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Future tech

Already in Hong Kong, music distributor TuneCore eyes China

TuneCore helps up-and-coming artists to bypass record labels and distribute their work directly to streaming sites and retailers – and China is part of its global growth plan

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 4:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 6:16pm

Despite the incredible changes that have transformed the music business in recent years, many first-time artists still seem to believe they need the backing of a record label.

Enter into the picture TuneCore, which lets musicians bypass labels and distribute directly on streaming sites such as Spotify as well as iTunes and other retailers.

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TuneCore, founded in 2005 in New York, is seeing fast international growth as streaming – which allows unlimited, on-demand listening – goes mainstream. TuneCore is already available in Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia as part of KKBOX’s digital music subscription service. The platform, which expanded into France last month and Germany in April, is also available in Australia, Britain, Canada and Japan.

Scott Ackerman, the chief executive officer of TuneCore, sees no let-up in the pace of the platform’s expansion, including eventually into emerging economies.

“We will be in India and [mainland] China at some point. It’s just a matter of when,” he says from TuneCore’s office in Brooklyn.

TuneCore’s set-up is straightforward: an artist pays a fixed price, starting at US$9.99 a year for a single, and the platform distributes it worldwide, with all revenue going back to the act.

Unlike labels that nurture and promote their artists, TuneCore has no standards beyond basic technical and legal specifications, such as avoiding copyright violations.

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“We’re uploading almost 100 per cent. You can scream into your phone and send it to us and we’ll send it out and see if it makes money,” Ackerman says with a laugh.

TuneCore says artists have earned US$733 million since the site’s inception, through US$36.5 billion streams or downloads of songs.

By distributing to commercial sites, TuneCore differs from SoundCloud, a favourite platform for artists to upload music hassle-free.

Up-and-coming artists form the target audience but TuneCore also has offered a distribution outlet to established artists who no longer need the same label support, such as Aretha Franklin, Jay Z, Joan Jett and Moby.

Ackerman does not see TuneCore as a competitor to labels, which often invest heavily in promising artists and assist in high-quality production.

“We’re kind of the minor leagues for the labels,” Ackerman says. “We are not in the business of saying to an artist, ‘Here is a US$10 million advance but we’ll take all your rights away.’

“There will always be artists who want that, so I think the labels will be fine.”

In one gap for TuneCore, the company does not assist in retailing physical albums – which remain the key format in the German and Japanese markets – although it helps produce CDs which acts can sell directly, such as at concert merchandise tables.

Non-US artists already account for about 30 per cent of TuneCore, according to Ackerman. But he believes local offices are critical to growth by offering services in different languages and currencies, as well as highlighting success stories in each market.

TuneCore also provides detailed international data to artists who can see where they are most successful – and hence where they should market themselves.

“We’ve had US artists see fans in Africa and so they know they need to go to Africa. Or French artists can get onto TuneCore and have their music played in Japan and Vietnam,” he says.

“They find out that it’s not always your hometown that supports you.”