At the Women In Music Awards 2022, we celebrated the achievements of 12 game changing executives and artists as the industry came together to honour their work. Music Week has spoken to all 12 winners to tell their stories.
Joined by artist clients and members of her team on the day, TuneCore CEO Andreea Gleeson delivered an impassioned winning speech on stage. In our interview, her commitment to pushing the industry forward and giving a platform to independent acts is abundantly clear...
Interview by Charlotte Gunn
Drawing on her years of experience as an eCommerce pioneer in the retail industry, she joined TuneCore in 2015 as a member of its senior leadership team and rose to CEO in 2021. Gleeson has helped build TuneCore into one of the most dynamic companies in independent music. Her passionate support of independent artists has driven the implementation of new products and technology, artist education programmes, artist support, marketing and more.
Earlier this year, she spearheaded the introduction of a new pricing plan, Unlimited, which allows artists at any stage of their career to distribute music unimpeded by traditional industry barriers.
Gleeson is also a fierce advocate for gender equality in the music industry. She commissioned the MIDiA study Be The Change: Women In Music 2022 to identify why independent female creators remain underrepresented, to raise awareness on their challenges and incite change. Gleeson also serves as a US ambassador for Keychange and continues to push for a more sustainable, equitable and diverse future within the industry.
Here, she shares her story with Music Week...
How does it feel to win this category which has a track record of recognising key figures in the global business?
“Honestly, I’m very humbled. I feel like I’m just getting started so it’s really amazing recognition and a real surprise. The more examples that we can have for recognising women, the better it is to help other women participate. I’m especially excited because I’m an immigrant, I came to the US when I was four from communist Romania. And, really, it means even more to get this recognition in the UK, in a category like this, so it’s just really, really special to me. We wanted to attend before I knew I was going to win! My plan was to bring a lot of our artists and fill a table up, but I wanted to be there because it’s so important to show up and support each other. I was going to be there no matter what.”
Just over a year on from your promotion to CEO, how have you found the experience of taking on the top job?
“You know, it’s harder than I thought it would be. Because I find that there are areas that are always in conflict with each other for time. There’s definitely the running the business part, so there’s the strategic work. But a big part of my time is spent on HR-related things because I’m a big believer in [the saying], ‘You get out what you put in.’ I spend a lot of time on the culture and active effort around retention. And it’s paid off because we actually made one of Crain’s Best Places To Work in New York City. That was amazing because that’s entirely employee-driven.”
The more examples that we can have for recognising women, the better it is to help other women participate
You have been vocal about championing women in the independent music ecosystem, how is your annual study supporting that agenda?
“Before I came to TuneCore seven years ago, I actually worked for over a decade in retail. I came from an industry where there were women at all levels. Then I came over to TuneCore and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m a minority.’ I was oblivious, essentially. I didn’t even think that was a thing, which can be good and bad.
“I was in my first month at TuneCore, learning about our customer base, and it struck me that only about a quarter of our artists were female. And I thought ‘OK, well I get that, if you’re at a top label, there’s a gatekeeper, but why at the DIY level where it's open are not more women participating?’ That participation stayed about the same until I started working for Denis [Ladegaillerie, founder & CEO, Believe] in the summer of 2020, when former CEO, Scott Ackerman stepped down, I was made co-head and Denis gave me my OKRs for the year. The number one was to work on gender parity within our organisation and in the industry, and I was like, 'I’ve been dying to work on this!'
“I found there were a lot of studies out there talking about what the gap was, but not why it was happening. And like any good business person, you’re going to ask, ‘OK, how do I tackle something? What’s the problem? How do we fix it?’ And that drives your initiatives. So that’s when we reached out to MIDiA. And we did the last two versions of the study to really get into why the gaps were happening.”
What did you discover?
“There were three main reasons. One of the biggest reasons was that harassment continues to be very prevalent. Second is that women aren't given access to the same resources and opportunities as their male counterparts. And then third is confidence. Because if you have the first two, you’re, of course, going to have the third. And then last year we went a little bit deeper – the first year we had about 400 respondents, last year, we had 1,000, and we added women executives, additional creators and men. The most interesting thing for me was when men and women were asked the same question, for example, ‘Is there a pay gap?’ Women answered around 65% yes, but men answered about 35% yes. This really illustrates the biggest reason why we did the study: we wanted to help educate, because you can’t make change unless you know where you’re at.”
How are you helping to export the work of Keychange to the US and elsewhere?
“I came back with the results of Be The Change and I was looking around at what organisations we could partner with to start to drive action. What stood out for me with Keychange was the two parts of their programme: their pledge programme, which really puts the feet to the fire for organisations, and the participant programme, where they're actually creating opportunities and resources for women with the year-long mentorship. They had done a slight extension into Canada because of the ties to the UK, but it wasn’t in the US. And I was like, ‘We need this here!’ And so that’s when I started talking with Joe Frankland from PRS Foundation, Musikcentrum Öst and obviously, Reeperbahn, because they’re the three organisations.
“I said, ‘What do we need to do to get this to the US?’ And we made that donation last year. Right now, they have three team members who have been appointed and who are starting to get things ready. It takes some time when you’re starting from zero. But we’re very excited. We’re starting with the pledge programme, and the participant programme will start to get applicants next year to begin the following year.”
I had been dying to work on gender parity in the music industry
You work with DIY acts and big legacy artists – how do you enjoy those separate challenges?
“I say this to my team all the time: if our artists are successful, we’re successful. So if we put the focus on that and you have something that's solving artists’ problems, that they can’t live without, you’re going to be successful. There’s two parts of that, if you’re an artist just starting out, you need to make better music and that comes with practice, and then you need to become better known.
“TuneCore is predominantly technology driven, Believe Distribution is technology driven but with a few more people involved, and artist services offer much more personalised support. We all have the same exact goals which is to help artists grow at all stages of their career but there’s no one size fits all. We have artists like Sault, Russ, Conor Maynard... A great example is Lauren Spencer-Smith. She’s an artist who has been with TuneCore for some years and in January had her first song go viral. She signed a deal with Sir Lucian Grainge on her own imprint between Republic and Island Records and that’s what she wanted to do. We are an open platform and we see a lot of artists come and go – and often they do come back.”
What’s the outlook for the independent sector, and how is TuneCore helping the market grow for self-releasing acts?
“For artists today, here’s no more of that, ‘Oh, you have a good voice and so we’re going to put you in with a good songwriter, put this look team around you and then you’re going to be a superstar.’ Artists are growing through authenticity. Platforms like TikTok, Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts have really made it so that fans can discover artists and they love it. They love uncovering the secret treasure of an artist that no one told them about.
“The music is rising up because of its merit and these discovery algorithms, which is incredible. TikTok will show a piece of content and, if it resonates with an audience, it will be shown to more and more and more users. The thing about these platforms is that it’s not the super polished content that does very well, it’s actually the opposite, it’s very raw. It’s becoming harder for the major record labels to make someone do that – it’s either them or not. An artist does have to think about not just how they’re creating the music and performing it, but almost like an expanded palette to all the other dimensions of how they’re showing the sides of their creativity, including social media platforms. And either you have that or you don’t.
“Artists are not signed anymore, audiences are signed. You need to have a certain audience before you can get signed, right? And the artists have already been doing all the things themselves to get to that point. And then they’re like, ‘Oh, well, why not continue going by myself and hire a team that believes in what I’m doing.’”
Given this is an international award, what do you think we should look for in terms of big developments for the music industry around the world?
“Two things have really happened to change the landscape of music. When I started, downloads were still driving more revenue and streaming, and then that crossover happened. Streaming has made music more accessible to more listeners around the world. What often happens is the listeners create a market for more musicians to be able to build a career. The top charting music in a market like Indonesia is Indonesian music and artists, not global artists from the West. And so as the listenership grows, the market grows for there to be a viable business that allows artists to actually start to make a living off their art. Before social media, you needed radio promotion, now you can actually build audiences yourself.
“Beyond that, one thing I’d like to mention is our Social Platforms project. When artists were going viral, we saw that they were releasing songs onto their own channel and then they would rush to put it up. But we said, ‘Why don’t we actually help this along?’ So we engineered the ability to distribute to your social platforms and get into the music libraries as a preset to distribution. What a lot of artists who are successful are doing is previewing a snippet of their song. And then they’ll do a pre-save campaign and it actually helps them get all the units for the day of release to help them chart. This whole teasing campaign is becoming a very, very important part of their release strategy and we’re very excited to be the ones in first to be helping them do that.”