Artist Development Isn’t Dead. It’s Merely Being Outsourced…

As recorded music revenue has plummeted in the past decade, the old traditional development deals that record labels used to offer have largely disappeared.  Instead, major labels generally expect artists to come “fully formed” to the negotiating table.  But now the two biggest record labels in the world have turned to Sweden to recruit outside help in order to find and develop new talent.

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Sony Music Entertainment announced this week that it has inked a multi-year agreement, covering global A&R distribution, with Swedish music company TEN Music Group, which represents Swedish acts such as Icona Pop, Niki & the Dove and Erik Hassle.

TEN Music Group was launched years ago by Ola Håkansson, who fronted some of the biggest pop acts in Sweden back in the 1970 and 80s before becoming a record executive.  The company’s operations now cover recordings, publishing, production and management – as well as running five recording studios in the country.

According to, the deal will give Sony Music first-look rights to recordings and releases by artists signed to TEN and, in return, it will provide the “hothouse” with offices in London, Los Angeles and New York.

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Universal’s project Spinnup, however, has a more innovative, er, spin on talent development.  Spinnup was created by Universal Music Sweden, the digital agency Oakwood and X5 Music, which developed its distribution platform.  Part of it looks much like a traditional distribution service, giving unsigned artists the opportunity to have their music featured in the biggest download stores and streaming services in the world, such as Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Rhapsody.

It’s not free – the price for having a single distributed costs €9.99 a year ($13), an EP costs €19.99 a year ($26) and an album €39.99 a year ($52) – but the artists get to keep all the rights, as well as receiving 100% of the royalties.

What sets Spinnup apart from services such as TuneCore and CD Baby, however, are its hothouse functions.  Spinnup scouts will regularly trawl the profiles of its users, listen to the music and give feedback and advice.  If they see potential the artist is “scouted” and receives help with marketing, promotion and production.  The artists will eventually have the opportunity to get signed to Universal.

The service launched in beta version on February 15th, opening to all by March 13th, and already over 1,000 artists have signed up to it (considering that Sweden has a population of less than 10 million, that’s a lot).

So far, 13 of those artists have been scouted.

One such artist is London-based Swede Anna Wihlke, whose debut EP Lap Girl was released via Spinnup as part of the beta launch. She’s already taken part in Nordic Poetry’s spring campaign and featured in the debut movie by One Direction video director Elliot Morgan, as well as been named one of London’s most influential artists in Hunger magazine. Meanwhile a tour covering Sweden and the UK is currently being planned.

It’s early days, of course, but it seems to be an interesting way of bridging the gap between self-release and major label deal, giving artists the opportunity to sample services that are usually only offered as part of a record deal – without having to give away the rights to their music.  It could only put them in a more advantageous position if they do decide to take the plunge and sign on the dotted line.

6 Responses

  1. Yves Villeneuve

    It’s a needed service I think. A friendly proposition.

  2. Visitor

    Those Swedish pop bands are so cute and adorable.

    ABBA rules!!!!

  3. bjkiwi

    smells like scam to me … give us your money and you MIGHT be heard by a connected talent scout and MIGHT even be signed to Universal … ooh eer! yes sir yes sir, three bags full sir … Sonicbids anyone?

  4. Chris

    Scam as far as I’m concerned is Anna Wihlke (already changed the name to Ruby Kidd). I’ve heard she’s just another nearly 30’s woman who’s still trying to make it. No musical talent. But does sleep with any rich old man just to get some money and gifts.