Bristol-based distributor 3tone - run by Dean Roberts and Christoffer Borud - has emailed customers to explain that “over the next few days we will be performing necessary maintenance across our network and platform” and that customers should expect “temporary outages” as the company works to “migrate data”.
However, CMU understands that the email is simply an attempt to cover up the fact that 3tone no longer has any ability to deliver or manage content on behalf of its label and artist customers. This comes after the company was terminated by its previous “backend” distribution partner, and lost a potential new partner with which it had started discussions
Without such a partner in place, the company - which has no distribution infrastructure itself - is unable to deliver music to streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music.
Assuming that is the case, this email is just the latest in a string of lies put out by Dean Roberts, the founder of 3tone.
Roberts has repeatedly lied to customers and to staff. Those lies have included promises that royalties would be paid, that salaries would be paid, and that investment had been secured by his business. He lied about his involvement with artists like Amy Winehouse and John Newman - lies which formed a key part of his narrative to engage both customers and staff at 3tone. And since CMU’s investigation was published, he’s lied to suppliers, staff and customers about 3tone’s ability to operate.
After CMU’s exclusive investigation into 3tone showed that the company had left artists and staff unpaid for months, Newman tweeted saying that “Dean Roberts did not discover, manage or have any involvement in my career bar being a very disruptive tour manager that went on to steal from me”. Staff have still not been paid - and while there has been a small flurry of payments to some artists this week - there are still many who have not received the money they are owed.
Sources told CMU some time ago that 3tone was “shopping around” to find a new backend distribution partner to allow it to continue to deliver content to Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming services - knowing that the distributor it was working with was going to terminate its contract. Those sources have also revealed that while 3tone had begun conversations with a new backend provider, that distributor was then alerted to 3tone’s track record. This has now resulted in that distribution partner pulling out of those negotiations.
As things currently stand, we understand that it’s highly unlikely 3tone has been able to integrate with a new distribution partner in the few days since the potential new provider pulling out, and is now unable to deliver content to streaming services. In addition, it’s likely that any tracks that had been delivered through 3tone will have been taken down at the point the previous distribution agreement was terminated.
While many artists and labels had been able to remove their music from 3tone over the past few months in order to switch to another distributor, others had not - and CMU has been contacted since the new year by artists who have only become aware of problems at 3tone, having been directed to our coverage.
The fact that 3tone has been able to operate for so long, despite significant issues being raised early on by many people, is something that prompts a number of questions about the current way “third party distributors” - who do not have the ability to deliver content directly into music services - conduct themselves, and the standards their upstream partners should apply.
That another distributor was close to entering into an agreement with a company with such a poor track record raises additional questions - and highlights the need for higher standards of due diligence undertaken by some service providers in the music industry.
UPDATE 2 Feb 2024, 3.30pm:
Local sources have indicated to CMU today that 3tone’s former offices appear to have been vacated by company, with one office now occupied by an unrelated business and the other empty with various boxes and goods stacked in a corner. The company’s logos have been scratched off the windows and the company is no longer listed on the name plate of companies operating from the building.