If you remember walking into record shops as a kid and thinking how cool it would be to one day see your album sitting on the shelf, the digital age may help your childhood daydream come true. With the help of a company called TuneCore, any musician or band can get their music in the most popular online stores.
TuneCore is the brainchild of Spin Art record label owner Jeff Price. When the industry shifted from physical retail stores to the online world, Price saw the ways of the traditional music label model trying to fit into the digital landscape that just weren't working in this new environment.
"Shelf space is at a premium in a traditional store and you had to fight for it," Price said. "In the virtual world, you don't have these problems. The whole infrastructure of the music industry, which is all about distribution, was being made obsolete."
However, while the music industry was changing, some of its long-held practices were not. With the online stores came aggregators, which would help bands get their music in the bigger outlets such as Apple's iTunes.
"The aggregators would get all the small labels and provide them with a way to get into iTunes - that's a great service," said Price. "But they did it the same way the record companies used to - they took song rights for a set period of time, but they don't provide support for tours, or distribution or anything else the record companies would.
"They really upset me, the way they were gauging artists," he added. "I thought about it and said: 'Why don't we just change the rules?'"
That's exactly what Price has done. With the start of TuneCore, any artist or musician can take their Apple lossless songs, setup an account on the site and upload their music. Within a few weeks, those songs are for sale on iTunes (domestic and international), Connect, eMusic, Napster, Rhapsody and Musicnet.
The best part for the artist is that they keep all of the money from the sale - TuneCore does not take any money on the backend. Instead, the company charges one-time fees of 99 cents per song and 99 cents per store for each album and an annual $9.98 charge per album.
So if an artist has a five-song album and he wants to put it on iTunes US, iTunes Canada, iTunes Japan and Rhapsody, the total cost would be $18.89.
"I take none of their rights and none of their profits," Price said. "It's also a non-exclusive agreement, so they can cancel anytime they want."
Price has also set up an elaborate accounting system so artists can track which songs are selling on which stores. Artists can access their account at any time and on any day, which means they can send out a cheque or pay themselves through PayPal at any time.
Izzy, Marley, Shoes
While theoretically anyone could - for a few dollars - take some of their own songs and sell them on iTunes, they'd have some fairly high-profile company. Artists such as Ziggy Marley, Kelly Shoes and Guns 'N Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin all have music online through TuneCore.
"I've done licensing deals in Japan and Europe, but I've never been able to get my music out globally so everyone could get it," Stradlin said. "When I got in touch with Jeff [Price], it was literally two weeks and my stuff was up - that's 10 years of work."
After years with Guns 'N Roses, Stradlin is all too familiar with the music industry and how things are changing now. Back in the day, a new Guns 'N Roses album would be an instant hit, but systems like TuneCore give artists a way to get their own music out there as well.
"With G'n R I would be onstage in front of 20,000 or 30,000 people playing our songs, but at the same time I would have this piece of work that I'm just dying to get out. This is a way for me to get the music out there - there are zero people between me, my music and the fans," Stradlin said.
Another TuneCore artist, Liam Sullivan, made his comedy routine "Kelly Shoes" a sensation on YouTube before putting an album on iTunes through TuneCore. According to Sullivan, having the music on iTunes has taken things way beyond where he ever thought it would be.
"It could have been this really local underground thing, but that's about it," he said. "iTunes is a store to me, it's like having my CD in target or something."
There's no catch
According to Price, TuneCore is working just the way he envisioned it, and it's only going to get better.
"I wanted to make a destination website that allows artists to succeed," Price said. "You have within your grasp the ability to be a worldwide superstar with the internet - you don't need to give up your rights and revenue to make that happen.
Izzy Stradlin says he will continue to put his music online through TuneCore for future albums.
"It was so simple," he said. "I kept waiting for the catch, but there was no catch."