TuneCore’s Universal Alliance

The Web has seen many attempts to bring emerging artists and record labels together.

Many such efforts project a contest-like environment with artists and bands uploading their music to Web sites where users vote for their favorites while panels of industry insiders critique the songs making the final rounds.

But many of these Web sites are more about providing entertainment content than discovering new talent. Sure, there are opportunities for aspiring artists to quit their day jobs, but giving audiences another talent competition is the main agenda.

roviding fledgling bands, musicians and singers with a platform to be heard is merely a feature.

Which is why Universal Music Group’s alliance with TuneCore is so important. On Nov. 11 the record company and the online music distributor announced a joint project giving aspiring artists a more direct track to major label ears, while at the same time distributing their music to online music services such as iTunes, eMusic and Rhapsody.

The alliance is not a contest, nor is it an attempt to entertain Web surfers. Instead, it’s an arrangement giving new talent a channel for distribution and major label attention.

One of the key ingredients in the Universal Music Group/TuneCore mix is not one, but four Web sites dedicated to funneling artists and bands to the labels most appropriate for the acts.

For acts thinking Island Def Jam Music Group might be a place to call home, the Web site is IDJFirstLook.com. Artists and bands hoping to attract a little love from Universal Motown Republic Group have two Web sites to choose from – UniMoDigitalDistribution.com and Republicdd.com.

Then there’s the big-umbrella site representing the newly created Interscope Digital Distribution – InterscopeDigitalDistribution.com. Each Web site combines the power of a Universal Music Group division with TuneCore’s online distribution savvy.

Although he preaches a mighty fine digital gospel, TuneCore founder and CEO Jeff Price isn’t a technical johnny-come-lately to the music biz. As one of the founders of now defunct indie label spinART Records, Price has plenty of experience in the music promotion and distribution trenches and is probably one of the deepest thinkers around on the subject of music in the digital millennium.

“The thing that used to happen last – distribution – is now the thing that can happen first,” Price told Pollstar.

“It used to be, as a band you recorded music, send off a demo and play live gigs. The A&R people would come see you, then come see you again. Then up it to a manager, then a director, then the VP of A&R would sign off on something. Then you’d get the contract. …Then go into a recording studio with your advance. … mix, master produce. … Ultimately you get the final sequence mastered and the artwork done, then you get the physical product manufactured. At this point you’re probably looking somewhere between eight months to a year and a half.”

Price also pointed out that creating the album was only half the battle. When you factor in promotion, especially the lead times publications like Blender or Rolling Stone needed to publicize the album, as much as a year and a half to two years could transpire before the music was distributed.

“Now you can hit a Web site and get your music distributed in 10 minutes,” Price said. “You upload something, you keep all the rights and get all the money.

“What’s occurring is the general population of the planet becomes the A&R staff. Because they’re deciding what has value. When you have infinite shelf space and inventory. … and you have everyone having equal access to the media outlets people go to for discovering music, you’re going to have very different results than when you had editorial filters.”

TuneCore’s business model is simple. For a fee, artists and bands upload their music for TuneCore to distribute to online music services such as iTunes and Rhapsody.

With the new arrangement between TuneCore and Universal Music Group, acts can pick which UMG division fits them best and upload their tracks to the Web site where label execs will give the music a hearing. Meanwhile, like all TuneCore customers, their music is being distributed to online stores, regardless of what the suits at the label think.

“Take a band like Never Shout Never, Tapes ‘N Tapes, Second Hand Serenade or Kelly. … These are all TuneCore customers who used us for distribution, marketing, promotion and our services before becoming signed to a major label,” Price said.

“But some of them decided not to sign to any label. For example, Kelly [a character created and portrayed by comic actor Liam Sullivan] sold 2 million songs in the past 20 months, uploaded a video to YouTube called ‘Shoes,’ and the guy just took off. He actually turned down offers from majors. So there’s a proven track record already.”

Price said the new alliance between TuneCore and UMG took two years to nail down. Like many music industry deals, it began with a little networking.

“A wonderful person named Cameo Carlson, who works over at Republic, part of the Universal/Motown/Republic group,” Price said. “Cameo was working at iTunes. … and spinART Records was a large enough label I was able to do direct deals with digital stores.

“One day I was on the phone with her and I said, ‘I’d love to come in and show you guys this stuff. You should see how this company has grown.’

“And Cameo said, ‘That would be great. Why don’t I set that up for you?’

“So that was one of the key pieces of the deal. Then I had the opportunity to meet and speak directly with Avery and Monte Lipman [Universal/Motown/Republic Group co-president/COO and Universal/Republic Records president, respectively], and as I left the meeting stunned at the foresight and creativity they had.”

Price made it clear that his company’s arrangement with Universal does not replace existing TuneCore services. Artists can chose to go the UMG/TuneCore route, or they can avoid the majors and just have TuneCore distribute their music.

But what’s really fascinating about the entire deal is that indie artists can get their music heard by label execs at the same time their songs are already being purchased from online music services. Bands and artists don’t have to wait for a label to start selling their music. They can sell their songs now, and snag that label contract – later.

“The world changed last Wednesday [Nov. 11] in regards to the music industry,” Price said. “For the first time in the history of this planet, a musician anywhere in the world can gain access to worldwide distribution of their music in association with a major record label. But the band keeps all the rights and gets all the money. That’s insane.

“This is like if I bumped into you 20 years ago and in your back pocket was a CD. And I said to you, ‘Pay me $35 and now your CD will be on the shelf of every Tower Records around the world with full artwork on Interscope Digital Distribution available where anyone can buy, with unlimited inventory, with no up-front costs, and every time it sells you’re going to get all the money from this, minus Tower’s cut.’ That’s insane.”