Response to Tunecore CEO Jeff Price’s Grooveshark Diatribe: Music Should Be Free, Sorry About Your Business Model

This comment was posted to a blog post by Tunecore CEO Jeff Price which launches both personal and professional attacks on Grooveshark. Grooveshark’s CEO Sam Tarantino quickly shot back with 6 reason by music should be free, all six of which I agree with. Tunecore makes its money charing a flat $50 fee to musicians in exchange for digital distribution (and 100% of royalties, minus the sizeable chunk the distributor removes). Grooveshark is an ad-supported global jukebox. Unfortunately, they have become a scapegoat for the low compensation musicians are receiving from digital music, when really this is a problem endemic in the industry.

I was so incensed by Price’s hollow and mean-spirited diatribe I had to respond — you might want to read the original post to put the following in context:

To say that Tunecore “does not earn its money off the sale of the music” is preposterous and misleading. Who is drinking whose own Kool-Aid here? You may charge a flat rate, but without digital music sales (ie if music were freely distributed as it should be), you would not be able to charge a fee.

This is a classic case of “the dinosaur’s tail doesn’t know its brain is dead yet.”

As a musician, I always appreciated the service Tunecore provided as a cost-effective way for musicians to “play the game”. But it’s alienating diatribes like yours that bring me closer to the conviction that a world of free music is the inevitable and far better solution.

How about you stop whining and use some of those profits to fight for a better deal from iTunes etc. for artists?

The current system does not compensate us fairly, from the top (Eminem) to the bottom (most musicians). You do nothing but make it easier for us to be compensated unfairly.

Yes, of course musicians want to be paid for use of their music. That’s called licensing. Listening to music via the global jukebox is a different and fair use.

You’re completely missing the point. Those of us who have already accepted that music will and must be free don’t care if Grooveshark is banking off our streams. They provide an incredible platform to distribute our music! What is the alternative, $0.005 per play? Musicians simply don’t feel the way you characterize them in your post, and I for one resent it.

I’m sorry you’re not in the 360 licensing or concert businesses. I don’t think Tunecore has much of a future with the rotten, condescending attitude you’re displaying. I don’t hear an ounce of fighting for musicians in your argument — how about using some profits to lobby the digital distribution cartel for a much-deserved greater royalty for artists? Or do you just spew ad hominem attacks and vitriol at your competition in hopes that mean words will make the problems with your business model go away? I certainly won’t be returning as a customer.

Anonymous Announces Disruptive “Anontune” Music Platform, Sounds a Lot Like Tomahawk

Anonymous announced today (in another silly voice-garbled video with the typical grammatical errors) the shady but righteous group has built a prototype of the “Anontune” digital music service. It’s based a simple idea: there is a ton of freely streaming music on the internet spread out across YouTube, Soundcloud, Grooveshark, Bandcamp, and hundreds of other sites. Anontunes seeks to aggregate all of these sources into a single interface that can search and locate these streaming files with the ease and elegance of iTunes.

The interesting thing is, such a service has existed for months, and it’s called Tomahawk. Just a couple months ago, Wired magazine called it the “Most Important Music App Nobody’s Talking About“.

Tomahawk is an open-source hacker project, just like Anontunes. It pulls streaming music from multiple sources. And it manages to do all this in a slick iTunes-esque software client that features social integration. The code and API are well-documented and there are already apps being built on the platform.

The Anontune white paper brings up a number of important ethical points concerning why digital music should be freely accessible. I’m excited to see Anonymous join the fray — the are fighting the good fight as Davids against the Goliath-run corporate oligarchy. And to give them credit — Anontunes has a pretty cool research agenda in addition to its media consolidation goals. The idea of using a ‘global jukebox’ to data mine peoples listening and discovery habits could drive digital music consumption through the roof. But the streaming music aggregator — I’ve heard it before, through my speakers, running Tomahawk.

Tomahawk has the polish of Limewire in its prime — well put-together but still not child’s play. Anontunes is so rough around the edges I don’t think anyone but other hackers are gonna bother. There’s another expected and familiar Limewire-esque problem: the catalog is polarized between widely available popular music and obscure stuff you’ve never heard of. And there are bugs aplenty, particularly because the technologies they’re aggregating content from are always changing.

The RIAA may have their claws deep enough in digital music to control the global jukebox through Spotify and other officially licensed services, but give Tomahawk and Anontune a few years and you’ll once again be hearing about grandmas having to settle with the major label music cartel for $25,000 because their grandson listened to an American Idol single on her computer.

CASH Music’s 360° Music Marketing Platform is an Open Source Revelation

CASH Music's admin abilities look impressive.

I’ll be the first to admit it, I have been out of the digital music scene for a while. Well, I’m officially back and doing tons of market research, getting ready for next week’s Rethink Music conference in Boston. I’ve discovered a slew of new organizations I can’t wait to learn more about, and a plethora of services and products for musicians I can’t wait to test drive.

Number one on my hit list right now is CASH Music. As profiled in a recent New York Times article, Maggie Vail and Jessie von Doom are in the process of creating what I believe could be a watershed product for independent musicians.

For a long time I’ve been baffled at the lack of decent WordPress templates for bands. That seems like the most reasonable solution for my band — an open-source WordPress theme with a nice admin panel that allows a high level of customization. There are plenty of themes to be bent to the needs of a musician, but none expressly designed for their unique needs.

The team at CASH Music has me losing a lot less sleep these days, having figured, “hey, instead of a theme, let’s just build a WordPress for bands from the ground up. Oh yeah, let’s make it free and open source too.”

Geeks with a bit of web dev knowhow can use the self-installer to get up and running and have a robust set of band-specific web tools at one’s disposal. The admin manages content, CRM, mailing lists, eCommerce and events… so CASH Music gets 10.0 on nailing all the key ingredients of an amazing platform there. These elements elegantly come together as the building blocks of custom web tools that can be implemented by site designers.

This is the most brilliant thing about CASH Music: Not only is it open-source, but the company is nonprofit. When I read this, my head split open and rainbows enthusiastically sprung out. The team had an incredibly successful Kickstarter funding drive that ended in March (they raised over $60,000 — double their goal). These funds will go toward their work on an easy-peazy hosted version for the masses, wisely following the model of

Keep in mind this is all open source! That means, as a musician, you are seeing 100% of the revenue (well, maybe more like 97% after transactional fees, but still). Musicians the world over are truly fortunate that a talented group of people have taken up the cause to address the problem of lower revenues for artists amidst much more widespread consumption.

I can’t wait to have some time to try out my own install — I’ve been using Bandcamp for our band’s website now for about a year. Perfectly utilitarian, but I do miss having our own unique look and feel that features original content. I certainly couldn’t be more impressed with their combination of ethics and strategic thinking, so it’s time to kick the software tires. Stay tuned for part two.

Albums as Tiered Merchandise Packages Could Become the Norm for Physical Releases

There is a simple principle at work behind the thousands of musicians successfully crowdfunding their own album releases on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo each year. Different bands have different value to different listeners. This has always been true, but the physical media of the old music industry forced us into a relatively one-size-fits-all album format. In retrospect, the standard of twelve or so songs making an album was just an economic and technological compromise.

I believe physical media is in the early throes of a new renaissance in the music industry. With listeners becoming more and more accepting of music as a utility one is billed for monthly, there is a developing thirst for the tangible. But we have to expand our definition of “physical media” beyond mere sonic product, or music-bearing media. Gone are the cheap discs, cassettes and other wastes of space, and in their place are artfully crafted original books, movies, artwork, apparel and all manner of novelty to compliment and even enhance the music.

As is the norm with modern-day video game releases, bands are now releasing albums in tiered collectors’ editions. The upper-tier packages usually feature vinyl and some sort of premium perk, for example Silversun Pickups’ sold-out “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” with a hardcover book to go along with their new album Neck of the Woods. It’s nothing entirely new, pioneering bands have been doing this for a long time. But I do believe it could become de facto standard in independent releases for a good deal of time to come, particularly in independent music.

Madonna Sets Record for Largest Second-Week Drop in Album Sales

Fail is heavy in the air for Madonna, who saw sales of her new album MDNA nosedive 88% to a measly 46,000, setting a record for biggest second-week drop in chart history.

This from arguably one of the top ten names in the music industry, signed to an obscene $120 million, 10-year 360 deal with LiveNation, with one of the largest promotional budgets in the business. Her marketing plan started with a Super Bowl half time performance — an album release doesn’t get a much bigger springboard than that.

No matter what IPFI propaganda will tell you, the CD is the end of the road for physical music media. For the majority of music fans, there is far more value in having access to the digital copy. This is clear as crystal in the numbers: Physical sales fall year-over-year while digital sales are on the uptick. Keep in mind Madonna’s miserable numbers included these digital downloads.

The new trend in physical music media sales can be found in Madonna’s first-week album sales (359,000), when the music industry temporarily convinced themselves that the slo-mo flash crash of the CD media format had hit a plateau. The secret behind the trophy showing was bundling — in this case, the bundling of a free CD or album download with any concert ticket purchase. That’s right — if you wanted to take your friend to the Madonna show, well, you both bought the album too. This gross inflation of actual sales (180,000 albums were bundled with tickets) makes the official SoundScan numbers pathetically hollow.

Good thing LiveNation has a 360 deal — they’re going to need that licensing revenue.