzzling Distrokid criticism just shows a very poor attempt at demonstrating balanced criticism. You compare the Distrokid preschool slap on the wrist (“hidden fees”) to this full torqued gut shot on tunecore? The link you shared is further proof. I had to sieve through a truckload of crap smeared on a competitor before finding your hidden “hidden fees” remark. That’s not really keeping it honest and misguiding musicians.

            You wrote 2 full pieces destroying their competition. Why not write a transparent one on Distrokid’s shitty customer service and hidden fees? Customer service is the bedrock of any organization and artists are doomed if not done right. Newsflash: DK doesn’t do it right!
            The lack of protest for your monetary gains from Distrokid is sharp evidence of backstage politicking. Good for you for finding a way to tap into an ad rev source. However that is a serious conflict of interest and disqualifies any legitimacy on this topic by you and DMN.

          • Antinet

            I’m at Distrokid, and sure, there are some extra fees for some stuff I haven’t needed yet, but they have answered all of my emails within a day or two. I’m not crazy how they give me zero information re: links to where my music has been uploaded, UNLESS I ASK, but they are cheaper than the others, and don’t have some shifty approach to taking a slice of copyright, which MANY of the other bigger ones do. They’re also about a third or less the cost of Tunecore, depending how much you upload.

            I don’t work for them, I signed up with them. I think its ridiculous to expect the world from a company you can basically pay $30 a year to for unlimited uploads for two bands. Noone else is close to that price, but maybe others offer more stats, or at least URLs to where your music has gone. That is their biggest defect IMO.

      • Miguel

        Believe is a mess. They do not reply to their web forms, emails, tweets, Facebook messages…

        Reply
    • Paul Resnikoff
      Paul Resnikoff

      Yes, I’ll confirm that Symphonic is promoted in many other articles, as part of an advertising partner relationship. There is no intention of directly tying them to this one piece.

      Reply
  11. Niftikar Crook

    What the article doesn’t say is that this situation only applies to Zimbalam customers in the UK. The rest are “safe” for now.

    Reply
  12. RockNRoll Buddha

    The headline of this article is misleading and inflammatory – they aren’t “screwing” 100,000 artists. The company did a merger with Tunecore, and in order to efficiently consolidate their back end systems – they are asking artists to make the change. This kind of stuff happens all the time in every business, no just the music business. Things change and you adapt and move on. I would submit that if you’re sweating $50.00 or even $200.00 – then this change over to Tunecore is the least of your problems.

    I’ve been using Tunecore for the past 5 years. They are WAY better than CD Baby (who I used to use) and I’ve had a really good experience with them. They’ve been very helpful, especially in getting “New and Noteworthy” positioning for my artists @ iTunes and Amazon.com.

    Reply
    • ThomasG

      it’s not about the yearly fees. i’d say it’s more about losing playlist positioning as that really can affect revenue. ever notice how some artists songs on Spotify have millions of hits and others have just tens of thousands? it’s most likely because the songs with millions of plays were included on popular playlists. happens all the time.

      “90% of my revenue comes from old Spotify playlists that have been shared publicly, and it’d take years to regain that revenue if the releases were taken down.”

      All these artists’ songs that have been included on Spotify, Deezer, Rdio, Apple Music, Tidal, Rhapsody and all other playlists will disappear overnight. So will their play counts. Zimbalam in their support emails to confused and frustrated users is pretending that when you (re)distribute the “new” release with the same ISRC and UPC codes (Apple doesn’t actually allow you to use the same UPC code) everything will go back to the way it was. This is flat out untrue. I smell a class action lawsuit.

      Reply
    • DaBSingstMF

      Although I found the article interesting, and can respect the righteous desire to protect artist in the Music Business, it misses some important points and is a bit one sided. There was an opportunity here to talk about the problems with “lock-in” for music services of all kinds. Some of these concepts are explored in the Open Source community, particularly as part of the Indie Web.

      It has already been stated by others that it takes a view that the users of a service are owed something outside of the contract the signed. Its a business deal. You either knew the risks or should have.

      “Your life is a D.I.Y. business, you’re either C.E.O. or S.O.L.” – John Amatulli

      Reply
  13. John Schultz

    Ari,

    i think you jumped the gun on this whole thing… Believe is only pushing over Zimbalam UK customers, not all customers. That’s why their site is still up. That’s why your screenshots of the Zimbalam account state the account balance in “£” GBP, and the email from customer service as Zimbalam UK and that’s why your TuneCore screenshot states “Welcome to TuneCore UK”, specifically. So “100k customers” isn’t close to true, would actually be just a very small fraction of that. If you click on “Sign Up!” on Zimbalam’s site with the UK as your selected country it’ll direct you to Tunecore and wont let you sign up there. But if you click “Sign Up” for any other country as your selected country, it will allow you to register as normal for Zimbalam.

    PS– you can totally switch distributors using the same UPCs and ISRCs. I’ve done it with my stuff when switching distros from cd baby! Stores like Spotify will even restore your play counter on their site for your artist page, and existing playlists if you keep everything the same. Gotta do a little more homework next time…. Like other commenters have said in response to your article, I think youre blowing this out of the water and didnt look into it enough and could hurt some zimbalam customers who this change wont effect at all… disappointed reader

    Reply
  14. John Schultz

    Ari,
    i think you jumped the gun on this whole thing… Believe is only pushing over Zimbalam UK customers, not all customers. That’s why their site is still up. That’s why your screenshots of the Zimbalam account state the account balance in “£” GBP, and the email from customer service as Zimbalam UK and that’s why your TuneCore screenshot states “Welcome to TuneCore UK”, specifically. So “100k customers” isn’t close to true, would actually be just a very small fraction of that. If you click on “Sign Up!” on Zimbalam’s site with the UK as your selected country it’ll direct you to Tunecore and wont let you sign up there. But if you click “Sign Up” for any other country as your selected country, it will allow you to register as normal for Zimbalam.

    PS– you can totally switch distributors using the same UPCs and ISRCs. I’ve done it with my stuff when switching distros from cd baby! Stores like Spotify will even restore your play counter on their site for your artist page, and existing playlists if you keep everything the same. Gotta do a little more homework next time…. Like other commenters have said in response to your article, I think youre blowing this out of the water and didnt look into it enough and could hurt some zimbalam customers who this change wont effect at all… disappointed reader

    Reply
    • Ari Herstand
      Ari Herstand

      Hi John, as someone who has switched distributors in the past, I can confirm that reviews and ratings on iTunes are not transferred and after speaking with various digital distribution companies, Apple does not allow the same UPC code to be used twice. ISRC, yes, UPC, no.

      Since playlisting is relatively new, the streaming services have not come up with a way to maintain that songs remain in the same playlists after they are pulled down and redistributed. Hopefully, this piece illuminates a potential issue that many artists face (the necessity to switch distributors at some point) and will get streaming services to remedy this.

      I have added the correction to the article (after a Believe rep finally got in touch 24 hours after my initial request) that the change is currently only affecting UK customers, however, a source close to the situation explained that Believe is (or was) planning to roll this out worldwide to all Zimbalam customers in the future.

      I’m looking out for artists here. My intention is to make sure companies are looking out for artists’ best interests – not just their own bottom line. If this gets them to rethink how their worldwide rollout will go, and save 97,000 other artists, then I’ve done my job.

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        after a Believe rep finally got in touch 24 hours after my initial request

        Holy crap, they made you wait A SINGLE FUCKING DAY for a response? What bastards. Don’t they know that you’re a VERY important person and when you put in a “request” they should drop everything to cater to your desires?

        You’re totally right, Ari, they’re monsters. Monsters, I say!!

        Reply
  15. Paul Resnikoff
    Paul Resnikoff

    Oddly this reminds me of the blunt manner that YouTube threatened artists into joining its Music Key premium service (which remains un-launched). Essentially, YouTube set it up so that artists could ‘opt-out’ of Music Key, but would have to relinquish their channels and re-upload everything one-by-one. All comments, playlists, etc., would be lost. It seems that this critical aspect of artist-to-fan connection is frequently dismissed.

    Reply
  16. Benevolence

    M/Tune and now Tune/C seems less appealing now, and I hope this will not set the standard for other distributors to follow i.e. yearly fees. Oh well!

    I suppose we need more sites such as BandCamp? Just saying, because this may create competition to hopefully be an incentive for additional services/options available such as; Music Video production (providing free online tools i.e. user content upload(s), fully featured editor (or skip; to upload an already finished video) and export with once-off Music Video release fee of about $50 per release…. this will then enable band’s to “Sell (downloadable) Music Video’s directly to fans.” Music Videos are an excellent form of promotion, especially if “Call to Action” are available options. And of course a Band-Widget (containing all audio; video; retail (and other merchandise), photos, events calendar, comments, with share-links to social sites, fully configurable, user-customized) easily embedded on sites such as Facebook or the Band’s official website. All this is just a suggestion, maybe someone might stumble on this post who has enough clout to get it rolling. Just saying!

    Reply
    • steven corn

      Why does everyone expect everything for free? Has the world gone Ayn Rand? It’s nothing short of amazing to get your music on 100’s of sites across the entire world. And people complain about paying a percentage or an annual fee. Get real. If you are doing this for a living, then pay for the services you utilize. If you are doing this for a hobby, then pay for it anyway. How many people spend $100’s per year on their hobby? I do.

      I am just sick of everyone complaining about the fact that they have to pay for services that they depend on. And yes, I do not have any freemium accounts with anyone. I subscribe to get my music streams. I pay to get my downloads. I pay to get my Hulu and Netflix. I also pay for my email service (forget G-mail).

      If you want something reliable, then you need to have skin in the game and help support the services that make it possible to do the amazing things that can be done nowadays.

      Reply
      • Troglite

        I agree. This reminds me of “unlimited cloud storage” pricing plans that began popping up as vendors tried to recreate the type of success that Box and Dropbox began to enjoy. Its clearly an unsustainable pricing model intended to rapidly grab marketshare with the intention of selling profitable add-on services once the customer has been locked in.

        No matter how objectionable I consider this type of sales gimmick to be, the customer has to take some responsability. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If your livelihood depends upon a service, make sure you have a contingency plan in case the vendor fails to deliver what they promised. If the contract allows the vendor to change the terms without your consent, don’t cry foul when they do.

        That being said, a business that relies on gimmicks and razor thin margins really should have a better transition plan. Perhaps this is more of an asset sale where the new owner has decided that the cost of a smoother transition is unwarranted because the expected volume of lost customers is considered acceptable. I worked on that type of acquisition at one point in my career. I found it emotionally challenging. It was a profitable strategy, but the work was cold, harsh, and uninspiring.

        Reply
      • Benevolence

        @ Paul Resnikoff,

        I agree, thanks for explaining!

        @ Steven Corn, NO where did I say “Free”, Read what Paul said. And you didn’t consider other services/options and such that are all certainly not free.

        I’ve been involve in the music business for more than 35 years, and continue to invest boatloads of money every year. The music business has changed dramatically, and continues to do so at warp speed, especially since the Internet came about. There are many ways to monetize however, stirring up customers is not a wise move.

        (A) Some may stay with Tune/C, or (B) switch to another distributor, which of course with all due respect is their right to choose either.

        Music is life, it is also art, though musicians need to also be entrepreneurs, and be very careful of who they deal with.

        Reply
  17. Clickbait again

    Are you all so naive as to believe that when the two companies merged they wouldn’t have to do something to condense everything? For the love of holy things, stop creating mountains from molehills.

    Reply
  18. steven corn

    I believe that I am the most experienced person amongst all of the commenters when it comes to moving vast amounts of catalogs from one distributor to another. Let say, with 100% certainty, that if an artist takesdown their content and then wants to reload it, they WILL lose all of their reviews, rankings, etc. in iTUNES who will absolutely require a new UPC and ISRC codes. Since ISRC codes are also used to track content with regards to other playlist-supported sites, this would also affect revenue from those services.

    Most of the other services CAN accept a reload of an album using the same UPC/ISRC. Spotify certainly can, btw.

    Fortunately, there is absolutely a way for Believe to handle this transition without the artist doing a takedown. It would have to be done completely on the back end through a coordinated effort by Believe/Zimbalam and Tunecore. It was done very successfully when The Orchard bought IODA, IRIS and my company, BFM.

    However, it involves a lot of resources, time and energy for Believe to do this. Obviously, they are not willing to do so and want to shift the burden onto the artists. That is the part that I find deplorable.

    Believe is totally capable of handling this transition more elegantly and without upsetting any of their clients. I hope that they reconsider their position and realize that, while it may be more costly, it would be in their best interests to do so.

    Reply
    • Paul Resnikoff
      Paul Resnikoff

      Steven, I’m really happy you weighed in on this, because yes, you are a foremost expert in this area. I’d question your comment above about artists not willing to pay for services and wanting everything for free. Perhaps that’s true, but it’s not the issue of this situation. This is about Believe presenting one product, getting customers based on that proposition, then forcing them to pay differently and mangling their presentation to fans and affecting artists who have little power to deal with this (no money to sue, protest effectively, etc.).

      We know that this was avoidable, that is, with sufficient effort and expense (and has been achieved in other mergers. it doesn’t seem fair to customers that yes, paid for their service.

      Reply
      • steven corn

        Paul, you are correct in wanting to separate the two issues in each of my comments. Putting aside the rant on “free”, I think it’s more about laziness and transparency.

        1) Laziness: Believe and Tunecore both have incredible technologies. (I would assume Zimbalam has it, as well.) If Believe wanted to create the lowest impact on their clients, they certainly could. Perhaps they thought that they could shift the load and efforts which may look like a good ROI in the short term. However, it’s not a long term play in my opinion. I have moved catalog to/from other distributors. Generally, it’s iTunes that presents the biggest challenge. But since iTunes is still a significant revenue stream for most artists/labels, it needs to be handled very carefully. The proposed method by Believe is the antithesis of doing such.

        There is also a secondary issue with regards to iTunes that has nothing to do with reviews, history, and ratings. As most people know, the iTunes delivery specs has changed considerably over the years. iTunes generally (but not always) grandfathers content that is already live and does not force revising metadata to meet the current standards. But when content is taken down and reloaded, it will be forced to follow the current specs which may create problems for a lot of older metadata. This will, no doubt, cause a lot of confusion as to why the album went live in its original form but won’t be accepted now. In turn, this has the potential of causing gaps in coverage which can result in lost revenue.

        For other services, there may also be downtime simple due to longer processing queues. As we get closer to the end of the year, all of the services have longer queues due to a mad dash to release product before the end of the year. Traditionally, this has caused expected delays. So it’s quite plausible that albums which are taken down in late October or early November, may not go live immediately.

        This brings me back to the laziness thing. Believe should certainly anticipate this and create assurances that they will expedite reprocessing any existing content. Of course, if Believe/Tunecore/Zimbalam were all handling this on their backend, they could easily arrange redeliveries to coincide with takedowns and practically eliminate ANY down time.

        2) Transparency: Although some commenters have complained that Ari is being overly dramatic and reactive to this news, I think that that is because Believe’s announcement belies a lack of transparency. It is a pie-in-the-sky, best-scenario, message which does not address the potential implications of following their advice. When we transitioned BFM to The Orchard, we both anticipated potential concerns and did out best to provide assurances for those concerns. As a result, our labels felt much more relieved.

        Transitioning catalog on a large scale as this is very challenging. It triggers a lot of questions and discomfort. I would love to see Believe issue more supportive and informative emails in the future. Most clients really appreciate that.

        Reply
  19. Anon

    I think they’re all skimming too.

    I did some tests on routenote, odd combinations, odd purchases, in far away markets-the sales were never reported.

    Reply
  20. Benevolence

    Steven Corn,

    You’re a musician, CEO and co-founder of {name omitted} another digital distribution business?

    I suppose that explains your rant, an unnecessarily, misconstrued reaction to my first comment. I did not expect that type of response from someone of your experience as CEO. . I hope all is well?!

    FYI, many band’s (including my own, since the 1970s) invest boatloads of money, I also own several websites (all must be managed/updated, and I pay hosting and such), I also provide free music industry directory and guide (that I regularly update), and of course performed live in a band, attended meetings with publicist, manager’s, publisher’s, labels, recording sessions, and other pressing requirements. Over the past several decades I have seen my young friends (musicians and a TV actress age 21) pass away, others completely moved on to other career’s not related to the music business. But I’m expected to rock on; remain dedicated as always, purely because music is my life.

    The music business is certainly no picnic, band’s are also expected to be social marketer’s and entrepreneurs.

    Regarding this topic; the result of the merger is typical short term pain for long term pain – this strategy may see band’s and label’s switch to another distributor, or remain; whatever they decide is is their right, their choice. But there are other alternatives that I pointed out i.e. direct sales to fans, including subscription platform, which give band’s more options, control and direct interaction with their fans all from the once source (platform/app). But like I said with all due respect for the love and art of music; Band’s must also be entrepreneurs, learn the business side of the equation, which in part involves for example; monies invested in PR/Marketing, and many other aspects related to the music business.

    Good luck, Steven.

    Reply
  21. Jed Carpenter

    This is why there are so many new music distributors, like Forj Digital, for artists to choose from.

    Reply
  22. Patrick L'Étoile

    Ari, is your whole article based on that notification / communication on Zimbalam UK Backstage?
    Or do you have any other source/ proof that Zimbalam will close anything except its UK platform?

    Thanks

    Reply

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