Tunecore vs Record Union
I’ve been releasing albums to iTunes and other digital stores for many years and I’ve historically used Tunecore’s service to aggregate my music. Over the past couple years, I have found their incremental changes intolerable and started seeking a new service to push my label’s music through. I did a ton of searching around and ultimately decided to give Record Union a shot. I first signed up a while ago, and have been please so figured it is time to do a Tunecore vs Record Union comparison.
While Record Union is no longer the distributor of my choice, they are still vastly more inexpensive than Tunecore. If you want to read up on a viable alternative, I compared Record Union and Distrokid as well.
I first started using Tunecore when they were very new. Their pricing model seemed fair to me, $20 sign up, $20 annual renewal fee. They got your music on all the major digital stores including iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, etc. My complaints started when Tunecore did two things:
- Raised the renewal fee to $50 annually, from $20. Whether the $50 is reasonable or not wasn’t the issue to me. The issue was adding an extra 150% to a service I had been faithfully using for years. I get that there has been some economic inflation, but nothing like that!
- On top of that, they had set all albums to automatically renew, with no option to turn the auto-renew off without opening a support ticket. Maybe this has changed since I was there last, but the fact that this ever happened speaks volumes about the sort of business priorities they have.
On the first point, $50 is just excessive for an annual renewal fee, especially in today’s music world where smaller, more frequent releases is a better practice than longer, less frequent releases. I could have a yearly bill in the thousands of dollars because I release a lot of small albums. Being independent and in a tight niche, this can make up more than a modest percentage of my overall sales.
The second point is where I drew the line. This is similar to the same dubious practice that got AOL in trouble years back. When you do email Tunecore’s support to turn off auto-renew, they never do it the first email, they send you a sales pitch email back trying to prevent you from turn the auto-renew off. Also, if you turn auto-renew off and then manually renew your album at the appropriate time, auto-renew comes right back on. Or at least it did before I removed my whole catalog from their system.
Tunecore does have these things going for them, by way of comparison:
- Their User Interface is really nice and intuitive. Uploading albums is easy and gathering your metrics similarly simple.
- They do not charge different prices depending on your store selection. That $50 gets your album on every digital store they aggregate to. I believe you can turn off stores you don’t want to be on, but I can’t recall. Personally, I only care about getting my music on certain stores but if you want your stuff everywhere, this is a convenient feature.
- Despite my complaints about the auto-renew, Tunecore’s support team is smart, friendly and reasonably quick to address issues.
If you can look past the nefarious business practices (I can’t), Tunecore’s service is nice if you’re looking for a premium service. Not sure why you would, but if you want it, it is there.
As I mentioned, I signed up for Record Union back in 2012. I wanted to let an album sit on there for a bit to see how reporting and payouts went before I made the full switch over from Tunecore. Payments started rolling in around 3 months in, which I recall is fairly similar to Tunecore on initial release.
Record Union’s Strong Points
- Pricing. The pricing structure is a bit more complicated than Tunecore’s but is vastly less expensive. Your price point can vary based on 1) How many stores you want it to go to 2) How many tracks your album has and 3) What percentage of the sales you want to keep, i.e., you can pay extra to keep a bigger cut. A full album is about $16 for most important stores plus a barcode fee (I think a one time $8 fee per album). The renewal fee is even less expensive. Compared to $50 annually, the difference is huge when multiplied over dozens of albums and EPs. The annual renewal seems to be about $10 or less. A $40 per album difference is gigantic once you’re past releasing just a couple albums.
- Reporting and metrics are fairly intuitive and easy to get to.
- Support. I can’t make any statement about their support department because I haven’t had to contact them. This is positive. I haven’t run into any actual problems using the system, beyond the tedious task of publishing an album.
- Low renewal fees. The renewal fees are reduced. If you decide to not pay the annual renewal fee, you have the option to keep it on the stores at no fee. They keep any money you earn, but with the popularity of streaming services like Spotify, it is possible this is a perk if you are trying to get your music out there but not necessarily making a lot of money from it.
So Record Union is inexpensive and has a nice referral program. The downsides:
- Their User Interface is terrible. Uploading an album for release is a bit of work. You upload the music first. Then you go to a new screen to basically import the songs to your catalog, where you have to open each song onto its own page, add the title and artist name and other details. Once you’ve imported all the songs, then you start creating a release by then adding the imported songs to an album. Tunecore was a lot easier here. In my mind, I should be able to choose “release album”, drop the tracks I want in the correct order, then be given a screen where I can edit the details for all the songs as needed. Their system doesn’t make any effort to determine the name of the song from the file name, you have to go to “edit” for each individual track, input the details, save, then repeat for EVERY TRACK. This is obnoxious. It is fixable, but I’m not sure what sort of development budget they have, so it may remain inconvenient.
- I was a little nervous about using a newer aggregator. One of the things that kept me with Tunecore is that they were the oldest and most established businesses of the sort and I don’t see them ever disappearing. No idea how stable Record Union’s business model is, and if they go under I’d have to migrate my releases again, which is a hassle. I’d probably roll with CDBaby even vs. Tunecore, but the situation bears noting.
I still think Record Union is the better choice, particularly with the A&R program. If you are not churning out albums frequently and make a LOT of sales, Tunecore may be a fair option for you as a more premium, reliable service.
Record Union is better if you’re concerned with price and want a no-frills service that does strictly what you need it to do: Put your music on digital stores. It really isn’t that complicated and I find their service fills the role perfectly.