The company has been around for fifteen years, and caters to independent musicians who want to reach audiences by making their music available on platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, and TIDAL.
TuneCore is a massive player in the digital distribution game, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it measures up to a growing number of competitors who are succeeding through innovation and cheaper fees for artists.
In this review, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about TuneCore, from the company’s background to how well it works for independent musicians.
Founded in Brooklyn, TuneCore began as a digital distribution, publishing, and licensing service in 2005.
The company was featured on ABC’s World News Tonight, The Daily Mirror, and Pitchfork that year because the idea of digital distribution was still new, and because their first customer was The Pixies’ lead singer, Frank Black. Nine Inch Nails famously used TuneCore to distribute their album Ghosts I–IV to Amazon’s digital platform a few years later.
TuneCore ran into some much-publicized financial trouble in 2012, but has since rebounded in a big way with reports consistently showing their artists bringing in more revenue year after year.
In 2019, the company announced that its artists hit a symbolic milestone of reaching $1.5 billion in revenue, bolstered by rapid growth from genres like heavy metal and J-Pop. TuneCore’s artist roster is absolutely massive, totaling in at 250,000 hailing from around the world. As of early 2019, their artists have racked up just under 200 billion streams and downloads, a number reflecting an impressive 83% increase from the year prior.
What Tunecore does
Though the company has branched out to offer more services in recent years, TuneCore’s main jam is digital music distribution.
Signing up and distributing through TuneCore’s platform gives you access to over 150 online music retailers from around the globe, from major industry power brokers like Spotify and Apple Music to ones you’ve most likely never heard of.
In addition to conventional digital distribution services, TuneCore also offers a set of tools aimed at benefiting the modern musician like bespoke mastering, cover song licensing, social media promotion, a platform to garner honest fan feedback, and more.
Come for the distribution, and stay for all the extra benefits, TuneCore says. Later on in this review, we’ll detail each of TuneCore’s non-distribution services.
TuneCore’s reputation in the music industry
If the few bad reviews on Trust Pilot are to be believed, TuneCore is an evil company out to exploit innocent musicians trying to make an honest buck. But zoom out a bit and you’ll quickly see that the 30 negative reviews posted there account for 0.00012% of TuneCore’s 250,000 users. Similar to how most people wouldn’t go out of their way to publicly praise or call out their local dry cleaners, most of TuneCore’s massive customer base doesn’t have many good or bad things to say about the digital music distributor, which means it’s safe to assume that most musicians feel just fine about the company. After all, the overall rating of Tunecore on Trust Pilot is currently at 4.1 stars out of 5 with more than 550 reviews!
TuneCore went through a big rough patch in 2013 and got a lot of bad press for its artists not being able to earn enough through the platform to justify its yearly fee structure. At the time, the criticism was well founded since paid streaming subscriptions accounted for just 9.1% of revenue for the American music industry that year. Today, it’s a completely different story. That number exploded to 47.3% in 2018, and shows no signs of slowing. What does this mean? Well, for one it shows how much digital music streaming has grown in a short period of time, but also that TuneCore’s business model works much better now for artists than it used to.
TuneCore is one of the largest digital distributors in the music industry, and it’s mainly fueled by groups of musicians who largely view the company as a safe, straightforward choice. However, TuneCore and rivals like CD Baby and DistroKid are increasingly being seen as inflexible and unwilling to innovate within the industry. New music companies that either exclusively offer distribution or provide it alongside their other services are threatening TuneCore’s conventional business model. Many of these companies offer far better prices than TuneCore, and some even offer unlimited distribution for free.
However, why TuneCore has managed to stave off its rivals (for now) is because these companies are new and have unproven business models. Stem Music’s decision to drop most of its musicians in 2019 is an example of what can happen an unproven distributor fails in a way that hurts its users. TuneCore is pretty boring, truth be told, be that’s not a bad quality to have as a music distributor.
To help you decide whether TuneCore is right for you, we’re going to zoom in on everything there is to know about this music distributor.
TuneCore’s pricing structure
TuneCore’s pricing structure works well for some musicians, but not for others. By far, the biggest benefit you’ll find with TuneCore’s prices is that the company doesn’t force you into a royalty splitting agreement. Many of TuneCore’s competitors require users to give up anywhere from 8 to 50% of their download and streaming revenues. This means that if your music performs well, you’ll be forced to give up a percentage of your hard-earned money. For example, if you’ve agreed to a 10% royalty split, that means you’ll have to part ways with $10,000 if you’ve earned $100,000 in revenue.
TuneCore skips royalty sharing agreements and charges modest upfront fees instead. However, their yearly $50 album renewal fee isn’t so modest. Between that pesky album renewal fee and their other upfront costs, many musicians are better off looking for a distributor that charges less, even if they have to split their royalties.
This comes down to math and specifically how much money most musicians earn from streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. There’s no hard data on this, but it’s safe to assume most musicians aren’t earning $100,000 from streaming revenues over the course of a year. Heck, most probably don’t earn anywhere near $10,000 or even $1,000 for that matter.
This is all to say that if you’re an unestablished musician, TuneCore’s upfront and yearly renewal fees might not be worth it compared to working with a more affordable distributor that requires royalty splitting. In other words, if you’re not making much money anyway, splitting royalties isn’t such a bad bet.
Here’s a rundown of TuneCore’s pricing structure:
- Album: $29.99 the first year and $49.99 each following year
- Single: $9.99 per year
- Ringtone: $19.99 per year
The company also offers modest discounts for musicians who release lots of music through its “Credits” system. For example, purchasing 20 credits beforehand to release albums later down the road will earn you a 14% discount. Most musicians will never use this feature, but it’s a good deal for those who plan on putting out many albums over the course of their careers.
Compared its growing number of sleek, tech-driven competitors, TuneCore’s platform is clunky, outdated, and difficult to use. Specifically, uploading singles and albums is needlessly frustrating and time-consuming. There’s a clear sense working with TuneCore that because they’re so big and influential, things like streamlining the upload process for artists isn’t a priority. This is a minor convenience––unless you’re an artist that distributes a lot of music, that is.
The “Album Checklist” page, which requires you to add details to your release step-by-step, is simple enough, until you reach the song upload section. The platform needs things to be absolutely perfect before songs can be uploaded, but it won’t come right out and tell you that. Instead, you’ll see vague error messages and will have to start the process over and over again until the system thinks you’ve got it right. There’s also no option to drag and drop multiple songs at once, which means uploading an album can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.
TuneCore’s platform features options for which stores you can send your music to as well as an optional pre-order feature that allows fans to purchase your music early. However, in an age where downloads are dwindling fast, most musicians won’t need or want to fork over the extra $15-$25 for this feature.
TuneCore prides itself on its ability to distribute music to “most popular digital stores around the world.” Spotify, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play––all these stores and more are serviced through TuneCore. At more than 150 stores serviced with more and more added each year, TuneCore’s store reach isn’t the largest in the industry (some distributors work with 600 stores), but they’re committed to focusing on the online platforms that will give today’s musicians the most benefit from being represented on.
The truth is that even 150 stores is a bit excessive since most platforms are small, niche, and unlikely to give most artists the momentum they’d find through making music available on Spotify or Apple Music. When it comes to stores serviced, TuneCore’s reach isn’t massive because it doesn’t need to be.
As evidenced by their new relationship with the massive Chinese media company Tencent, TuneCore is good at keeping up with the music industry landscape as far as adding new stores to its platform. A helpful tool the company offers is its “Store Automator” option, which automatically sends each release to the new stores it adds to the platform for $10 per-release. This can also be done manually and a la carte, but it ends up more expensive and time-consuming.
TuneCore can get your music on all the important digital music platforms, but that doesn’t make the company special. DistroKid, CD Baby, and many others can do the same thing. However, the company shines in its ability to predict and meet the needs of artists. As of late 2019, TuneCore is one of the first major international distributors to break into the Chinese music market through Tencent.
Customer service and support
Reach out to TuneCore’s customer service team, and you’ll realize how massive of a company you’re dealing with. The company works with more than 250,000 artists, but only employs 215 people. Out of that 215 number, it’s hard to say how many are customer service representatives. This means that communicating with a human being about an issue with the platform can take weeks to achieve, so good luck if you’ve got an urgent problem that needs addressing. The company bets on the vast majority of its users to be able to sail through the uploading and distribution process without issues, because its skeleton staff isn’t able to handle the workflow when that’s not the case. If you’re one of the unlucky ducks that have problems working with TuneCore, the help you’ll receive will probably be fine, but not in any way timely.
When it comes to changing details about a release after its left the barn, TuneCore essentially says they’ll attempt to make changes, but recommends taking the music down and starting all over again. This is undeniably frustrating, but there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to post-release edits, and every distribution company approaches it differently. When you release music through TuneCore or any of its competitors, you’re paying for services that distribute your work to stores; not to make edits after the fact. The problem with post-release edits comes down to the fact that each music platform has different policies in place and that some will make changes on your behalf but not others. Imagine trying to communicate with over 150 stores about a small change a single artist wants to make to song or album. Now, think about doing that for 250,000 artists with a small staff. You get the point.
When working with TuneCore, be sure to use as much caution as possible during song titling and uploading process because if there are mistakes, you’ll most likely have to start over, and it could be weeks before someone steps in to help.
At an average of taking one business day to review a release, TuneCore is a fast as they come for digital distributors. However, each store they service runs on a completely different timeline. Some distributors claim to have the ability to get music posted on selected platforms within a day’s time, but most major companies require at least a couple of weeks before music makes its way to audiences online.
Artists should plan for this whether they choose to distribute with TuneCore or any of its rivals, as hoping to get music posted up on Spotify or Apple Music instantly isn’t realistic or possible in most cases. TuneCore does just fine in terms of the speed it processes music, but it’s still at the whim of the diverse rules and processes of the over 150 stores it services.
Reports and analytics
Lots of companies catch plenty of flack for not providing thorough data and analytic information about the music it distributes, but TuneCore does pretty well in this regard. The company offers multiple ways of analyzing streams, downloads, money earned, and trends when it comes to how songs are performing over various streaming platforms. When sales are posted (“sales” covers everything from individual streams to album and single downloads), a dollar amount posted on the platform’s dashboard changes. Clicking on this section of the platform leads to a comprehensive Balance History page that essentially reflects the money that flows in and out of your TuneCore accounts. This part of the platform can be a bit glitchy, but it gives you loads of information about which of your songs are performing well, how much they’re being listened to, and even what countries around the world they’re being listened to the most.
TuneCore allows you to pay for its services straight from the funds you’ve accrued through their account, which is a handy feature. The idea here is that artists can rack up enough streams and downloads to sustain distribution services without having to dip into their bank accounts, but that doesn’t happen for everyone. TuneCore gets your stuff out to the world. Whether people listen to it or not depends on many factors outside of their control.
TuneCore offers daily, weekly, and monthly trend reports which are helpful for getting a broad perspective on how audiences are interacting with your music. However, the platform isn’t great at compiling information from different companies and presenting it in a cohesive and actionable way. However, some of TuneCore’s largest competitors put very little attention into the analytical side of music distribution, so this is an area where the company shines.
In 2019, TuneCore announced its partnership with Apple Music and rolled out a feature in which its artists could view detailed analytical information about how their music performs on that platform. But while access to Apple Music’s artist platform straight from TuneCore’s is a nice touch, any artist who distributes music to them can also use it, so it’s not that big of an asset. The real benefit TuneCore claims to deliver here is a faster path towards artist verification than non-TuneCore users currently get.
As we’ll soon see, TuneCore does a whole lot more than just digital distribution, but let’s break down this company’s core service.
Stores serviced: 4/5
Platform and ease of use: 2/5
Reports and analytics: 4/5
Added services and benefits
TuneCore was one of the world’s first major digital distributors when it launched in 2005. Since then, music has undergone a sweeping transformation, and the number of digital music distributors has exploded. Generally, what sets each apart is the stuff they offer in addition to their distribution services.
TuneCore claims to offer a lot to its artists, but just like how linking up with Apple Music isn’t all that great of a benefit when you look into it, many of its added services and benefits won’t be game changers for artists.
To help you get a better idea of what TuneCore offers in addition to music distribution, let’s take a look at each of their added services:
Tunecore Publishing: Yay or Nay?
According to TuneCore’s Publishing Administration, “The songs you wrote might be earning money you don’t even know about. We can find and collect it for you.” This section of TuneCore’s added services offers the chance to snatch up royalties that PROs like ASCAP and BMI can’t collect, like mechanicals and direct licensing. It also claims to be able to link artists up with lucrative sync opportunities with major television shows, movies, commercials, and podcasts. Everyone from Pizza Hut to ESPN has licensed or is currently licensing music content created by TuneCore’s represented artists.
TuneCore’s publishing wing uses Sentric’s Rights App Technology to track when and where its artists are being played around the world and to collect and distribute their royalties accordingly. It claims to have memberships with collections rights organizations around the world, which gives it an international reach and strong music tracking capabilities.
TuneCore lets artists retain 100% of their copyrights, but their publishing services are not free. With a one-time $75 setup fee, artists can get publishing representation for as many songs as they like. TuneCore takes a 15% commission on royalties, and a 20% commission on sync placements. But is it worth it?
Unfortunately, this is where things get a bit hazy. For example, a 20% commission fee might sound steep, but it depends on factors TuneCore isn’t clear about. How vigorously do they pitch their artists for licensing opportunities? When an artist signs up for their publishing services, are they forced to sign an exclusive contract? That information probably exists somewhere, but it’s not easy to find. Whether signing up for TuneCore’s publishing services is worth it for you or not depends on your unique career situation and how deep you’re willing to delve into the details.
From CD duplication to social media promotion, TuneCore has a lot to offer artists who distribute music through their platform.
However, each of the “Artist Services” TuneCore offers is completely different, and some are nothing more than obviously sponsored partnerships that seem to benefit the company more than its artists. To help you decide if any are worth your time, we’ll give you a thorough rundown of each one.
YouTube Sound Recording Revenue Collection
This service submits an artist’s songs to YouTube and tracks when they’re being played through the videos posted on its platform. For a startup fee of $10, TuneCore works with YouTube to seek out where your music exists on the platform and pays you the royalties that you’re owed. In addition to the startup fee, TuneCore also takes a 20% cut, which many artists will find hard to stomach.
Is it a good deal? YouTube is notorious for paying artists the lowest amount out of any other major streaming platform, so it depends on how much traction your music is getting there. Companies like ASCAP provide information for how musicians can collect royalties on their own, but it’s a time-consuming process. Others provide the same service but for a bigger royalty split. For example, CD Baby takes 30%, but doesn’t charge a startup fee.
This service is geared towards artists who rely on social media platforms to promote their music. In addition to its free 30-day limited Starter tier, TuneCore offers a Pro level of social media promotional services for either $7.99 a month or $85.99 a year with a 10% discount. The services include downloadable social media analytical reports, scheduled posting over multiple platforms, and an app where artists can access reports and schedule posts through their smartphones.
The idea here is that TuneCore’s technology can help artists save time and better understand their audience, but forking over hard-earned cash for this benefit doesn’t seem to be worth it, according to many artists who’ve posted reviews of it online. There are plenty of other cheaper methods for streamlining and scheduling social media posts, and fancy analytical reports can’t change the fact that organic exposure on the major social media platforms is no longer free.
Public Band Page
This is a wing of TuneCore’s social media promotional services. Through a template posted on its platform, TuneCore lets you build your own public music page that you can then share with music stores, venues, social media platforms, and press outlets. It’s a nice touch, but if you already have a website, this benefit is essentially useless.
However, for unestablished musicians sharing music for the first time who don’t have websites, it’s a great way to share an artist’s music and identity for the first time.
Personalized and Instant Mastering
TuneCore has partnered up with AfterMaster Audio Labs to provide its users with affordable mastering options. Offering exclusive rates for TuneCore users, $9.99 per track gives you access to “Instant Mastering” services, which are comparable to LANDR’s tech-driven mastering services. For $75 per-track, the “Personalized” tier offers mastering services from seasoned engineers.
Compared to LANDR, who offers free unlimited distribution through its platform, the Instant tier isn’t all that great of a deal, unless you prefer AfterMaster’s tech to theirs. As for the Personalized tier, you’ll find both good and bad reviews online, so it’s best to check out some of the studio’s work and decide for yourself.
TuneCore Fan Reviews
If you’re just dying to know what fans think about your music, TuneCore has the service for you.
In partnership with the company Soundout, TuneCore offers three tiers of service that include listener reviews and data reports associated with your music. At the “Starter” level, $15 per-song will get you 40 reviews and 4 “data points” with the number of reviews and analytical offerings increasing with each tier.
Most serious songwriters won’t find this service to be worth it. Similar to why many musicians loathe the blog submission service Submithub, feedback tends to not be detailed or genuine when a listener is financially motivated to review as much music as possible.
Honest and thorough feedback can help songwriters, but they’re not likely to get that with this superfluous service.
Sponsorships and special deals
TuneCore partners with companies like Feature.FM, RadioAirplay.com, Bandzoogle, and Qrates. From artist websites to vinyl duplication, each company offers a different discounted service to TuneCore users. Discounts are modest, ranging from 5% off vinyl duplication to 15% off a Bandzoogle website. There’s nothing massively helpful for artists here, but if you’re unestablished and are looking to promote something like your first record, the discounted services offered through TuneCore will be a nice bonus if you’re already planning on getting your own website or streamlining promotion efforts through a service like Feature.FM. But with the TuneCore discounts being so small, it’s hard to consider them valuable added benefits within their Artist Services.
The RadioAirplay.com service guarantees internet radioplay to TuneCore’s users who sign up with the service. It starts with a free limited trial and then turns into something that urges you to sign up for a paid monthly subscription. How much that subscription costs is based on a complex system of credits. Between the complicated pay structure and the fact that internet radio that plays literally any artist that distributes music must be bad, this is a service most serious artists will never use.
Feature.FM is another story. They create automated marketing tools that allow artists to streamline promotion efforts and analyze data over various streaming platforms. And the 5% discount Qrates offers to TuneCore users is a nice little perk if you were already planning on pressing your album on vinyl. All in all, there’s nothing to write home about here, but there’s some value to be found with TuneCore’s sponsored partners.
You might think CDs are a thing of the past, but they’re very much still a big part of how artists promote work their work to press and radio outlets, and they still sound leagues better than MP3s do. TuneCore has its own CD duplication services with prices comparable to other budget providers.
The deal they offer subscribers is $50 off services over $500, which isn’t too shabby. There are probably better deals out there to be found, but if you’re looking to streamline your release efforts, TuneCore isn’t a bad way to go for CD duplication.
Cover Song Licensing
Cover songs are becoming big business for artists looking to gain new fans and widen their wallets at the same time. TuneCore is just one of a growing number of distributors jumping into the cover licensing business.
When an artist sets out to cover a song, the distribution and royalty payout process is completely different than when they release their original music. This aspect of TuneCore’s services aims to clear up confusion about royalties and ownership and pay the artist’s being covered and those doing the covering their fair share.
The company offers two tiers of licensing: Standard and Limited. Limited licenses are $15 and are intended for artists who believe they’ll sell less than 500 downloads or “units.” Standard licenses are $59, and are intended for those who think they’ll sell more. The biggest difference between the two licenses is that the Standard option covers artists indefinitely, and the Limited option doesn’t.
Admittedly, the world of music royalties and song licensing is massively complicated, but TuneCore’s page on the subject doesn’t do a great job of explaining why the service is needed and why or if what they offer is better than their competitors.
Even so, if you’re an artist working with TuneCore, their Cover Song Licensing services are worth exploring.
In addition to TuneCore’s services that collect sound revenues from YouTube, the company also gives artists the chance to collect royalties when their music gets played on both Facebook and Instagram (Instagram is owned by Facebook). In today’s social media-centric culture, this feature is becoming less of an added bonus and more of a necessity for artists searching for revenue sources anywhere they can find them. Facebook has made massive changes in the past five years that have made it increasingly harder for musicians to reach their online audiences for free, but what audiences upload and how they interact with music through the platform is a totally different story.
Despite all of social media’s troubles, Facebook and Instagram still have just under 3.5 billion users. That’s just under half of the world’s population. Video and music content is a massive driver of growth on social media, and services like TuneCore’s aim to seek out when an artist’s music is being used and to pay them accordingly. Here’s how it works. Signing up through TuneCore’s Facebook Monetization program gives Facebook and Instagram’s users access to use your music in the original content they post through those platforms. Fans can access your work through a massive audio library. There’s even a lyric verification program that allows users to post your lyrics on their Instagram and Facebook content.
To use the service, TuneCore users pay nothing upfront, but give up 20% of their royalties. How good of a deal is it? CD Baby charges more at 30%, and DistroKid claims to offer it for “free,” though that claim seems a little suspect––the digital distributor is often criticized for springing “surprise” fees on its users. 20% is a high price to pay to gain access to Facebook’s audio library, but TuneCore is betting you won’t have the time or resources to do it without their help.
Like many music industry companies that cater to musicians, TuneCore offers free blogs and comprehensive “survival guides” on its website. There’s nothing earth-shattering here that will change your mind about TuneCore if you’ve already made your mind up about it, but it’s still a nice benefit, especially for young musicians looking to find their footing and get the most out of their efforts. TuneCore’s blog covers everything from DIY touring to mixing and production help, and their survival guides delve deeply into broader topics like how musicians can navigate the healthcare system, music publishing, and copyright law.
Most major digital distributors offer similar expert content sourced from seasoned music industry players, but new startups with free or massively discounted services don’t. It’s part of a broad strategy on behalf of TuneCore to let users know that they might not be free or flashy, but they know exactly what they’re doing, and they’ve sourced advice from experts to prove it.
TuneCore isn’t the flashy choice when it comes to music distributors, but it gets things done. It’s safe to classify business models of the new cast of free or inexpensive digital distributors as experimental, which leaves the artists who work with them at risk for having their music taken down at a moment’s notice.
TuneCore has its issues––it’s somewhat pricey, has glacially slow customer service, and doesn’t offer the kind of solid benefits that many of its competitors do––, but the company is a reliable distributor that doesn’t force artists into a broad royalty sharing agreement.
At the end of the day, that’s the main factor that sets it apart from its rivals and makes it a company worth working with for artists who generate lots of streams.
Artists who don’t rack up many streams have a tougher choice on their hands and might be better off working with a company that offers lower upfront prices with a royalty splitting agreement––if you’re not making much anyway, you have nothing to lose.
At the end of the day, TuneCore is like a long-term romantic partner. The days when it was new and sexy are long behind us, but it still gets things done.