Jukeboxes Aren’t Just for Major Artists Any More

Without question, internet radio has proven to be a
godsend for independent musicians who had virtually no
chance of ever being played on commercial radio
stations.  While countless indie artists have taken
full advantage of this opportunity, many of them don’t
realize that there is another, inexpensive way for
them to be heard on a worldwide basis–digital
jukeboxes.

With the advent of digital jukebox technology,
independent musicians have a wonderful opportunity to
reach audiences on a scale that, until a few years
ago, was virtually impossible for anyone not signed to
a major label.  The barriers to entry were formidable,
mainly because space on jukeboxes was limited to a
couple of hundred selections at best.  Since it was in
the best economic interests of jukebox providers to
stock their machines with the most popular music
available, very few were willing to devote their
limited space to independent artists unless those
artists had a large local fan base that could be
relied on to play their music.

Even if an indie artist achieved enough regional
popularity to merit placement on multiple jukeboxes,
the expense and time required to provide a CD or
record for each machine usually made such distribution
impractical.  And if an artist was able to surmount
those obstacles to distribution, there was still no
reliable way to track plays and collect royalties.
However, thanks to digital jukeboxes all that has
changed, and independents now have the potential to
reach a worldwide audience for no more than the cost
of one CD and a couple of bucks for postage.

Right now, the digital jukebox market leaders are
TouchTunes and Ecast.  Both companies offer
machines with space for approximately 2,000 songs that
can be chosen by individual jukebox providers, and
searchable libraries with over 150,000 songs that
customers can download for the cost of an extra play
credit.  Best of all, both offer independent artists
the opportunity to have their music included in their
digital libraries.  Since I’m familiar with both
companies from an artist’s perspective, I’d like to
share some insights based on my personal experience.

To get your music considered for placement with
TouchTunes and Ecast, the first step is to contact the
companies and request a licensing agreement.  The
licenses are non-exclusive, there are no sign-up fees,
and you retain all rights to your original material.
However, if your CD contains any covers, you will have
to obtain permission from the owners of the rights to
those songs before either company will allow you to
include them.  Once you’ve completed the licensing
agreement, just send it back along with a copy of your
CD.  Of course, there’s no guarantee they will accept
your music, but if you have a professional sounding
recording your chances are probably pretty good.

Both companies pay royalties for each jukebox play,
but don’t count on getting rich from them.  TouchTunes
pays about one-third of a cent per play to the artist
and a half cent per play to the holder of the
publishing rights.  They also pay an eight cent per
song mechanical royalty for copying your music into
their system.  Ecast pays a penny per play, but to my
knowledge does not pay a mechanical royalty for
processing your songs.

Of the two companies, I found TouchTunes to be far
superior to Ecast in terms of prompt, courteous,
professional service.  All e-mail inquiries were
answered in a timely manner, and the licensing
agreement was signed and returned within a couple of
weeks.  TouchTunes also sends quarterly statements
that include the number of times your songs were
played and how much you have accrued in royalty
income.

Ecast on the other hand, seemed to be somewhat
disorganized and the staff did a terrible job of
returning e-mails and phone calls.  After awhile, I
got the distinct impression that nobody is really
minding the store.  While my music was available on
TouchTunes in a matter of weeks, it took several
months for Ecast to process it and get it into their
system.  They also have never returned a signed copy
of the licensing agreement, which is decidedly
unprofessional, but I can live with that.  More
troubling to me is the fact that Ecast’s licensing
agreement stipulates that the company will provide
quarterly reports on how much your music has been
played, but in the more than two years since I signed
up with them, I have yet to receive one.  However, I
haven’t made a big stink about it because the time and
hassle that probably would be necessary to get a
response from them wouldn’t be worth the small amount
of money they owe me.  If hundreds or thousands of
dollars were at stake, I wouldn’t hesitate to hire a
lawyer, but my feeling is that the promotional value
of having my music available for play on their
machines far outweighs the few bucks in royalties I
may or may not ever see.

The bottom line is that if you’re an independent
musician, getting your songs onto a digital jukebox is
a very inexpensive way to potentially have your music
heard by millions of people.  While I recommend
starting with TouchTunes, it never hurts to cover all
your bases.  Ecast is currently preparing to launch
what it calls the Ecast Emerging Music Program
specifically for unsigned artists, although they have
yet to offer any details.  Whether this means they
will get their act together and improve their artist
services is anybody’s guess, but if your main
objective is to promote your music and you’re willing
to take a few chances, it can’t hurt to try.