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Timeless truth about musicThe music business has radically changed as a result of the internet. This site is testament to that fact. We could all do with a little time to sit and reflect upon what that means for music business professionals, independent artists, music entrepreneurs and potential music careerists.

And there are important things to discuss. We can talk about how to promote your website. We can talk about how to pimp your MySpace page. We could spend time discussing the collapse of copyright in an online world, or the rise of the Long Tail. We might wish to discuss Microsoft’s Zune, and how it plans to be yet another Goliath to Apple’s iDavid.

But in doing so, we might forget to reflect upon the simple truth that is the heart of music business. It is the key to success in music marketing and retail as well as to gig promotion, media coverage, buzz and, most importantly, the sale of music online and off. It has been true since the beginning of the music business and it is still true today. It stands, unscathed by the world wide web, impervious to the sands of time.

It is this simple 3-step principle, and it is at the heart of all music business success:

People hear music — People like music — People buy music

It’s as simple as that.

1. People hear music
This is why radio is such a successful driver of music sales. People need to hear whole songs. They need to hear them more than once. They need them to get under their skin and into their subconscious. The lesson here? Don’t muck about with 30 second samples. Don’t bother with streaming. Let people download your music and integrate it into their daily lives. Let them take it with them where they go. Let them put it on shuffle and have your music come up from time to time as part of their personal musical identity.

2. People like music
Having heard the song a number of times, they become far more than people who happen to like a particular tune and are prepared to pay some pennies in order to be allowed to listen to it. They become your fans: people who say ‘Oh yeah – I love that band’… rather than people who simply hear 30 seconds, think ‘that sounds cool’ and then move on elsewhere completely disinterested in anything else you may have to offer them.

3. People buy music
Fans of an artist will willingly and happily engage in an economic relationship with that artist. I’m not just saying ‘give the music away and make money on the t-shirts’ (though that can work too) — this goes deeper and is a more nuanced relationship. Fans buy music. They buy associated products. They buy concert tickets. You can’t convert a browser into a fan in a matter of seconds. Best case scenario, you’re looking at an impulse purchase.

Nobody buys a movie ticket because they enjoyed the film so much. Nobody rushes to the bookshop to pick up a copy of the novel they read over and over again the previous weekend. But — online or off — people get to hear a piece of music, grow to love it over time, and then wave their cash at whoever will take it from them so that they can own a part of that experience that has given them so much joy.

Naturally, there’s a fourth bonus timeless step:

4) People share music
You hear a song on the radio. You hear it again. You love the song. You buy the record. You bring it home. You play it and play it over and over. And then your next impulse? Tell a friend: “you’ve got to hear this record — it’s so great. LISTEN!” — and you play it to them. You might even let them tape it, or let them take your copy home for a bit.

And then the process starts again. They hear. They like. They buy.

Of course, the ways and means by which that happens changes over time. But the fact that it works like this can’t change. You can’t get them to buy, then hear, then like… any more than you can get them to like then buy then hear.

HEAR music, LIKE music, BUY music.

It’s so simple and obvious. It’s always been true. It only happens that way, and it only happens in that order. If your online music strategy doesn’t follow that universal truth, then you’re only making it hard for yourself.