I have been assisting my good friend, legendary blues harmonica and sax player Jimmy Z, with his online presence and marketing for him and his band, ZTribe. Though he has recorded and toured with Rod Stewart, Eurythmics, Tom Petty, Etta James and others, and has worked in nearly 1000 sessions, he still struggles to make a living as an independent musician. So I help him any way I can. Right now, he has a presence on MySpace, Facebook, Reverbnation, Soundcloud and we’re building our Amazon page as well as a page on the sixtyone.com.
I have worked with Apple and it’s reps over the years and have learned that their only interest is self-interest. So when iTunes Ping was announced last September, I treated it with great suspicion, but also realized that I should get Jimmy on it, because you have to explore every opportunity that seems worthwhile. And having any leverage on iTunes is an opportunity that should not be missed.
It took a lot of emails & confusion, but we finally were able to post his profile. Following are some highlights. To aid in reading the exchanges, Apple’s email replies are in Blue, mine are Purple.
[This was originally in a series of blog posts. For the complete blog and details, click here and search for “iTunes.”]
Jimmy’s digital distribution on iTunes, and other services, was setup through CD Baby, so I called them the day after the announcement. They told me they did not have any solutions as yet (this has changed now, I’m told).
I wrote Apple iTunes Support and they replied:
As an iTunes Store Content Partner, you can contact your label representative to discuss this opportunity. If you do not know who your label representative is, please log into iTunes Connect and select the “Contact Us” link on the lower right hand side of the page. The iTunes Connect address is:
I presumed ‘Content Partner’ meant someone who has content for sale on iTunes. I went to the link, filled out the form and sent a message, repeating that we had distribution through CD Baby. They replied:
Is there a label representative you can contact in regards to this issue? They should have the information you need to complete the profile.
No, CD Baby does not have reps and referred me to Apple.
My request was apparently escalated and I got a reply from someone else who understood the situation. They are apparently treating CD Baby, TuneCore, Reverbnation, et al, just as they do major labels – which does make sense – sort of – since faux-profiles had already appeared and going through the label ensures authenticity.
We can help you get set up with artist accounts on Ping. We’re scheduled to initiate a set of CD Baby accounts early in the week and I can make sure your key artists are included.
Let’s start with the artist “Jimmy Z and the ZTribe. Once we have Z’s profile up, I will let my associates know the process works so they can get their artists going. What are the next steps?
We refer to them as a “label” internally, even though they aggregate from multiple labels and artists, as we treat all music content providers the same. For our internal systems, they are are all essentially labels on our side, whether CD Baby, Sub-Pop Records or Warner or EMI.
1) Artist Name: Jimmy Z and the ZTribe
2) Label : CD Baby
3) EMAIL person setting up account):
4) NAME (person setting up account):
5) EMAIL (artist or management):
6) NAME associated with above email (artist or management):
I sent them the info and also asked:
What email address should I give others to begin the process?
For now, you can give them the address:
We’re manning that one for inquiries now
Apple is clearly controlling the gate here. Similar to the way they review apps for the iPhone/iPad, they are making sure all is legit and also making sure that an artist has product on iTunes for sale, so they can profit by it.
In a comment to one of my posts, Jeff Price, founder of Tunecore, wrote in detail about how Tunecore is working with Apple, etc. He also said:
To control this, there has to be a manual process (at least at inception) where Apple literally reaches out to an artist via the entity the provided iTunes the music so they can assure the control for that Artist’s Ping page is actually the person/entity that has the right to do so.
(Read the post & Jeff’s complete comment here.)
A few days later, I got an email stating, “Congratulations, you’ve been approved to create your artist profile on Ping.” So it only took 12 days and about bunch of emails to get going.
One minor snag - unlike Facebook, which let’s you have a personal account and then create Pages for businesses and artist that more than one person can administer - there was no obvious mechanism for that on Ping. So I wrote my new friends again:
How can more than one person administer the profile?
You will need to set up a new Apple ID and password for this artist. When you are in the set up, you can select “none” for the credit card option. Presently, the only way to have multiple people access the account is to share this Apple ID and password, which is why you will want to make it dedicated to the artist.
It is a little kludgy and lame, but understandable given the real purpose of iTunes.
Creating the Profile from that point on was simple. However, there were no hints on how to customize the profile and add shows, as well as no way to group videos together. So I wrote:
Is there somewhere I can go to have the following answered (I looked on the Apple site…)
- how do I list concerts/shows?
- how do I customize the page? (Jack Johnson’s is black for example)
Your concerts and shows should be showing on your page. If they are not, please email email@example.com
I am not sure about customization. I can get back to you on this.
For each different version of the artist’s name, a separate Ping page would be required. As each has different content and potentially different people and is delivered differently to iTunes, these are all independent from each other in Ping.
- I don’t see a way to enter information concerts – let alone have them displayed. What am I missing?
- I don’t see any way to customize the Profile or Artist page. Again what am I missing?
I also wrote the concerts@ address. The reply:
Thanks for your message regarding the concert feature of iTunes Ping. We currently have shows listed for the US iTunes Store from Ticketmaster.com, Livenation.com and TicketWeb.com. We are planning on adding more concerts in the near future. If your show is ticketed by one of the companies above, pls follow up with your contacts at the respective ticketing companies.
If your show is not ticketed by Ticketmaster, Live Nation or TicketWeb, please send us the information below:
I’m sent in the info, cc’ing every one of my new buddies:
Reply 1 - We’re collecting information about the shows that aren’t currently included in iTunes so we can better understand which ticketing companies we should pursue adding. We will only list shows that include online ticket sales. At this point we are only able to support shows ticketed by Ticketmaster.com, LiveNation.com and TicketWeb.com. The profiles with different backgrounds are transferred automatically from artists pages in the iTunes store that have artwork and backgrounds applied. This application of art/background is based on decisions by our editorial team and usually occur around a new release.
Reply 2 - You should route your request for an artist page through CDBaby & they can discuss with their rep here. I can tell you in advance that Artist Pages take a lot of work from our Designers & UI Engineers, so we’re only able to do a very limited number of them. They are usually reserved for the most popular artists, who have an extensive sales history (Jack Johnson, Kanye West, U2, etc. being examples of the kind of artists). We’d love to do more, but we just don’t have the resources to do those types of pages for every artist.
Essentially saying you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell to get use of our resources unless you make lots of sales for us. Unless you are ‘star’ (which they decide) you can’t get a customized the profile.
As far as listing shows, since the beginning of the year, Jimmy Z and the ZTribe have performed at over 50 shows, only one of which had tickets sold online. Getting new fans to shows is one of the most important methods help to promote independent music. But not through Ping.
This leads me to conclude Apple is probably taking a percentage of ticket sales through Ping.
A few weeks ago, they added Twitter integration. Again, it’s self-serving. You do a post and it’s Tweeted with a link back to iTunes (so you can buy stuff). What if you don’t have iTunes installed? Most people do not. Fail.
A week later, Read Write Web analyzed recent Twitter data regarding the new Ping integration. In brief, there is low volume and no retweets. No surprise.
Not having Facebook integration is a big problem, which they also say they are working on. We’ll see. There was a rumor on some Tech blogs a few weeks ago that Steve Jobs met with Mark Zuckerberg, but who knows what they talked about.
Because we do not want to spend too much time on Ping until it grows and gets better, all we are doing for now is taking our Facebook posts and copying them to Ping (with appropriate editing when needed). That should suffice for now.
Also, when you link to YouTube videos, that’s all you get – just the link – unlike Facebook where the video will play on your Wall. That’s OK, but in addition, we have also been uploading some videos directly to Ping since that seems to create a better experience. Note that because it is Apple, the videos cannot be Flash.
One interesting point – 90% of the people that have become “followers” are new. That is, they re not on Jimmy’s email newsletter list, nor Facebook friends. But because you cannot send a message or contact them, I have no way of knowing how they found him and no way to do any market research. This certainly does not make for much social interaction or building a fan base. But it is positive nonetheless.
To me, right now Ping is far less useful than MySpace is – even in the abysmal condition MySpace is in today – good luck with that new look, guys. At least they let you list all events easily so that fans can view them and you can contact any fan you want personally.
So… is it worth the time for an independent musician to put up a profile? Yes, but manage it smartly for now and we’ll see where it goes. iTunes is going to remain the top dog for digital sales for the foreseeable future and even though Ping is mostly lame, if you are on iTunes, you should be on Ping.
In an end-of year wrap up, business and tech blog, Silicon Alley Insider, has sited Ping as being the sixth biggest tech flop of 2010 and site it for utterly failing to gain traction.
I agree. But keep in mind; it isn’t like Apple to continue to support lame initiatives and products, so my hope is still that they might get it all together. I still hold out some hope they will pull it together in 2011. Version 2 of most Apple products and services has traditionally been significantly better.
Note – this was originally in a series of blog posts. For the complete blog and details, click here and search for “iTunes.”