In an unexpected reversal of the nascent shift towards direct artist-to-service distribution, two music industry giants have nixed their plans to trial DIY distribution as a viable business model.
Spotify set the music industry alight last year after announcing plans to allow artists to directly upload their music to the streaming service. This feature was launched in beta form in 2018 before the company purchased a stake in Distrokid, planning to partner with the existing distribution platform in order to enable artists to upload their music to all streaming services (including competitors Apple Music and TIDAL) through Spotify’s direct-upload service.
This controversial move was seen as a major reinforcement of the industry-wide shift towards DIY distribution that had been taking place over recent years: platforms such as STEM, TuneCore, CDBaby, and Distrokid have developed automated services that allow artists to digitally distribute their music without the help of a professional, and these have been growing increasingly popular.
In a dramatic about-face that suggests the confidence placed by the industry in this new business model is fading, both Spotify and STEM have announced the closure of their DIY distribution services. Reversing its decision to move into distribution, Spotify officially announced that its Upload Beta Program will cease operations imminently, citing “insights and feedback” received from artists during the trial that led to their decision.
The explanation provided was vague, suggesting that “the best way for us to serve artists and labels is to focus our resources on developing tools in areas where Spotify can uniquely benefit them.” Music Business Worldwide noted that the shutdown of the program was more likely to do with the fact that digital distribution is a “labor-intensive business”, and Spotify’s decision to offer such a service free of charge didn’t make financial sense for a company that has only recently managed to turn a profit after operating for over a decade.
Spotify’s decision to retreat from digital distribution has arisen only a month after the news that LA-based digital music startup STEM is also cancelling its DIY distribution program, focusing instead on working with a curated group of artists, selected from an online application system. Known for distributing the work of Frank Ocean and Childish Gambino and receiving investment from industry heavyweights, STEM previously offered a similar service to Distrokid and Tunecore, but has now shifted towards a more conservative approach that focuses on providing a smaller, hand-picked group of artists with a more personalised service – an approach adopted by digital distributors like MN2S.
Though the direct-upload model has gained some popularity in recent years, Spotify and STEM’s decision to abandon their DIY distribution programs and focus on a more traditional model reaffirms the role of conventional distributors, suggesting that there is still demand for services that offer more than just an automated digital pipeline for any artist to upload their music to any service.
Digital distributors like MN2S take a selective approach, only taking on labels and artists that we believe in and can champion through our work. We consider ourselves, our labels and our artists as partners, aiming to provide a top-class service based on mutual respect and personal relationships.