TuneCore Has a Great Story to Tell. So Why the Misinformation?

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TuneCore is a frontrunner in the direct-to-fan space, and a major problem for companies ranging from the Orchard to UMG (ultimately a partner).

Cheap and fast, TuneCore lets any artist jump onto the iTunes Store and innumerable other outlets with ease.  In fact, the group enabled gross sales of $35 million last year, money that would have been difficult to capture before.

This is a great story, and there was plenty of rich data to accompany the recent accomplishment.  But why was TuneCore spoiling it with misinformation?

As the industry started sifting through some great stats last week, a number of issues surfaced.  Most of those were expressed through private channels – like email – to Digital Music News; others surfaced in comments.  Among the issues, TuneCore CEO Jeff Price claimed that music sales were actually increasing, and cited the IFPI, RIAA, and even Nielsen Soundscan to bolster the case.  “There is more music selling by more artists now than at any time in history,” Price started.  “Music sales by unit are up, not down (RIAA, IFPI and Nielsen data also state this).”

What?  A re-read reveals that Price is actually talking about transactions – not actual revenues.   So, a consumer that purchases four iTunes downloads instead of two albums is ‘buying more’ under this fuzzy logic.

Another question, expressed in comments, surrounds the issue of which formats are generating the most revenue.  In its data release, TuneCore noted that streams represented “57 percent of all sales,” when in actuality, streams merely represent a fraction of broader revenues.  “The problem that I have with Jeff’s stat is that this gives a false impression that the streaming services are gaining ground with respect to the non-streaming services,” one commenter noted last week.  “Unfortunately, they are not even close.”

But a deeper issue is surfacing.  Increasingly, questions are surrounding the sheer impossibility of do-it-yourself success, thanks to a landscape super-saturated with content and competing entertainment options.  So why all the claims of increasing sales and direct-to-iTunes success?

Suddenly, the spotlight is now turning on the companies selling DIY success, and whether their message is responsible.  “I’ve been arguing for over a year now that the numbers pretty much guarantee that most musicians can’t make a living at this and we need to be honest about it,” one executive asserted following a Digital Hollywood discussion on the matter last week.

Bob Lefsetz offered a starker version last week, in effect crystallizing hours of panel opinion.  “You can’t break an act alone. Cannot be done. You need a team.”