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Startups Music service helps artists 'get what they've earned'

Screen grab from the ‘artists’ section of the TuneCore website.

tunecore.com

In an age of democratized Internet distribution, access to the levers of power isn't distributed evenly. You can't simply log into iTunes, for instance, and post your music there. Apple – famous for its gatekeeping – typically works with labels, rather than with individual artists.

That left an opening for New York-based TuneCore, which offers artists and labels a service: It mediates the process of submitting their products to online stores such as iTunes and Google Play, and to streaming services such as Spotify. It then collects the revenues and royalties and hands them back to the artists.

TuneCore has been around since 2006, but it wasn't until last year that it launched a specifically Canadian service, letting artists deal directly in Canadian dollars. (The company also built a localized service in Japan.)

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"We thought it was important that we adapt the business to countries, whether it's language or, more importantly, the currency," says Scott Ackerman, TuneCore's chief operating officer.

The company was created as a way to bypass labels – its founder, Jeff Price, came from one himself. "He saw where artists weren't getting the fair deal," Mr. Ackerman says. "His mission was to put this in place so artists could get what they've earned."

All the same, it wound up working with indie labels, which use TuneCore to do the heavy lifting of getting media online. New artists have used it -- Drake pushed out his first album through the service, before moving to a label -- as have artists who have grown beyond labels and are now releasing independently, such as Fleetwood Mac.

TuneCore ends up servicing a doughnut-like segment of the market: Artists who are too new to have signed with labels, and artists who have grown to the point where they can make it on their own.

The service's Canadian launch brings along with it another side to the business: extracting royalties for song performances. Songwriting societies collect fees from digital merchants and streaming services, but to get them, artists have to be registered with a publisher – and that's where TuneCore's secondary, Burbank, Calif.-based operation comes in.

"The new indie artists don't even know about this money," Mr. Ackerman says.

TuneCore is privately owned and venture capital backed. The digital publishing service is available for a flat annual fee, while the royalties side takes a 10-per-cent fee.

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