February Industry Wrap-Up

Our monthly look back at news from the music industry – distribution, streaming, publishing and other topics that matter to the our community of independent music makers.


Apple Music Eyes Eventual Leading Spot With 36 Million Subscribers

As music streaming becomes more popular among fans each month, independent artists are seeing the benefits – and not just monetarily, but also in terms of how they are able to promote and market their releases. While countries all over the world have their favorites, there’s no denying the branding power that Spotify and Apple Music bring to the table here. This month, Apple Music announced it has more than 36 million subscribers, up from 30 million in September of last year.

While Spotify remains at number one globally with over 70 million paying subscribers as of this year, Apple Music (sitting at number two overall) appears to be specifically growing at a faster rate in the U.S. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reports that Apple’s subscription growth rate should put it ahead of Spotify in this country by the summer. The report points to Apple’s ability to put the service right in its customers’ hands as streaming becomes more and more widely adopted, not to mention the release of their new HomePod speaker system.

As a digital distributor, TuneCore’s aim to is provide a pathway for artists of all genres to sell their music online and be discovered on popular streaming platforms and digital stores all over the world. We love all of our digital store partners equally, so reporting on their competitive nature is simply a reminder of the growing power of streaming.

In fact, as Music Ally points out: “The fact that Apple’s ability to bundle Apple Music trials with its popular devices is paying off is good news for our industry. The fact that it’s paying off without seemingly cannibalising the growth of two different models from its main rivals is even better news.”


“Alexa, Build Me a Playlist”

Speaking of music streaming, there’s been little to slow down the popularity of both official and unofficial playlists on some of the major platforms. Fans dig the ability to listen to their favorite genres handsfree – simultaneously enjoying their favorite hits, keeping up with new releases, and discovering new talent.

Also increasingly popular are smart devices like Amazon Alexa, a voice controlled speaker that allows users to get information, access their Amazon Prime, play music, and more. Now, the online retailer and music service provider has introduced a feature to their Alexa devices: the ability to create playlists on Amazon Music.

Saying simple commands like, “Alexa, create a playlist” or “Alexa, add this to my playlist” (the latter while a song is playing) will instruct the device to do just that.

While they haven’t made as much of a big deal about this new feature as, say, their support for SMS messaging or its new Android capabilities, we here at TuneCore think it’s pretty cool! It obviously remains to be seen how popular this option for playlist building will be, it denotes the popularity of playlisting and how this concept can bring more new ears to independent artists.


Spotify Eyes Entrance Into the Hardware Game

As mentioned above, we’re seeing that just because there’s a steady rise in the realm of digital music streaming, physical devices are evolving to make listening even easier. This past month, the industry was abuzz with rumors when Spotify posted a job description for the brand new role of “Operations Manager – Hardware Product” – among a few others. Full disclosure: TuneCore has no inside knowledge of where these roles came from!

However, industry writers and pundits have been quick to notice these roles seem to suggest that Spotify has big plans for a hardware rollout in the future. The Guardian has pointed out in the past that the streaming provider has been working on hardware “akin to Pebble Watch, Amazon Echo, and Snap Spectacles”.  It’s not hard to imagine that many have pointed toward the possibility of a smart speaker, but once more, it’ll be a little while until we know.

Regardless of what the future holds, we’re excited for any new introductions that will encourage music sharing and discovery.

iTunes Holiday 2017 Delays & Closures – Plan Ahead!

You read that right, folks! We’re already approaching the holiday season, and once again we’re here to remind you that it’s imperative to be prepared if you’re planning on distributing music during November and December. Like many of us, our pals at iTunes and other digital store partners take time off during the holiday, resulting in potential delays.

See below for some guidelines that’ll ensure you have a successful release just in time for the holidays:

  • In order for content to become available in iTunes and other stores between Friday, November 17th and Friday, December 1st you must upload and pay for distribution in TuneCore no later than Tuesday, November 7th.
  • In order for content to become available in iTunes and other stores between Saturday, December 2nd and Friday, December 8th you must upload and pay for distribution in TuneCore no later than Tuesday, November 14th.
  • In order for content to become available in iTunes and other stores between Saturday, December 9th and Friday, December 22nd you must upload and pay for distribution in TuneCore no later than Tuesday, November 28th.
  • In order for content to become available in iTunes and other stores between Saturday, December 23rd and Sunday, January 7th you must upload and pay for distribution in TuneCore no later than Tuesday, December 12th.

In order to make sure that you don’t miss the release date for your song or album, plan ahead and distribute your new music as soon as you can to avoid getting caught in holiday closings/delays. The earlier you get your new music on iTunes and other stores, the more time your fans will have to buy it!

If you’re not ready to release that album just yet, we always recommend releasing a single early to garner some excitement!

If you are planning on submitting your new release via the TuneCore Feature Submissions Page:

  • To be considered for a feature for Friday December 1st, you must fill out and send your Feature Submissions Form by Friday, November 3rd.
  • To be considered for a feature for Friday December 8th, you must fill out and send your Feature Submissions Form by no later than Friday, November 10th.

Regardless of how your fans celebrate the holidays, give them the chance to use your music as a soundtrack – distribute your holiday music today!

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Music Streaming Platforms & Mastering – 3 Guiding Concepts

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Alex Sterling, an audio engineer and music producer based in New York City. He runs a commercial studio in Manhattan called Precision Sound where he provides recording, mixing, and mastering services.]


As an audio engineer and music producer I am constantly striving to help my clients music sound the best that it can for as many listeners as possible. With music streaming services like Apple Music/iTunes Radio, Spotify, Tidal, and YouTube continuing to dominate how people consume music, making sure that the listener is getting the best possible sonic experience from these platforms is very important.

Over the last several years some new technologies have been developed and integrated into the streaming service’s playback systems called Loudness Normalization.

Loudness Normalization is the automatic process of adjusting the perceived loudness of all the songs on the service to sound approximately the same as you listen from track to track.

The idea is that the listener should not have to adjust the volume control on their playback system from song to song and therefore the listening experience is more consistent. This is generally a good and useful thing and can save you from damaging your ears if a loud song comes on right after a quiet one and you had the volume control way up.

The playback system within each streaming service has an algorithm that measures the perceived loudness of your music and adjusts its level to match a loudness target level they have established. By adjusting all the songs in the service to match this target the overall loudness experience is made more consistent as people jump between songs and artists in playlists or browsing.

If your song is louder than the target it gets turned down to match and if it is softer it is sometimes made louder with peak limiting depending on the service (Spotify only).

So how do we use this knowledge to make our music sound better?

The simple answer is that we want to master our music to take into account the loudness standards that are being used to normalize our music when streaming, and prepare a master that generally complies with these new loudness standards.

Concept 1: Master for sound quality, not maximum loudness.

If possible work with a professional Mastering Engineer who understands how to balance loudness issues along with the traditional mastering goals of tonal balance and final polish etc.

If you’re mastering your own music then try to keep this in mind while you work:

Don’t pursue absolute loudness maximization, instead pursue conscious loudness targeting.

If we master our music to be as loud as possible and use a lot of peak limiting to get the loudness level very high then we are most likely sacrificing some dynamic range, transient punch, and impact to get our music to sound loud.

The mechanism of loudness maximization intentionally reduces the dynamic range of our music so the average level can be made higher. There are benefits to this such as increasing the weight and density of a mix, but there are also negatives such as the loss of punch and an increase in distortion. It’s a fine line to walk between loud enough and too loud.

Here is where loudness normalization comes in:

If our song is mastered louder than the streaming target loudness level then our song will be gained down (by the service) as a result. If you are mastering louder than the target level then you are throwing away potential dynamic range and punch for no benefit and your song will sound smaller, less punchy, and more dynamically constrained in comparison to a song that was mastered more conservatively in regards to loudness.

If we master softer than the target level then in some cases (Spotify) the streaming service actually adds gain and peak limiting to bring up the level. This is potentially sonically adverse because we don’t know what that limiting process will do to our music. Will it sound good or not? It most likely will create some loss of punch but how much is lost will be based on what content was put in.

Some music is more sensitive to this limiting process. High dynamic range jazz or classical music with pristine acoustic instruments might be more sonically damaged than a rock band song with distorted guitars for example so the result is not entirely predictable just on loudness measurement but also on musical style.

Thankfully the main platforms other than Spotify don’t add gain and peak limiting as of this writing so they are less potentially destructive to sound quality for below target content.

Concept 2: Measure loudness using a LUFS/LKFS meter.

The different streaming services have different loudness standards and algorithms to take measurements and apply the normalization but for the most part they use the basic unit system of loudness measurement called LUFS or LKFS. This metering system allows engineers to numerically meter how loud content is and make adjustments to the dynamic range accordingly.

Being able to understand how our music masters are metering with this scale is useful to see what will happen when they are streamed on different services (i.e. will the algorithm gain them up or down to meet the target or not?)

Concept 3: Choose which loudness standard to master to.

Direct your mastering engineer if you are working with one to master to a target loudness level and consult with them about what they feel is an appropriate target level for your music. If you are mastering jazz or classical music you probably don’t want to make a very loud master for sound quality and dynamic range reasons but if you are making a heavy rock, pop, or, hip hop master that wants to be more intense then a louder target may be more suitable.

iTunes Sound Check and Apple Music/iTunes Radio use a target level of
-16LUFS and this would be a suitable target for more dynamic material.

Tidal uses a target level of -14LUFS that is a nice middle ground for most music that wants to be somewhat dynamic.

YouTube uses a target level of -13LUFS, a tiny bit less dynamic than Tidal.

Spotify uses a loudness target of -11LUFS and as you can see this is 5 dB louder than iTunes/Apple Music. This is more in the territory of low dynamic range, heavily limited content.

Somewhere in the middle of -16LUFS and -11LUFS might be the best target loudness for your music based on your desired dynamic range but the goal is not to go above the chosen target otherwise your content gets gained down on playback and dynamic range is lost.

In all services except Spotify, content that measures lower than target loudness is not gained up. So for people working with very dynamic classical music or film soundtracks those big dynamic movements will not be lost on most streaming platforms.

However since Spotify is unique and adds gain and peak limiting if your content is below target it is potentially the most destructive sonically. So should you master to -11LUFS and save your music from Spotify’s peak limiting but lose dynamic range on the other platforms? It’s a compromise that you have to decide for yourself in consultation with your mastering engineer.

You might want to test out what -11LUFS sounds like in the studio and hear what the effect of that limiting is. Is it better to master that loud yourself and compensate in other ways for the lost punch and lower dynamic range? Or should you accept that Spotify users get a different dynamic range than iTunes users and let your music be more dynamic for the rest of the platforms?

In all cases there is no benefit to going above -11 LUFS because that is the loudest target level used by any service. If you go louder than -11LUFS then your music will be turned down and dynamic range and punch will be lost on all the services needlessly and permanently.

Further Reading:

Great info – graphic on the different streaming loudness targets.

More info on LUFS/LKFS metering.

September News From Our Store Partners

By Stefanie Flamm

Streaming isn’t going away anytime soon, and it seems like all of our store partners have been stepping up their game to better accommodate the rapidly-evolving music streaming industry:

  • Spotify shatters previous streaming records with 40 million active subscribers.
  • Apple Music gets a makeover in the wake of the iPhone 7 and iOS 10 launches.
  • Pop stars come in droves to perform at iHeartRadio’s Music Festival in Las Vegas.

Spotify celebrates the end of their third quarter with a massive 40 million subscribers.

Spotify broke both a personal and global record earlier this month by racking up an active subscriber count of 40 million users.

spotifyOn September 14th, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek tweeted a cool, “40 is the new 30. Million. (smiley face emoji)” to announce the good news officially. The “30” he’s referring to is the 30 million active subscribers they announced back in March of this year, meaning they’ve increased their listenership by a whopping 25% in six months.

These seriously impressive numbers can be attributed to a number of factors. While Spotify may not have the leg-up on exclusive content that Apple Music and TIDAL have, Spotify’s Discovery algorithm has become the bread-and-butter of their streaming service since they launched it in summer 2015. Acknowledging their immediate popularity, Spotify’s next move was to increase the accessibility for new music recommendations, and now users can add similar tracks to an existing playlist, or even immediately create a similar version of a complete playlist.

Competitors have been jumping on the bandwagon, each offering their own brand of new music discovery. But the numbers make it obvious that, for now, users prefer Spotify’s experience to some of their other competitors. Apple Music is currently boasting a listenership of 17 million, with TIDAL far behind at 3 million active listeners as of March 2016.

A huge congratulations to Spotify!

Apple Music gets some major touch-ups on iOS 10, including competitive algorithms for new music recommendations.

Tech gurus, developers, and especially owners of the 1 billion active Apple products worldwide have come to expect a big show every September at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Since the launch of the iMac in 1998, Apple has treated the WWDC like a tech-savvy Christmas, rolling out the newest versions of their products, and convincing the world that we all need the latest and greatest products that Apple has to offer. So it should come as no surprise that this year’s WWDC brought some major changes to the future of the iPhone and Apple Music listener experience.

Apple introduced a total external overhaul of the iPhone, with the apple-musiciPhone 7 devoid of a headphone jack (welcome to a future of losing Airpods!). In addition to giving users an excuse to finally buy the bluetooth Beats headphones they’ve been eyeing, Apple Music got a makeover to improve user experience.

Jumping on the success of Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlists, Apple Music for iOS 10 includes a My New Music playlist that will update with fresh recommendations every week. Unlike Spotify, which updates every Monday, Apple Music’s My New Music will update on Fridays to coincide with New Music Friday. Where Spotify has Discover Weekly and Release Radar playlists, My New Music should kill two birds with one stone and offer users a playlist packed with new music.

Apple Music will also offer a My Favorites Mix, updated every Wednesday, complete with a blend of the user’s most-streamed songs, side-by-side with new music similar to the aforementioned tracks. My Favorites Mix was designed as a gentler way to ease into new music, versus digesting a playlist comprised entirely of unfamiliar songs.

It’s too early to see if this update will bring more users into the Apple Music camp, but it’s certainly a cool update for existing Apple Music subscribers.

iHeartRadio packs their La Vegas Music Festival with some of the top music acts, including Britney Spears and Ariana Grande.

Las Vegas was abound with pop stars last weekend for the iHeartRadio Music Festival, a two-day festival bringing together some of the most popular musicians in the US for a power-packed weekend.

iheartradio90’s nostalgic millennials were in heaven with performances from both Backstreet Boys, who who used the festival to announce their Las Vegas residency, and a blowout set by Britney Spears. Both groups performed a combination of throwback favorites, as well as some newer music. Usher, Lil Jon, and Ludacris also came out for a performance of “Yeah” that left the crowd wanting more of their favorite early 2000’s goodness.

The lineup didn’t stop there, as sets from Miley Cyrus, Drake, Sia, and Ariana Grande filled the two-day event at the T-Mobile Arena. Performing alongside Billy Idol, Miley told the audience, “It’s f**king good to be back.”

Christina Grimmie, who was shot and killed at her own concert earlier this year, was remembered in a memorial on the second night of the festival.

With the service’s recent five year anniversary, their reaching 90 millions registered users, and a potential Spotify-rival in the works, 2016 has turned out to be an excellent year for iHeartRadio, and the music festival seems like the perfect way to celebrate their success this year.


August Songwriter News

By Stefanie Flamm

From Rio to the US Presidential election, it’s been a busy summer for everyone, including songwriters around the world:

  • Rio turns out to be as much a competition for artists looking to get sync placement as it is for the Olympic athletes.
  • Donald Trump stirs even more controversy by using “We Are the Champions” at the Republican National Convention, against the wishes of Queen.
  • Apple makes a motion to set a standard streaming rate, a move that would revolutionize royalty payments for songwriters.

Advertiser’s $1.2 billion budget for the Rio Olympics turns sync placement into a competition of its own.

It should come as no surprise that the Olympics is one of the most widely-popular televised sporting events around, particularly for US viewers. Even for a disappointingly low year, a whopping average of 27.5 million viewers watched Rio Olympic coverage via NBCUniversal over the 15 days of competition. And with that high number of average viewers, comes a high demand for prime advertising placement.

With the Olympic viewership paling only in comparison to the Superbowl, companies were chomping at the bit for an opportunity to intersperse the high-profile swim and women’s gymnastics competitions, among many others. Particularly at the opening ceremonies, with an outrageous rate of one commercial every eight minutes, there was a lot of competition amongst companies and ad agencies alike to help their product stand out from the crowd. This is where a skilled Music Supervisor comes into play.

Between the more US-friendly time zone and the hype surrounding high-profile athletes like Simone Biles, NBCUniversal had planned for a higher viewership than they received for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. As a result, companies were flocking to advertising agencies as early as a year before the competition began. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years — it’s the first time we’ve had to dig deep so early,” commented Grey Group Director or Music Joshua Rabinowitz.

Sync royalties for Olympic commercials were reaching upwards of $250,000 for the Rio games, not to mention the added benefit of an audience of 27.5 million people who could download or stream the song after hearing it.

Some agencies decided to stick with tried-and-true classics, like Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” or the Gershwin classic “Rhapsody in Blue,” and some chose to highlight newer artists, like Boys Noize’s “Rock the Bells.” A personal favorite advertisement for Nike included music from the 2003 song “Drums Are My Beat” by Sandy Nelson.

But not every song used for ad sync placement at the Olympics was a catchy or recognizable tune. Writers Andrew Simple and Michael Logan curated a sync-worthy song that snagged them a spot in a commercial for Folgers that left me quietly weeping at my desk. A colleague of Simple’s noted, “I knew it could be the soundtrack for a spot that taps into a close relationship,” and the song was pitched for sync placement before even being released.  

Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, and a handful of songwriters were able to take home the gold at this year’s Olympic games.

Repeated unauthorized use of their song “We Are the Champions” on the Donald Trump campaign leaves Queen seeking legal action.

Whether you’re voting for him in November or you’re adamantly protesting against him, everyone can pretty much agree that Donald Trump isn’t playing by the rules of a typical US Presidential campaign. He brought this attitude to the world of publishing recently after his second unauthorized use of Queen’s “We Are the Champions” at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

The issue first came up in June of this year, after the last Super Tuesday of the year when Donald Trump celebrated his victory over the last remaining primaries. Trump’s campaign blasted “We Are the Champions” to commemorate their victory, only it didn’t occur to anyone on Trump’s staff to acquire permissions from Queen first.

Queen’s guitarist Brian May immediately expressed his upset over this, taking to his personal website for a reaction statement. “…permission to use the track was neither sought nor given… Regardless of our views on Mr Trump’s platform, it has always been against our policy to allow Queen music to be used as a political campaigning tool.”

Unfortunately, Trump’s team did not see this statement as an unofficial cease-and-desist, as they played the song again this July at the RNC. After Melania Trump’s semi-plagiarized speech, the RNC was a one-two punch of intellectual property theft. Queen took to Twitter shortly after the broadcast to follow-up that Trump’s campaign had, again, failed to request permission to use the song.

This month, Queen’s publishing company Sony/ATV Music Publishing announced a formal statement regarding the Trump campaign’s use of “We Are the Champions:”

Sony/ATV Music Publishing has never been asked by Mr. Trump, the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization for permission to use “We are the Champions” by Queen. On behalf of the band, we are frustrated by the repeated unauthorized use of the song after a previous request to desist, which has obviously been ignored by Mr. Trump and his campaign.

Queen does not want its music associated with any mainstream or political debate in any country. Nor does Queen want “We are the Champions” to be used as an endorsement of Mr. Trump and the political views of the Republican Party. We trust, hope and expect that Mr. Trump and his campaign will respect these wishes moving forward.”

Apple’s proposition to set a concrete, per-stream royalty rate could revolutionize songwriters’ relationship with streaming.

The battle between songwriters and streaming services has been around since the latter’s inception, and it doesn’t look like it’ll be easing up anytime soon. In the wake of the United States Department of Justice ruling for 100 percent licensing, songwriters and publishers alike are not satisfied with the DoJ’s perceived favoritism of streaming services. However, Apple has put an initiative into place that might change streaming payouts in favor of the songwriter.

In a proposal made by Apple, in conjunction with the Copyright Royalty Board, streaming services should pay 9.1 cents in songwriting royalties for every 100 times a song is played. While that only results in a payout of $0.0091 per stream, having a standard rate of streaming could mean more transparency between streaming services and songwriters.

“An interactive stream has an inherent value,” Apple wrote in their proposal, “regardless of the business model a service provider chooses.”

The need for the DoJ, streaming services, and songwriters to come together is ever-present in the increasingly streaming-friendly world. The general consensus seems to be at “freemium” streaming services like Spotify need to change their subscription models in favor of making more money for the songwriters. While this Apple proposition isn’t exactly giving songwriters what they’re asking for (and doesn’t necessarily favor its competitors’ pricing models), it’s a direct attempt to eradicate freemium streaming, and it looks like it may be a step in the right direction towards more harmony between artists and the streaming services that pay them.

For more information on TuneCore Publishing Administration, click here.


4 Ways To Engage With Fans in Digital Stores

You already know how to get your music into over 150 digital stores and streaming services worldwide – whether it’s a single, a brand new EP/full-length, or even just a cover song to surprise and delight your fans with.

And while it’s easy to get caught up with the desire to end up on Spotify playlist or get featured in the iTunes Store, independent artists often overlook some even easier ways to solidify their presence and interact with fans in some of these well-known streaming and download platforms.

Let’s take a look at a few simple ways you can engage fans and make your music easier to find when they come hunting:


1. Set Up a Spotify Verified Artist Account

Start building a community of fans who want to discover music through you – with a Spotify ‘verified artist account’ you can let your fans know when you’ve made a  playlist or share a new song. Your account will be linked to your discography pages, (making them easily searchable) and you’ll be creating a direct-to-fan channel within Spotify.

Once you’ve distributed your music to Spotify and signed up for your own account (avoid signing up with a Facebook profile), head over to this site to complete Spotify’s “Verification Form”. Be prepared to have a URL to a hosted 200×200 pixel profile image on the form. Click here to download a PDF of Spotify’s “Best Practices Guide”.

Next, add a playlist to your account (make sure to ‘right click’ on the playlist name to ‘Make Public’) – that way, you’re not launching an empty page.

Finally, share it with your fans! Copy and paste the playlists’ ‘http link’ and let your fans on Facebook and Twitter know you’re open for business.

2. Get Access to Spotify Fan Insights

Last November we reported on one of Spotify’s coolest roll-outs: Fan Insights. Now you can find out who your fans are, where they are in the world, how they listen, what their other musical preferences are and how they engage.

spotify fan insightsYou can still head over to Spotify’s Artist site and request access to the beta version of Fan Insights here.


Google Play

3. Set Up a Google Play Artist Page

If you’ve distributed your latest releases using TuneCore, it’s pretty likely that you’ve decided to include Google Play in the stores we send your music to. And why wouldn’t you? Google has risen to the ranks as one of the biggest household names in digital media, and Google Play serves as it’s platform for getting music, videos, apps and more in the hands of fans.

Selling your music, personalizing your store page and reaching users with your music on Google Play is easy! After you’ve made sure that your music has gone life on Google Play, head over to the Google Play Artist Hub.

Google Play Artist Hub

From there you can sign in with your Google account, find your artist name, and you’ll even be able to use a credit card (without being charged) to protect against “artist impersonation”.

apple music

4. Claim Your Profile on Apple Music Connect

By now, Apple Music has made enough headlines and become enough of a go-to platform for so many fans that as an indie artist, you want to make the most of it. Apple Connect is described as a ‘place where musicians give their fans a closer look a their work, their inspirations, and their world.

When you claim your profile on Connect, you can engage directly with your fans and share audio, photos and videos. Get started by visiting this site and signing in with your Apple ID.


From there, you can search for your artist name or paste a link to your iTunes artist page and claim that profile.  Additionally, you’ll be asked for your Artist Management and Label contact information – keep in mind, TuneCore does not fulfill either of these, so if you’re lacking this information, just put in your own personal contact information twice and move on.

Now that you’ve stepped up your store game, head over to your social media profiles and break out that email list – it’s time to start sharing some links!