Interview: Jeff Price, TuneCore’s Outspoken CEO

image from On iTunes Delivery, His Competitors & More

Yesterday, I spoke with Jeff Price, the CEO of the digital music distributor TuneCore. At recent events, certain companies have been advertising 24-hour live times with iTunes and I reached out to Price for his opinion on this matter. Since Hypebot published the news of this occurrence, it was illuminating to hear what Price had to say; this topic is clearly on his mind every day.

How have live times to iTunes changed over the years and what is the process that music has to go through in order to go on there?

Jeff Price: For the past six weeks, the majority of TuneCore Artist music has been going live on iTunes within 28 minutes to seven hours after they checkout.  These lightening fast live times continue today. Five years ago, when I launched TuneCore, it took six to eight weeks for music to go live.  Getting music live faster has been one of the singular things I have been focusing on for years.

These faster live times are based on two parts of a pipeline – first, TuneCore delivering the music/metadata/art to iTunes in the exact iTunes technical specification.  Second, if there are no technical issues, iTunes processing the “package” of music (called “polishing” by Apple) and making it available to buy in the iTunes music store.

Just as TuneCore has to prepare the music to deliver to iTunes, iTunes has to receive the music package and then metaphorically take it out of the “box” and place it on the shelf. The polishing process consists of things like checking the technical specifications of the music and art, looking at album cover art to assure it is not pornographic, does not say “DVD” on it, does not include a URL address, that the music is in the right format, that the “metadata” is properly formatted in the XML feed and other criteria.

Over the past five years, TuneCore has focused hard on being the best in the world in delivering music “packages” to the exact technical specifications of  iTunes and other digital stores.  These days, upon completing checkout, TuneCore Artist music is typically delivered to iTunes and other digital stores within three to four minutes – five years ago this delivery time was three to four days.

During this time, the process has evolved, has it not?

JP: Apple’s process for getting the music live has changed as well – over time they have found ways to be more efficient.  If you combine this with the ability to deliver the music package to them quickly, and to their exact specification, it most likely means faster live times.

The important point to note is these faster live times on iTunes are based on two things. The first we have control of – that is, how fast we can deliver the music package and is that music package to the exact technical specification required by Apple. The second thing is out of our control – that is, what is Apple’s process for reviewing, ingesting and displaying the release to assure the quality it wants.  This process can slow down or speed up live times.   And what works today may not work tomorrow.

For now, I can state that for TuneCore Artists, their music should be live on iTunes within 30 minutes to 7 hours after they checkout.  And this is damn exciting. I can also state that as a TuneCore Artist you can set your own street date to as soon as possible or months from now.   The choice is yours.

Are there potential problems of emerging companies promising 24-hour live times and why is there danger in making such claims?

JP: I believe there are some new non-established entities claiming some form of guaranteed 24 hour live times at digital stores.  This concerns me quite a bit as, unless they own and control those digital stores, there is no possible way for it be guaranteed.  As one example, what if iTunes learns that the best process to assure the highest quality experience takes five days after receipt of the music package?

The more established entities like TuneCore and CD Baby know better than to make claims like this to the market.  Sure, we both run businesses, but misleading artists to take advantage of them is not how we operate.

To make claims of guarantees you know you cannot keep preys on the hopes, dreams and aspirations of musicians. It’s not right. It needs to stop. Musicians work too hard. TuneCore was able to change the model and let anyone get distribution, keep all their rights and get 100% of the revenue from the sale of their music.  We got to change the world for better. I am excited to see this model taking hold.  But with the good, comes the bad, in this case new companies, or disingenuous ones, knowingly misrepresenting the truth to make a buck at the expense of the artist.  Just as bad are the non-professional media outlets that run stories around these statements without first fact checking.

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