TuneCore: Digital Distribution for the 21st Century (or The Age of the Physical CD is Over)

(NOTE: If you do not have time to read this post, much less produce and distribute a music CD, click above. Otherwise, read on!)

I remember the first time I heard White Zombie’s “La Sexorcisto” album at a buddy’s house one night in the mid-90s. I set down my beer and leaned forward in my chair thinking, “Yes. YES! This the what metal music is supposed to sound like. This is what I have been seeking all this time…” Until then I had enjoyed metal music, but always felt something was missing. Zombie’s work, for me, realized the Platonic Ideal of what I thought metal music was supposed to sound like, notwithstanding it’s grammatically incorrect title (though I am sure there is a reason for that!).

Epiphanies like that come along rarely, but I had another one recently.

For some time I have been uneasy with the physical CD album for distributing my music. It is so 20th century! You can’t play a CD on your iPOD, and who has the time to rip CDs to MP3s anymore?

In my experience with the many bands I have played with in the past, producing a CD is costly, time consuming, and more often than not the end product is VERY DIFFICULT TO SELL, unless you are on the radio. In 2007, I recorded and produced the album CACTUS JOE’S INSPIRADO using CD BABY as my online sales vendor. At the time, I was fairly pleased with what CD BABY had to offer, plus they gave you a free subscription to SONICBIDS.COM as part of registering an album with them.

You could do digital downloads via CD BABY back then, but only the FULL ALBUM (every song) for one price (which you set), and they required you to make physical CDs available for those who wanted to buy them. And that is where I always felt uneasy. It was such a pain in my arse to make CDs. I could either do small runs at places like MIXONIC or print the CDs and inserts myself at home (cheaper, but way more time consuming). There had to be something simpler and easier than making physical CDs to sell my music.

Since then CD BABY has transformed A LOT and now allows single song downloads, which is cool, especially for an album like INSPIRADO which has a wide variety of musical genres on it (“a little bit of a lot, but not much of anything…”). They have begun to recognize the digital age and the trend toward non-physical music downloads by allowing artists to sell only downloads, but they still emphasize ALBUM sales and orient their marketing at that (it is the same price to release a single as it is a full album, though CD BABY‘s web site suggests this is changing…). Plus, CD BABY takes a cut of all sales, especially the physical CD sales (it used to be $4, but that may have changed).

Anyway, sales of the physical INSPIRADO album have been decent at live shows, but online sales are divided about 50/50 between DOWNLOADS and CD SALES. To encourage downloads (and avoid making any more physical CDs, which I despise) I have had to mark up the physical CD price a lot relative to the album downloads.

I mean, let’s face it, we live in a society of “instant gratification.” The kids today don’t have the time or patience to wait for a CD to arrive in the mail. They want the music downloaded to their iPods in seconds…and I am totally with them on that!

I want that too, and a savvy musician recognizes what his/her audience wants and GIVES IT TO THEM. That is how you succeed…by giving the people what they want!

So, recently, one of my bands, GUPPY EFFECT, wanted to release an indie rock single “Becca” via digital download ONLY. Just a killer song, not a whole album (GUPPY EFFECT has high musical standards and won’t charge money for anything that isn’t high quality…you can download their FREE SONGS HERE: Guppy Effect Jukebox).

They wanted “Becca” available on iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Napster, and all the biggies. So I did some research on the best way to get music into the online music stores for downloading. I found TUNECORE.COM.

Using TUNECORE.COM, GUPPY EFFECT was able to upload and distribute their song to all the major online music stores within MINUTES, and it cost very little.

“Yes. YES! This the what 21st century music distribution and sales is supposed to be like. This is what I have been seeking all this time…”

The total cost was $9.99 (annual fee) and the song was on AMAZON.COM within 24 hours, selling for $0.89 cents per download. It takes a little longer to get onto the other online stores, but you choose where you want it to go and it will be there within 2 to 4 weeks, all for $9.99. It costs between $22 and $35 to release a full album this way, depending on the number of songs.

Unlike CD BABY, TUNECORE.COM does not take any cut of sales, everything is up front. Check out TUNECORE.COM and see if it is for you. Their WEB SITE is self-explanatory.

For a fraction of the cost of making a physical music CD, TUNECORE.COM digitally distributes your singles or albums to all the major online music stores, including iTunes, AMAZON.COM, Rhapsody, Napster, and lots of others. In addition to never taking any of your sales $, TUNECORE.COM gives you a UPC bar code at no extra charge so you can track sales via SOUNDSCAN.

If you have a die hard fan who simply MUST have a physical CD to put under their pillow at night, TUNECORE.COM is directly affiliated with Amazon on Demand, which can manufacture physical CDs as they are “demanded” by consumers.

Of course, the ONLINE RETAILERS all take a % cut of each download sale, because that is how they stay in business. However, TUNECORE.COM pays you, the musician/band, 100% of what they receive from the digital music stores. They take their flat fee up front in exchange for quickly (and without hassles) getting your music out to all the stores YOU SELECT. And that’s another thing…you choose what stores to sell through. If you like AMAZON.COM (fair), but not iTunes (greedy), you don’t have to sell through iTunes.


I have done a lot of research on the music industry as part of my business in music production and promotion. The days of the physical CD album are rapidly ending. Digital downloading is the wave of the future. The record industry clings to the physical CD for dear life, but the reason they are losing so much money right now is because they have not yet embraced DIGITAL DOWNLOADING as the next generation in music consumption by the public. Give the people what they want! Don’t cling to outdated technologies just because the big record companies still do.

TUNECORE.COM puts indie musicians in control of their music sales like never before. The music industry has become the pink elephant in the room that is basically in everyone’s way. We independent musicians and our music fans no longer need or want them.

“The kids” are downloading and file sharing, and that’s the future of this business. It’s a fact, and while a handful of people still buy CDs, the trend is toward downloading via iTunes, AMAZON.COM etc.

Nowadays, if you can market yourself on the Internet, you no longer need to invest time and money in making an outdated physical commercial CD. You can do everything digitally and spend more of your time creating music and marketing it.

I will never again make a commercial physical CD for sale. I might make a vinyl record though.

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About Cactus Joe

Cactus Joe is a songwriter, producer, performing musician, and free agent in Madison, WI. http://www.cactusjoeproductions.com

Posted on October 20, 2009, in Essentials. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. You get 100% of the money that your music earns from digital distribution. Finn Music

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  2. Hey Joe, love the songs, great music. Personally, in my honest opinion…I think your thesis is 7 years late. This trend has been an extremely popular (and profitable) trend since 2002. I don’t think you’ve stumbled onto something everyone didn’t already know. I love your blogs and your writing, I just think this one was a tad late. Their are much newer trends coming to fruition this very moment!

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    • Indeed. I didn’t mean to imply it was anything new, just the discovery of a streamlined (and inexpensive) medium to get the job done right. But I disagree that everyone knows this. I still see my fellow musicians stuck on the idea of making a CD to sell. It’s a tired concept, very outdated. I believe they simply haven’t educated themselves on their marketplace and I was just trying to make it easier for these folks to think a new way. But the record industry really has not embraced the downloading trend very well. It is like trying to stop a tanker ship on a dime. They are being forced to, but they don’t like it. The people downloading the most are also buying the most, consuming, and the industry is penalizing their best customers as a result. Thanks for the feedback. Keep it coming. Joe.

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  3. I used to go with Tunecore and recently switched to CD Baby. The problem I had with Tuencore was the annual fee. At the sales levels I have, I couldn’t really justify $20 or more every year to keep an album “stocked” digitally. Oh, and CD Baby also allows for digital-only distribution if you want to do that. But even better for the DIY musician such as myself? Bandcamp. Bandcamp is a fantastic little site that lets you put up direct digital distribution, and the proceeds go straight to you (via paypal). They also have a name-your-price model, which is pretty sweet. The service was free until just recently, and they’re going to start taking a small cut of sales soon, but I’d still recommend them.

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  4. Yeah, CD Baby is great too. I will check out BandCamp.

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