TuneCore Unveils Rewards Program as Indie Distributors Fend Off Major Labels: Exclusive

Courtesy of TuneCore

TuneCore Rewards

The distributor is also rolling out a certification program that will reward artists for hitting streaming milestones.

In the latest sign that the competition is intensifying among music labels and distributors to service the world’s fast-growing market of independent artists, TuneCore is taking a page from airlines, hotels and credit cards and rolling out a customer loyalty program of its own.

Rather than points or miles, the 16-year-old distributor's so-called "TuneCore Rewards" will go to artists who watch its educational "Master Class" videos, while a new program called TuneCore Certified will award artists with digital plaques for hitting streaming milestones, the company tells Billboard.

TuneCore Rewards is currently in beta and will roll out at the end of March. The "Master Class" videos are designed to teach artists about music promotion, release planning, and social media use, among other topics. The more videos an artist watches, the more points they accrue, which can be redeemed for things like free distribution of an album or single or discounts on TuneCore services.

Courtesy of TuneCore
TuneCore Certified

“These days independent artists often behave like entrepreneurs, managing many if not all aspects of their own careers, beyond just the music," Andreea Gleeson, the co-head of TuneCore and its chief revenue officer, says in a statement to Billboard. "TuneCore Rewards places a roadmap to success in the artist’s hands, eliminating the guesswork. We provide them with the tools and guidelines they need to grow their careers to avoid pitfalls and progress more quickly. It’s the first program of its kind and I’m happy to announce it’s completely free to TuneCore artists."

Providing quality artist services has become a focal point throughout the industry, with Sony Music snapping up indie distributor and label AWAL for $430 million in February, a move that Sony Music Group chairman Rob Stringer said would give the label “another level of service to offer the independent music community.” A few weeks later, Universal Music Group brought back the Virgin Records brand with the launch of Virgin Music Label & Artist Services, as the label looks to beef up its artist services offerings for indie acts.

TuneCore, a subsidiary of French digital music company Believe, was founded in 2005 and has carved out a niche in the crowded indie distribution space, with over 1 million artists using TuneCore’s services to date. Despite strong competition from DistroKid and CD Baby, which distribute 2 million and 650,000 artists respectively, TuneCore has managed to continue growing and has paid out more than $2 billion to its artists, $1 billion of which was since 2017. TuneCore says its artists now earn over $100 million per quarter, with its over 200,000 hip-hop acts leading the way; hip-hop artists earned more than $100 million in streaming revenue in 2020 on TuneCore.

TuneCore Rewards has four standard award levels — New, Emerging, Rising, and Breakout — and two exclusive tiers called Accelerator and Legend. Artists that have accrued over $1,000 in earnings from their music or have distributed more than 25 releases can bypass the first three tiers. Those that reach the Accelerator level will get access to a one-on-one mentoring program from TuneCore’s artist and partner relations teams, as well as assistance with digital marketing, release planning, and help with their social media presence. Legend status will gain all the benefits of the Accelerator tier, along with what TuneCore is calling “VIP artist support” and exclusive educational sessions.

“Obviously we'd love to do one-to-one sessions with artists to be able to help them, but that's just not realistic, given that we have hundreds of thousands of artists that use us,” Gleeson says in an interview with Billboard. “This is the best way we can provide something more intimate, but also scalable.” Gleeson says that TuneCore is working on adding experts from its partners at Spotify, YouTube, and Facebook to participate in its educational video content. “We've shown it to Spotify, to YouTube, to Facebook, and everybody just loves what we've put together. We're going to be adding to it. The next phase is getting some of the experts at our store partners to participate and be a part of it."

TuneCore Certified will reward artists for hitting streaming milestones, ranging from 100 streams to 1 billion streams, with personalized digital plaques that can be easily shared on social media, bringing a version of the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) Gold & Platinum Program to indie artists who may not have the numbers to achieve gold status through the RIAA’s calculations. TuneCore says the Certified program will be retroactive and consider past streaming totals, which means most of the artists on its platform — who have earned over $2 billion since the TuneCore’s inception — will be eligible for a digital plaque.

"For as much as TuneCore democratized the music industry and made it easy for independent artists to distribute their music, these badges democratize the recognition of success and achievement, making it attainable for all levels of artists, from hobbyists and beginners to full-time creators," Gleeson said in a statement.