Philip Kaplan’s startup, the DistroKid, has had its first major success story. The hip hop group Jack & Jack have hit No. 12 on the Billboard Top 200, a first for an indie group. I asked Kaplan about how to make a band successful in the Internet age and what it means for indie musicians.
TechCrunch: So what happened exactly? What does this mean?
Kaplan: For the first time in history an indie artist went to #1, outselling Taylor Swift and all the majors, and can keep 100% of their sales & streaming royalties.
TC: Explain DistroKid.
K: DistroKid is a music distribution service. That means we help musicians get their music into iTunes, Spotify, and other services.
Most people don’t realize that if a band wants to sell their music in iTunes, they either have to be signed by a record label, or go through a distributor. Until DistroKid, distributors charged an annual fee of around $40 for every song or album that a musician uploads. Many distributors also take a percentage of earnings.
DistroKid changed that by letting musicians upload an unlimited number of songs and albums, while delivering 100% of royalties, for $19.99/year. This makes possible hits that might never have otherwise been released. We’ve become particularly popular with well-known YouTubers. Because before DistroKid, it was too expensive for most musicians to be prolific and see what sticks–which is how things go viral.
TC: Who are Jack & Jack?
K: Jack & Jack are a pop/rap duo from Omaha. Their latest album, “Calibraska,” which they distributed using DistroKid, debuted at #1 on the iTunes charts. It’s currently #12 on the Billboard charts.
Jack & Jack don’t have a record label. They built a large fan base using Vine, YouTube, and Twitter.
TC: Tell us what this means for music? For the music industry?
K: It used to be impossible to sell albums without a record label. Much less have a #1 hit. That’s not the case anymore.
Savvy musicians can use YouTube and Twitter to get the word out, and build a fan base without the label support. Videos can be shot for free & released on YouTube, and music can be recorded on a laptop.
TC: What’s next for Jack & Jack? DistroKid?
K: 25,000 artists use DistroKid. Many of them will be joining the ranks of Jack & Jack, bypassing major labels. We have 2 other artists charting right now: “Hit The Quan” by iHeartMemphis is the #12 Hip Hop single (snoop recently posted it on Instagram!). And our artists TheBalcony hit #9 on the alternative chart.
TC: How does it feel to have a song on the charts from an indie distributor?
K: We hear all the time that the music business is dying. It’s true that major label artists who used to sell tons of CDs are feeling a squeeze. But independent distributors like DistroKid send millions of dollars in royalties to the long-tail of hobby musicians all over the world. These are people who would’ve never been able to sell their music under the old regime.
Every time I send, say, a $200 check to a 16-year-old kid who records in his bedroom on Garageband–of which there are thousands–I have a different perspective. And when we have a #1 hit? it’s unbelievable.
This is a big milestone for the music business & for independent musicians.
And probably sucks a little for major labels.