Price: “This Concept That the Music Industry Was So F―king Great is Just Wrong…”

Last week, Cracker’s David Lowery asserted that things have never been worse for artists, in a fairly detailed way.

But Thursday morning at Digital Music Forum East in New York, Tunecore founder Jeff Price said, basically, ‘no f―king way…’

(Moderator) Barry Slotnick (Loeb & Loeb LLP): “But is this really the golden age if you’re a musician ―”

Jeff Price: “Yes. Yes.”

Slotnick: “Now hold on ―hold on ―”

Jeff Price: “No. [smattering of laughter] Our artists have sold half-a-billion units in music and earned a quarter-billion dollars.”

Slotnick: “But what does that mean in revenues though I mean ―”

Price: “I put up the data publicly on our website to show you what our customers are ― the Civil Wars who just won a Grammy ―  it gets difficult for me because I can’t disclose their earnings but I can tell you they’ve sold millions and millions of units, and you guys know what they make when a song sells on iTunes.

“And you know what? They’re not the exception anymore.  We had four millionaires come through Tunecore in 2011, that’s four millionaires.  And you know we did a data stratification of how many made more than $10,000 and how many made more than $50,000.  Most don’t earn that much money.  But most never did.  But now more of them are making some money and before all of them were making very little.

“98 percent of what the labels released failed and of the 2 percent that succeeded less than a half-a-percent of them ever recouped an advance in order to make a band royalty.  That wasn’t the freakin’ golden age ―”

Slotnick: “At least they had the advance, which is not such a bad thing ―”

Price: “It is if they have to spend it to record the master recordings and assign the ownership of it back to the label and then recoup all their marketing expenses and pay their lawyer and their manager and each band member had to put $5,000 in their pocket.  It’s not like they walked out and bought huge houses, one in a million got that.

“This was not a fucking golden age. Artists did not swim in money in the traditional music industry.”

“You had your Lady Gagas, and you had your U2s, and your Depeche Modes.  But if you actually get through the mid-90s you kind of lost those bands because we became a one-hit industry with no artist development.  Artists were not rolling in it.  They would get released six weeks later, they’d be kicked to the side of the road as roadkill, their careers were done they couldn’t do anything else after that.  The cost of failure now is so low, you release an album it doesn’t happen your career is not over.

“This concept that the music industry was so fucking great is just wrong!  It was great for like, one band!”

[clapping, laughing]

pictured: ‘The Golden Age’ by Lucas Cranach the Elder 

22 Responses

  1. Thank God!

    How did you get noted intellectual recluse Jeff Price on the record? I like his feathered hair, tight jeans and white tennis shoes. Clearly he though the early 90’s was the golden age of fasion, if not music.

  2. Maxwellian

    What a defensive rant.

    It makes me realize things were bad then, and worse now at least for artists.


  3. Visitor2

    I don’t think anything has changed. Big artists are still very big and profitable, the middle class is still casually skating by and the bottom is still struggling; same as always.

    The only difference is failing artists now have something to blame other than themselves.

  4. WILL

    What has changed is that any shit can get released nowadays. In the 90’s there were probably 150 single releases a week. If you didn’t have a deal you didn’t get to deal. Price – why don’t you take a percentage of the revenue generated by artists on Tunecore and not a monthly fee? You know the reason. The model wouldn’t scale because 99 per cent make about $100 a year from your platform. The ones that are doing ok I would guess have been in the label system and have laid the foundations already.

    You’re rolling in it and that’s cool but stop retaliating to other opinions that threaten to make your customers see what is REALLY going on. You need to keep the wool over their eyes but for how long?

    • Seth Keller

      Hey Will:

      I rep a few independent artists that use Tunecore. It’s a yearly fee of $50 for an album. If you’re good and you sell, it’s a better deal than having Tunecore take a percentage (CD Baby does that, so if that works for you as an artist, use them).

      One artist I rep never had a major label deal or independent label deal prior to her first and, at this point, only self-produced and released album. She’s made about $19,000 from Tunecore sales and streams.

      For her, it’s a great deal because she keeps all the money less mechanicals for three co-writes on the album. And it’s $19K she couldn’t have made without an aggregator in reality because it’s time consuming and difficult for most artists without a history to do deals directly with itunes or other digital retailers.

      Tunecore is just one option but a viable one for many artists who can release product whenever they want and have enough talent to garner fans.

      Honestly, I don’t think anything is really going on at Tunecore or CD Baby for that matter that’s detrimental to artists.

      • WILL

        My point is that Price knows that doing the Snocap model – taking a percentage of tracks sold – won’t scale cos most artists won’t make anything significant. But charging 250,000 artists a fee up front no matter how bad they are does work and he markets it with a “you don’t need a deal to get ahead any longer”. It’s bullshit.

        At to the fuckwit @seriously – you’re damn right I’d take trying to make it in the 90’s and earlier than today. Now it’s a free for all – way too much noise. Gatekeepers? Yes please.

        Man, just give me five minutes on a Midem stage with dicks like you and Price and you’d be shoegazing – ashamed and humiliated.

  5. The Price Is Right

    Jeff Price is absolutely right here.

    Steve Albini’s rant from the 90s was correct then as it is today:

    Those who poo poo Tunecore or other digital distribution services for independent artists should just shut up.

  6. Versus

    Mr Price is offering a straw man fallacy. Nobody claimed the 90s were the golden age of music. The 90s were the musical apocalypse for artists, as labels killed artist development and US radio and media consolidated.

    Here’s a question to consider: Which era (and business model) produced the most music of lasting artistic value?


    – Versus

  7. Reality Check

    Major record labels never were and never will be about music. They are marketing firms whose primary PRODUCT happens to be sound recordings. They are selling their brand.

  8. PartlyCloudy

    See Jeff Price completely hates Digital Music News yet they still cover him.


  9. Chris Daniels

    Finally, some real talk about the ‘good old days’ — as an artist who was signed to a Rounder label in thosew days I have still not gotten a clear accounting from them…and I know what my sound scan numbers are and could prove that they owe me money…but the contracts right to audit has long since expired. In 1997 I started going it DIY using The Orchard and then CD Baby and have made money on most of the albums released since then. Sometimes I did well, sometimes I just broke even after promoting costs, but the numbers always added up … no phony math. And as an indie artist … that’s just part of the revenue stream anyway.

  10. rodney

    There will always be a disproportionate number of artists at the bottom because that’s just how music is, it draws people in. So even in the best of times, we’ll have these struggling artists. There’s a lot of money in taking advantage of artists’ naivety, whether it’s major labels, big tech, or otherwise.

    Be smart, and know your value.

  11. Scam Artist

    Tunecore is like one of those “casting agencies” that charges starry-eyed mothers a fee to make their child a star. It uses the same business model and preys on unsuspecting and naive artist who think they can become superstars. Tunecore would make no money if they charged a standard distribution few based on sales revenue. His rant is biased and disingenuous.

  12. Technology Has No Morals

    Any internet service claiming moral superiority over labels is wrong. The internet industry has ripped off more music and identity thefts than any other counterfeiting technology in the history of man. Even iTunes not selling albums was because of ineffecient dial-up technology not able to serve albums, and we were censored by Jobs telling us what we wanted and didn’t want, until he was able to sell albums with broadband. Then we magically all wanted albums again. Tech has lied and cheated beyond any labels.

  13. Tony

    There were a lot of good points raised by speakers at that conference.

    Unfortunately, as usual, Jeff “straight from the 80’s” priced did his normal thing of leveraging the event so that he gets press coverage.

    The more he shouts and swears the more people like me, with a brain, realise that hes out to sell the dream to people who DO listen to this garbage.

    He wants $50 off each one of his artists to collect their airplay royalties, this is something they can do for free, through other agencies. He has now alientated a lot of the download stores and artists who were selling on Amazon in Europe

    But i think everyone already knows that

  14. JJ

    Cheap album productions may be fine with Tunecore (or any other distributor, I don’t have something against Tunecore in particular), but it is bad for society as a whole.

    Labels knew how to bring the right people together in order to make good albums. Then, the leeches of Wall Street started their game. And here we are.

    It is very easy to say “labels are greedy and must die”, the difficult thing is to actully come up with an alternative.

    • Visitor

      Yes, thank you for stating what few want to say: the absence of A&R has liberated creators, but also means there is zero quality control. The market is flooded with mediocrity, which makes finding the few gems quite a challenge to listeners.

      Luckily, the gems do exist, if one has the time and patience to seek them out.

      – Versus

  15. WILL

    What the likes of Price conveniently forget is that there were and still are many excellent indie labels, both big and small. Sure, many were subsidaries of majors or distributed through majors. ALL of your favourite bands/artists going back in history were signed to either majors or indies! How did you get to know about them? Through the marketing & promotional investment that said labels made, staffed by departments with the right skill sets.

    Now if Tunecore were to invest say $25,000 into each of the unsigned artists using its service who are showing signs that they have a future then I’d say fair play. I’m not sure but I believe Sonicbids does something along these lines. Otherwise Price should come out much like Ian Rogers has done on occassions and address the real issue for unsigned artists and that’s marketing & promotion. It costs a shitload and it requires super skilled people to do it. With millions of unsigned bands all vying for the attention of a music fan with limited patience, dollars and time, marketing and brand building were the (and still are) critical component that labels offer their artists. What? Yeah I’m talking to dipshit @seriously, you think these bands can pluck those skills out of thin air?

  16. sasebastian

    Some of you seem to be missing the mark. We’re not acting locally anymore wishing for someone to get help make us famous. We’re using tools to market and promote on a worldwide scale to find our fanbase. Tunecore and their ilk are providing the means for all of us to sell to that fanbase, wherever they are.

    Having come up in the 90s, it was frustrating as hell to get written up in zines all across the country and have no way for potential fans to hear the band’s music they just read about because there was no radio support and no place for them to listen to or buy the band’s tape, record or CD. There were certain things you could do without label support, but getting music out nationally was difficult, if not impossible, in the 80s and 90s without label support.

    Tuncore is just providing distribution for the independent and unsigned that are acting as their own labels. If and indie or band can’t handle the marketing and promotion that’s required to sell records, or find their audience then that’s their own fault, not Tunecore’s.
    You say things are worse for artists now and that Tunecore is a bad thing. But, I’m not ready to do things the way they were “back in the day.”Among other things I do not miss…

    + flyering parked cars every night to promote gigs
    + hounding the local record store to carry my 7” or cassette in the “Local Band” section, which no one can find hidden in the back of the store
    + mailing physical packages to bars & clubs to get gigs
    + having my album treated as a demo in entertainment mags & zines because it wasn’t release by a label

    I guess the fact that I can find my audience and sell to them because of Tunecore really is a bad thing.

    (sorry for the double-post.. the editor went all funky!)