The DistroKid Music Distribution Service Has Launched An Indie Artist To The Top Of The Charts

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.