Despite Surging Sales, Independent Artists Are Still Getting Marginalized…

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Last week, we reported that fan-created videos are getting more traffic than official artist videos.  Now, there’s another eye-popping stat: according to data just shared by Tunecore, indie artist revenues are growing four times as fast as the industry average.   Tunecore, one of the largest digital distributors for indie and unsigned artists alongside services like ReverbNation and CDBaby, has a dataset that is difficult to ignore.

So what’s wrong with this picture?  

Despite all the heady growth among indies, mainstream artists are completely and utterly eclipsing independent artists overall.  According to a recently-released study by MIDiA Consulting, the top 1% of artists are making 77% of all recording revenues.

Counterintuitively, mainstream artists are now commanding an even greater share of digital formats.

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There are different ways to define ‘independent,’ but smaller artists seem more marginalized than ever.  Tunecore, for all its heft in the indie and unsigned world, still looks like this compared to the broader recording industry.

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Written while listening to Tech N9ne on Sirius XM Radio.



10 Responses

  1. Jordan Owens

    This is some headlining numbers and data to take in but I would want to see the data that can be presented from CD Baby, Ditto Music, Reverbnation, JTV and even a few others before jumping to any conclusions based on one companies performance for their distributed artists.

    I’m not saying that this information isn’t something we should all recognize, it’s just that it may not be as negative as it is perceived because there are still plenty of pieces left in the cake that we aren’t seeing.

    Jordan Owens
    President Sour Mash Recording Industries, LLC
    @jordanowens45, @smrimusic

    • JTVDigital

      Correct, would have been interesting to put this into perspective based on TuneCore’s market share.
      The ‘overall digital recording revenues’ certainly include CDBaby or others.

      The graph saying 1% of ‘superstars’ trust 77% of the sales is very true, sometimes (in some territories) it is even closer to 90%.

      Now the challenge for a smaller label or distributor is to sign one of these 1% superstars or detect the ‘next superstar’ for grabbing a piece of that cake.

      Remember what TuneCore’s business model is: they are making money on the subscriptions / distribution fees for using their service, not on sales. We could even think the less their artists sell the better it is for them (less accounting resource required, less money transfers…etc.).
      But from a marketing standpoint (and they have a very aggressive marketing strategy), sure they will always try to show their artists are selling ‘a lot’, at least they are showing here their artists’ sales are significant enough to be visible in the overall digital recording sales, dominated by major record labels.
      The message is: ‘look, with TuneCore, even small artists can make money from digital sales, just like the giants. Come to us, sign with TuneCore and get your share of these remaining 98%’.

      • hippydog

        Quote “Now the challenge for a smaller label or distributor is to sign one of these 1% superstars or detect the ‘next superstar’ for grabbing a piece of that cake.”

        and its a pretty big challenge, cause to ‘break’ this next ‘superstar’ they still have to go thru (in most cases) the original gate keepers.. and ‘they’ dont like ‘change’ or anything that isn’t their idea..

        IE: though things are slowly improving, that 1% gated community is still pretty well protected

  2. WesleyWejamusic

    Do you guys think this staggering statistic is due to the fact that indie artists aren’t as resource heavy as say major record labels?

    I personally believe that a major reason for this disparity is due to the overwhelming resource power despite the fact that online resources such as Reverbnation, CDbaby and other online resources are making it possible for an indie artist to get their music out there as oppose to selling records out of the trunk of his/her car like it used to be back in the day.

    Wesley Anderson
    Musician (

  3. Anonymous

    “Tunecore, for all its heft in the indie and unsigned world, still looks like this compared to the broader recording industry”

    Yes, it takes years to get rid of your contracts.

    And you know the old joke… Label: “Sign the contract!” Artist: “I can’t.” Label: “Sure you can!” Artist: “No, you just broke my fingers.”

    But I think most will try anyway when they learn that TuneCore pays 5 times more than the labels.

    Labels are banks today, and that’s it.

    • mdti

      The few small labels I know in some niche genre (tech-house etc) are more about artists trying to maximize revenues by releasing other artists and getting a share. Certainly not the majority of cases, but looks a bit like a trend in the “underground scene” (underground DJ/dance scene, ie no guitars, not “bands”….)

  4. Anonymous

    what I have observed in few occasions,mainly in the Latin market, is that a Major record labels sign 2-3 upcoming young artists (the next generation of “superstars”), so other labels aren’t able to sign them. At the end, this label already know who they would like to launch ( the other 2 stay in the bench, and their career is stuck)

    Juan Alberti-Flor
    Rockera Records

    • JTVDigital

      And this is how promising newcomers often end up being stuck with major record labels contracts, with nothing going on for them apart from “being signed”.

  5. Dan

    “Tunecore, for all its heft in the indie and unsigned world, still looks like this compared to the broader recording industry”

    Oh please – Tunecore have absolutely no heft in the Indie World – and to say they do is a complete and utter lie. They are a great service for unsigned artists but to speak about them being a serious Indie distributor is a joke

  6. GGG

    There’s two ways to interpret this, though. They way you are doing, Paul, which is certainly valid, so I’m not knocking it at all.

    But also, as long as sales go up, how much does it matter they are marginalized? They always have been, the difference now is Tunecore, et al, gives these people a way to actually get distributed, and it’s clearly working. I didn’t read the report, so maybe it says something in there about this, but I’m thinking part of the issue is just the seeming infinite amount of “artists” there are releasing music through these platforms. For decades, hobbyists and weekend warriors sort of knew their place. They weren’t cutting and releasing albums as much as any asshole who can play 2 chords on ukulele or rap over some shitty beats in Garageband are nowadays. I have a feeling it’s not actual sales increases but just more bands selling 10 albums to their moms and friends.