While The Recording Academy® is best known for presenting the Grammy® Awards (the industry's only peer-to-peer awards, by the way), it's also a busy membership organization that presents professional development programming around the country. A good example is the lively panel on digital distribution recently organized by producer Mike Clink, chairman of the Los Angeles P&E Wing committee, who comments, “I work with a lot of independent artists these days, and the Number One question they ask is, ‘How do I get my music on iTunes?’ This panel provided insight into the process, as well as direct access to the companies that provide distribution services.”
From left: Eric Garland, BigChampagne; Kevin Arnold, IODA; Derek Sivers, CD Baby; Bruce Taylor, SNOCAP; Jeff Price, TuneCore
Photo: Jordan Althaus/Wireimage.Com
“Navigating Digital Distribution: Mysteries Revealed,” held at the Los Angeles headquarters of The Recording Academy on April 24th, saw panelists Derek Sivers, founder and president of Web-based indie-music seller CD Baby; Kevin Arnold, founder and CEO of comprehensive digital music service IODA; Jeff Price, founder and CEO of digital distribution company TuneCore; and Bruce Taylor, VP of marketing and PR for SNOCAP Inc., a service that allows artists to set up their own Web-based stores. Handling moderator chores was Eric Garland, CEO of BigChampagne Media Measurement, which provides analysis on issues involving the intersection of entertainment and technology.
Garland assumed the role of an artist seeking distribution and asked panelists to delineate the services each company offers and what artists or labels they might be right for. Arnold described IODA as a service occupying the position of a traditional distribution and marketing company tailored to the digital realm, interested in signing on more established artists and labels. CD Baby works on the model of an indie distributor and is more open to artists taking their first step into the marketplace. Tunecore's Price explained that he would embrace the model of a completely non-musical company and described his company as a musician's delivery service: While IODA and CD Baby receive a percentage of sales for their work, TuneCore charges an up-front flat fee to make an artist's music available for download. While all three services act as pipelines to digital music stores such as iTunes, an artist who wants to establish his own store on a band Website or MySpace page could turn to the services of SNOCAP.
Panelists discussed filtering processes they've put in place as a form of A&R: CD Baby's staff physically listens to everything submitted and frequently culls out copyright-violating mix-tapes, while SNOCAP has a digital fingerprinting system. Panelists were in agreement that the retail element of the digital world would not move toward pro-level audio formats any time soon, and they spoke to a strange wrinkle in digital music stores that actually encourages less originality: Because consumers often search for music by title, a new artist may have their best chance of getting heard by posting cover versions.
Taylor made one of the strongest points of the night: From an artist's point of view, digital distribution shouldn't be seen as a cold system of dollar-a-tune sales. “You still need to think of making a connection with fans. Direct connection is crucial, and it doesn't always happen through music store downloads.” Moderator Garland brought the evening to a close by posing the question: Five years from now, what would the same panel be discussing? “If anyone says anything other than I don't know, don't trust them,” Price said with a laugh.
Thanks to writer Chuck Crisafulli for his work on this story. Find out more about The Recording Academy's Producers and Engineers Wing at