I have released a total number of 6 albums and 4 maxi singles as an independent artist and on my official web site. For over a year I was trying to figure out which digital “aggregator” to use in order to reach digital retail stores (like iTunes, AmazonMP3) and the streaming service Spotify.
I looked at aggregators such as TuneCore, CD Baby, Record Union, and Ubetoo. The first thing that struck me was how terrible the terms and conditions are, something all of the mentioned aggregators have in common. Basically you sign up giving them exclusive distribution rights (their intention is for selected digital stores that they have partnered with, but their terms and conditions they take a shotgun approach and just say “all” digital stores and streaming rights.) In the fine print there are also some awful clauses where; sure you can terminate the contract at any time, BUT, we want a whole bunch of clauses to remain in effect even after termination.
After contacting the aggregators by email, as I did, one quickly understands that you have zero negotiation power as a small independent artist. It’s a “take it or leave it” deal. From spending time in various forums I also gather that many independent artists just look at the price tags then scroll down to the bottom and check the “I agree” box so it’s unlikely that the terms will ever change to the benefit of the artist. Finally, I also get the sense that the aggregator never follows up on terms and conditions it’s just one of them things that have to be in place – but it would be sad if it came to a situation where a little artist is squashed as a result of these terms.
For me Ubetoo won in the end. I have e-mails from them saying that “I can continue to have my music on my own web site” (although their terms contradicts this), and “I can still stream my audio on Soundclick.com” (although their terms says otherwise). Still, that’s more than I got from the other aggregators. Ubetoo also had better contract termination terms which was another big bonus.
The terms and conditions probably come after price for many artists – but for me is a priority.
When it comes to pricing I found that Ubetoo was by far the most favorable aggregator for me. For €49 a year I can release an unlimited number albums and singles to all digital stores. Compare this to TuneCore, for example, that charge $49.99 per year for a single album. In contrast, and if we use $ as a common currency, my 6 albums and 4 singles cost me $69.64 through Ubetoo and $339.90 through TuneCore. I can’t remember the details of the other aggregators but it was a similar store so when it comes to pricing, Ubetoo was a no brainer.
Royalties and Payout
I didn’t expect a lot of royalties and a fat payout coming my way as I assume I would be hidden in the masses of music in the digital stores. For me, the presence in the stores as an option for those that cannot access the music through my site was enough not to consider the royalties too much. Since the aggregators charge subscription fees they are quite generous when it comes to the royalties as in many cases the subscription fees are higher than many independent artists would ever make in royalties making it more profitable for the aggregator to be able to raise the flag with “100%” royalties to lure the independent artists their way. And then, of course, 100% royalties is what is left after the digital store takes their commision so it’s not 100% of what the music is sold for anyway. I’m not favoring one over the other here but Ubetoo, the aggregator I decided to go with, takes no commission on the first €500 per month that are made by the artist and after that they take 25% of anything above €500. That’s fine with me as I’m no way near the €500 mark, and in the future I’d be open minded to change aggregator if necessary.
Uploading your music
I tried TuneCore’s interface as I released my single Mind Machine there, for $9.99, as a trial run. Unforunately this is a few years ago so I can’t recall any details and their interface has probably changed by now so I have nothing to compare with. Living in Sweden, where Ubetoo is based, I’ve had a good experience with upload speeds and managing my releases through the Ubetoo interface.
It took about a month for my albums to reach most digital stores with the exception of Spotify where I fear we, the independent artists, are the dregs as it took them over 2 months to make my last two release available. According to Ubetoo my releases were sent to them at the same time as the other digital stores, something I am unable to confirm, but it sounds reasonable to me. I’ll write a separate blog post about Spotify, they deserve one and it’s not because they are good, it’s because they are evil =)
It’s been 5 months, what do I think now?
Well, I think my own web site with Full Access option to all music along with my digital albums is by far the best =) But as far as the digital stores I haven’t had a clue of how it’s been going as Ubetoo doesn’t offer any sort of insight to how the digital stores are performing, until now. I just had a look at my Ubetoo account and I see payouts from Merlin, iTunes, Amazon, Aspiro, and Juno. It’s a very basic log of transactions, no flashy statistics or anything. I have no idea of the other aggregators deliver the information as I don’t use them – but feel free to comment this post if you know.
The payout (royalties) for the 99 single tracks and 3 albums sold over the past 5 months was €30.11 =) It won’t cover my Ubetoo subscription, maybe by the time the subscription is up for renewal it’ll be just enough to cover it. Spotify was not included in the payout but from what I understand I think every play is worth something like $0.0018 so I’m not holding my breath for any miracles there =)