Inexplicable: Jeff Price Pushed Out Of TuneCore, Despite Tremendous Success In Helping Artists

from the not-good-news-for-artists dept

We always talk about how various industries are changing such that gatekeepers are history and enablers are the future. One of the most impressive enablers around in the music industry has been TuneCore, a company built up over the last half-decade or so to provide artists with direct access to various digital distribution channels that were previously closed to them. TuneCore, co-founded and run by Jeff Price, had a singular vision of doing everything to make life better for musicians. They didn’t take a cut of the royalties — you just paid a flat-fee to use their service. They had very clear reporting and payments for artists — basically the exact opposite of how major labels worked. Most recently, they set out to revolutionize the publishing business, and were well on their way towards that goal as well.

And, because of that, TuneCore, in many ways, surprised much of the industry while upending much of the industry. Many of the core functions that artists previously relied on labels for, TuneCore did better, in a more useful way, without asking the artists to hand over all their copyrights and 85% of their revenues. It became such a standard thing that almost every indie musician I spoke to used TuneCore, and many big-name musicians started moving in that direction as well.

The company was founded by Jeff Price, Peter Wells and Gary Burke a little over six years ago, and achieved some impressive things in that time. Jeff, as CEO, was pretty famous for his outspokenness — and we’ve quoted him multiple times. He was certainly quick to point out all of the fallacies of the old RIAA way of doing business, which upset some of those legacy players, but it was clear from the beginning that what Jeff Price wanted most was to help artists. He, unlike so many, recognized the challenges and the opportunities musicians faced, and wanted to help get them past the challenges and reach the point of enjoying the opportunities.

I only met Jeff for the first time a few months ago, and saw him one more time after that, but he was one of those people that never seemed to stop focusing on a singular goal: making things better for artists, and helping them embrace what the internet enables. And from everything I’ve seen and heard, he was amazingly successful in doing so. Multiple artists I’ve talked to have spoken highly of TuneCore and what it enabled them to do. I didn’t always agree with Jeff on everything (though I probably did more often than not), but even when we disagreed, it seemed to be over our interpretations of which way forward would actually be best for the artists themselves.

So I was surprised to find out that Jeff Price (and Peter Wells) have both been pushed out of TuneCore. I’ve spoken to a number of people associated with the company, and all of them are shocked and dismayed that Jeff and Peter are gone from the company. I’ve tried, multiple times, to get the main VC backing the company, Gill Cogan from Opus Capital, to comment on the situation, to no avail. But, many, many people stepped up to speak out strongly on Jeff’s behalf. You can read Jeff’s open letter linked above, in which he talks about all the company accomplished:

Under our tenure, TuneCore took significant market share away from the traditional major labels. As of July, 2012, TuneCore artists represent over 4% of all US gross digital music sales revenue and have sold over 610,000,000 units of music generating over $310,000,000 in gross music sales. More than four songs a second are sold on iTunes somewhere in the world by a TuneCore artist. Through the execution of the vision and the trust of the artist, TuneCore achieved about 40% of the market share of EMI and 25% of the market share of Universal in regards to digital music sales in the United States.

We were also able to attract artists across the spectrum: from emerging artists to the older legends and the new legends. Artists such as Drake, Soulja Boy, Sonic Youth, Nine Inch Nails, Zac Brown Band, Hoodie Allen, Civil Wars, Lecrea, Boyce Avenue, Kelly, Colt Ford, Ed Sheerhan, Alex Day, Aretha Franklin, Jay Z, Girl Talk, Blood On The Dancefloor, Jason Mraz, Nice Peter, Tiesto and hundreds of thousands more used TuneCore to place number one albums and songs on iTunes, Amazon and many other digital stores, breaking the control of the traditional industry while democratizing it.

I spoke to Jeff to get a bit more background. While no one is willing to say why or how Jeff and Peter got pushed out, it seems pretty clear that this was not what Jeff wanted — and not what many people involved with TuneCore wanted. Jeff highlighted how everything he’s done has been about focusing on the artist, and you can tell that he’s worried that the company may no longer be able to do so (though, of course, he doesn’t say that directly):

We started the company with a mission and philosophy to make the world a better place for artists. I believe the success TuneCore has had under our guidance is based on never losing sight of that mission and philosophy. Stay true to the DNA of the company and no matter how the market changes you can adapt with a rock solid foundation. As the Founder and CEO I tried hard to instill my beliefs and passion into every aspect of the company, to never let the employees or board of directors forget the mission, the “why” of TuneCore’s existence. My hope is the philosophies, vision and mission statement that have allowed the company to succeed are so entrenched that it continues on the path created for it. Serve the musician. Thats how you, the artist, the shareholders, the digital music stores and the consumers win.

The challange becomes when a company loses that vision. Neither Peter or I are even remotely in the league of Apple or Steve Jobs, but you look at what happened to Apple when John Sculley came in as CEO. He changed the Apple vision from making “insanely great easy to use products” to one of “making money at any expense”. When Jobs came back and reinstituted his vision Apple soared again. Its the vision that drives the success and revenue, not the other way around. We did everything we could to instill the vision as deeply as we could. We just hope it sticks.

I reached out to Peter, as well, who seems equally baffled by the situation, noting that the company had been doing great, hitting all of its goals (and more):

Astonishing success under the original regime, really–that’s been TuneCore these last few months. We fulfilled our promise to create a Publishing side, with a new office in Burbank, CA, and it represents another revolution for artists, the next step along the path we started along when the company launched. Back in New York, things have been fantastic, up to and including a launch of the new look of the TuneCore home page, which Gary, Jeff and I helped shape and which I think is superb. This real success makes me all the more puzzled at very recent developments

Peter noted that he was saddened about losing his own job, but that his reaction to Jeff being pushed out was on another level altogether:

“Stunned” doesn’t begin to describe it. Okay, so the company asked me to leave–I can accept that, I’m a founder at heart, the company is no longer a startup, perhaps it’s time to move on. But Jeff is the heart and soul of TuneCore, and frankly, its brains. No one knows this space like he does, especially when it comes to publishing. I said earlier that TuneCore was having astonishing success–it is, and that’s due to a lot of hard work from a lot of brilliant people (whom Jeff found and convinced to come on board). It’s also due to Jeff’s vision and leadership. Why on earth would Jeff be asked to leave? Why now, in the face of so many successes, and on the cusp of doing for publishing what he’d already proven he could do for distribution? It makes no sense.

I reached out to some others who were intimately involved with TuneCore from the early days onwards, and they too are somewhat shocked at this turn of events. One of the original advisors to the company, George Howard, who is an executive VP at Wolfgang’s Vault, told me that Jeff was astoundingly good at accomplishing what he set out to do with TuneCore:

Jeff is one of the few people who has genuinely moved the business forward. So many people talk about what the business could/should/might be, but Jeff actually had a vision and brought it to fruition with his founding and running of TuneCore. That’s the key: bringing something to fruition. Jeff actually gets things done – implementing a vision via his role as CEO. In so doing, he, by creating a system that provided access to thousands and thousands of musicians who had – prior to Jeff’s implementation of a vision – been denied access by industry gatekeepers, undeniably changed the music business for the better.

Similarly, Dick Huey, a long-time music business insider, who was an early advisor to TuneCore, seemed equally surprised at the removal of Jeff, and reiterated some of the things he’d been able to accomplish in spite of all the odds:

TuneCore was all Jeff. I remember the dinner where he first ran the idea past me, along with the old company name. I thought the idea sounded radical (it was), I thought there was a fair chance it wouldn’t work (I was wrong), and I knew I wanted to be involved as an advisor (I am). Jeff didn’t doubt the idea from the outset, and since we started talking about this, I’m not sure I’ve met a more tireless leader who is more singularly focused on executing on his vision. I feel pretty strongly that Jeff came onto this concept in a moment in time, just at the outset of artists starting to realize that digital distribution could be for everyone, not just signed artists. And he executed, and built what I consider to be a successful, remarkable, and growing business. I believe there are few individuals who could have delivered on this business idea the way Jeff has done for TuneCore.

Huey also went to great lengths to highlight the many, many things that Jeff accomplished with TuneCore that most others wouldn’t have bothered with, or wouldn’t have even thought to bother with. He detailed how he got Apple to allow TuneCore to be a key entry point to the iTunes store for unsigned (and signed) artists, taking control from the gatekeepers. He talked about establishing better standards for reporting and payment. He talked about all of the many artists that TuneCore helped to be able to make a living.

When I asked Huey if he was comfortable with TuneCore without Jeff at the helm, he didn’t hold back on his concerns:

I’m extremely concerned about the direction of the company without Jeff at the helm, as a shareholder in TuneCore, especially given the lack of information available about why he is no longer there. It should be clear from my responses to your questions that I consider Jeff Price to be the man who started or drove every major initiative at TuneCore of which I’m aware. I’ve heard no announcement of a new CEO, and I’m suspect that Jeff could even be properly replaced, given his unusual and unique combination of outspokenness, deep industry knowledge, wholehearted commitment to the company and to its staff. Jeff made you a believer, and even if you didn’t believe, detractors largely respected his vision and commitment.

I’ve been interested in companies that help enable artists for a long time, and I’ve seen over and over again that these companies almost always succeed on the strength of their leadership — a leadership that is committed to going to incredible (and seemingly impossible) lengths to actually help content creators, rather than feeding an old industry that looked to feed gatekeepers. I was surprised when I started to hear rumors of Jeff’s ouster, and in talking to a bunch of folks, I’ve yet to find anyone who seems to think any of this makes sense.

I’ve spoken to some other people as well and may do some followup on this. In Jeff’s open letter, he notes that he and Peter “look forward to continuing to change the industry on a global scale” and hints at something new coming soon. Peter, too, seemed eager to get started on something new, so I get the feeling this won’t be the last we hear from the two of them, though I do wonder what will become of TuneCore without their leadership.

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Companies: tunecore

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Comments on “Inexplicable: Jeff Price Pushed Out Of TuneCore, Despite Tremendous Success In Helping Artists”

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anonymouse says:

Re: Re: Re:

The day that happens is the day the industry dies, i doubt it would happen though, they are two people that look like they have the same ideals but Kim Dotcom is more in it for the money then Price and that would be a major sticking point. Saying that it would destroy the old way of doing things if they got together to create something.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Correct. Sacking the founders is a common venture capitalist ploy. The founders get replaced by your standard corporate sociopaths, complete with MBAs. The sociopaths then do all the usual toxic stuff to goose up the stock price. Then the VCs sell their stock and walk away counting the money. What happens after that is Somebody Else’s Problem (SEP).

The moral of the story is that, founders should always be extra careful that at least 50% of the stock is held by themselves or their most trustworthy friends. Otherwise, what has happened to Jeff Price becomes likely. He might get lucky, a few years down the track, after the VCs responsible are gone. The people then in charge of solving the SEP might get him back. Notice how similar this story is to the story of Steve Jobs.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“maybe they want a little more money”

That’s usually the short-sighted reasoning for this kind of move, so probably. Does this mean that the company will be successful long-term or that the reasons for its success will continue rather than be gutted by vultures trying to profit in the short term? We’ll see.

“did you cry like this when apple tossed out Steve”

Steve Jobs? The guy who returned to Apple to help rescue its value from the gutter a few years later after the management who replaced him continues to run it into the ground? The guy whose philosophy was seemingly so integral to the company that it almost literally failed without him? That guy?

You’re as good at examples to prove your point as you are at general analogies, it seems.

Noneya Bizness says:

Re: Re: Not a good sign

Yes, although when TuneCore began it was working solely with independents. They eventually grew and allowed major labels (at least 2 I know of) Universal, and Def Jam, to offer their own distribution. Keep in mind that, although Universal and Defjam were offering distribution to independents (at a much more hefty price tag I might add) this was just a MASK, it was really TUNECORE doing the actual work. sort of like if you buy a vitamin water, you’re REALLY buying a coca-cola product.

Truth be told, the way these companies (the big 3 distributors) were operating (TuneCore, CDBaby, SongCast) was pretty scary. A simple google search with those company names and the word “scam” and you’ll get a bunch of results from people claiming those companies had stole or withheld royalties from them. That’s why up-and-coming companies like ADEDistribution are much better for the independent musician. they work DIRECTLY with artists instead of treating everyone like one big group of cattle.

Digger says:

RIAA probably forced it..

In my opinion the RIAA/MPAA are terrorist organizations doing nothing good for anyone but themselves.

Artists, Directors, Composers, Authors, Actors, Performers – when averaged across the board, none of them make out for shit. Only the rotten bastards behind the facades make out.

They have got to go… now!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Mike, I read the article through twice trying to get where you are going with this, and all I could take from it was this simple thing:

You don’t seem to get how a real world business works, perhaps outside of your own, which is really mostly “Mike” and his guys. Not so hard to manage.

The reality is that in many cases, the guys who are great at coming up with the ideas, making them functional to start with are often not the right guys to run the company over time. Actually operating a company in a day to day “operating” mode is hard work, and almost always goes against the grain of people who are the dreamers, inventors, and entrepreneurs of the day.

Reading their letter, it’s clear that they didn’t leave the company under the best of terms or willingly. It’s all about what they did, with nothing towards “we wish the company well”.

It’s hard to be inventive when you are doing the day to day, making money in the ways you probably never set out to do in the first place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, think about it. First off, it’s not clear if they were tossed out or left. Seeing two guys go at exactly the same time makes me think they left together, rather than were removed together.

Even if they were removed together, it may be because the board wants the company to do one thing, and they wanted to go another direction. Entrepreneurs and idea men are often the best people to start a company, but not to make it continue on.

There can be a fundamental difference in how they look at things, which made it impossible for them to keep working. Sometimes in a mature company, the entrepreneur is lost.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Well, think about it. First off, it’s not clear if they were tossed out or left.

They were pushed out. That much is clear.

Seeing two guys go at exactly the same time makes me think they left together, rather than were removed together.

They didn’t leave at the same time. Peter was told his job was “dissolved” over a month ago. Jeff, on the other hand, appears to have been removed from his job a few weeks ago, long after Peter was out.

Entrepreneurs and idea men are often the best people to start a company, but not to make it continue on.

That’s sometimes (though rarely) true in practice. But, again, everyone I spoke to associated with the company pointed out that Jeff was exceeding expectations on nearly everything they were working on. So, the idea that he wasn’t helping drive the company in the right direction is not supported by the evidence.

PaulT (profile) says:

“You don’t seem to get how a real world business works”

Ah, so the spin this time is “but you don’t understand! I do and you’re wrong!”. A refreshing changes from the lies and personal attacks of recent times, to be fair.

“perhaps outside of your own, which is really mostly “Mike” and his guys. Not so hard to manage.”

But, of course, you won’t furnish us with details of your own experience, we just have to accept your attacks on on what you believe to be Mike’s knowledge and experience (mostly based on assumptions rather than fact) at face value?

You wonder why your comments are never taken seriously, even on the rare occasion where there’s an actual point or nugget of actual truth?

To be fair, you may have a real point above, but it does get lost in the arrogance and delusion.

blakey says:

I wonder if the VCs are pushing Tunecore in an anti-small band direction

I left Tunecore a few months ago and moved to CDBaby (who offered a discount for ex-tunecore members AND it was a one-off Lifetime fee). Tunecore had decided to increase the yearly payments – i think doubled the price from roughly $15 dollars to $30 per album per year. That suddenly took having 4 albums on Tunecore from affordable fun to actually rather expensive. I suppose the idea was to get rid of the many very small earners like myself and keep the high earners.
I was disappointed, as i had liked Tunecore, and i almost covered my costs.
At the time there was the usual ‘better service’ PR stuff going out, but i wonder if it was the start of a VC move to make more money and bollocks to small time / long tail (which may in the end have earned them more).

kryss says:

Re: ADEDistribution is way better than TuneCore anyway

Adedistribution has nothing to do with TuneCore… ADEDistribution is curently one of the biggest music scam sites … The blog that they have( i couldnt call that site) indeed allows you to upload your music to iTunes and few others, but they keep your mechanical rights. For ex. if you want to submit your song to some music opportunity ( movies , commercials, etc), you have to pay 1$ per every IRSC code that you own- published through ADED( yes, they are with a hand in your pocket.). I have a few friends who are hypnotized by the small price, but they also dont care alot about their rights…. they’re just doing it for fun.But for me is important to have acces to my details ,have full control over my mechanical rights, receive some sort of confirmation from the distributor of my uploaded music and a good communication in general( and i dont include facebook messages telling me that everything is fine- like it was in the ADEDistribution case)
My oppinion : If you want your music up on iTunes, choose services where you dont have to pay anything in advance … see or ( and you upload your music for free but they hold 15 % from what you are selling through them. If you’re doing it just for the lolz, you’re perfect with Adedistribution… superquick upload and your album/single/song is on iTunes in a blink of an eye with just a couple of $$… but if you wanna eat from your music… i recommend the big players like ReverbNation, CDbaby , or even TuneCore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Or bought part of tunecore itself.

Well, Jeff can always start up a rival to Tunecore and I bet most of Tunecore’s artists will follow him over (those on short-term contracts).

Funniest thing then is the RIAA will have wasted an utter CRAPLOAD of cash buying out a company which then dissolves in its hands and the rival company simply continues onward….

Anonymous Coward says:

Whatever happens, I hope Jeff Price keeps his web prescence and keeps talking about the industry. I learned a lot from checking out TuneCorp and following his comments when there were various controversies. I didn’t always agree, but I did learn a lot about the industry, how it worked and how royalties got paid or not. His comments were solid and invalueable.

I’m just a music lover and like most, want musicians to get paid and want to support independents. I was stunned with how often legacy labels cheat independents out of royalties and I admired how Jeff stood up to them while making an impossibly obscure system much more transparent. Everyone deserves to understand what they are getting paid for, when and how much. That is a basic right that seems to escape many labels.

Whether Jeff Price joins or starts another label is secondary. I hope he continues to explain and demostrate how this crooked royalty system works for everyone who is interested in supporting honest music.

Steven Cravis (profile) says:

That would be like kicking Steve Jobs...

That would be like kicking Steve Jobs (when he was alive) off the planet, after he changed the world with great Apple products. It makes no sense. Jeff Price turned the music industry upside down, in a good way, where things got more in balance for content creators. Tunecore needs to release a statement that helps it’s customers make some sense of this, and know where they’re heading next.

Artie Barnes says:

Jeff & Peter leaving-

I take GREAT delight in the fact those 2 people are gone from Tunecore. They ripped me off of some 500 bucks 2 years ago, and I had to battle them for many months to get the money they literally STOLE from me! Too long a story to tell here (It may still be around on the internet), but I’ve been a Cdbaby lover for over 6 years now. They’ve been fantastic to me! And NO, that has nothing to do with my fight with Tunecore. What Tunecore basically did, was allow some unnamed person to put MY song for sale on the internet, and the song made over 500 bucks, and Tunecore wouldn’t pay me! It got messy, but I got my money. Can you imagine? It never would have happened with Cdbaby’s screening process. Tunecore were such scam artist’s, it’s unfathomable! They paid the price. GOOD!
Artie Barnes / Barnes & Barnes

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