I've written about TuneCore many times in the past: it's a service for independent musicians that submits their recordings to iTunes, Amazon MP3, and other big online stores--and it's helping some artists make a good deal of money.
The fees are quite reasonable; they top out around $20 a year, although the precise pricing depends on what you're submitting and how many stores you want it in--and artists have had some substantial financial success using it. Earlier this month, an unsigned hip-hop artist named Drake sold 300,000 copies of his single through TuneCore in just 14 days; The New York Times listed him as having the No. 3 download in the U.S. For those of you keeping track at home, that probably means the artist earned around $150,000 in two weeks--that's take-home money, not a label advance that needs to be earned back through future sales.
Drake's story is instructive: days after distributing the single through TuneCore, he signed a deal with the world's largest record label, Universal. Today, TuneCore announced its own deal with Universal; specifically, the TuneCore Store will resell services offered by Universal Music Group Distribution, such as mastering (the final step in a professional audio production) and album art. Guitar Center, a massive guitar retailer with more than 200 stores, will also cooperate with Universal Distribution to sell physical CDs by TuneCore artists at its stores.
But the real opportunity is more subtle. You have to ask what a big label like Universal gets out of the deal. Simple: this is a way to discover independent artists without doing the traditional boots-on-the-ground work of an A&R (artist and repertoire) representative. If a TuneCore customer buys Universal services, and then turns out to be a hot-seller, the artist and the label already have a relationship on which to build. Big-label contracts aren't--and shouldn't be--the goal of every indie musician, but for those who want a shot at reaching a large audience fast and are willing to give up some control to do so, they're still tempting.