The 20 things you MUST know about music online


UPDATE: Download and read the whole ’20 Things’ e-book on this page.

I’m making myself redundant here. Understand and implement these simple principles — and you won’t need me any more.

I was on a panel last night, at an event for the Moseley Creative Forum. The topic was ‘Is this the best time ever to be in the music industry?’. Naturally, there was some debate.

My brief, as you might expect, was to come up with some tips for dealing with the music industry in these ‘best of times’. So I drew up a list of bullet points to discuss.

I was aiming for a top 10 list — but there are more things than that to understand if you’re going to make any headway in the music business online. So I made it a top 20.

In no particular order (but numbered so you know where you’re up to):

1. Don’t believe the hype: Sandi Thom, the Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen are not super famous, rich and successful because of MySpace, and nor because they miraculously drew a crowd of thousands to their homegrown webcast. PR, traditional media, record labels and money were all involved.

2. Hear / Like / Buy: It’s the golden rule. People hear music, then they like music, then they buy music. It’s the only order it can happen in. If you try to do it in any other sequence, it just won’t work.

3. Opinion Leaders Rule: We know the importance of radio and press. There are now new opinion leaders who will tell your story with credibility. You need to find out who they are — or better yet, become one of them.

4. Customise: A tailored solution at best, or at the very least a bespoke kitset approach to your web presence is crucial. An off-the-shelf number will almost guarantee your anonymity.

5. The Long Tail: Chris Anderson has pretty much proved that the future of retail is selling less of more. Put everything online. Expand your catalogue. You will make more money selling a large number of niche products than you will selling a few hits.

6. Web 2.0: Forget being a destination — become an environment. Let your customers tag and sort your catalogue. Open up for user-generated content. Your website is not a brochure — it’s a place where people gather and connect with you and with each other.

7. Connect: Learn how to tell a story, and learn how to tell it in an appropriate fashion for web communication. Think about how that could be translated for both new media and mainstream PR outlets.

8. Cross-promote: Your online stuff is not a replacement for your offline stuff, and nor does it exist independently of it. Figure out how to make the two genuinely intersect.

9. Fewer Clicks: This is especially true if you want somebody to part with their money. If I have to fill in a form, navigate through three layers of menu and then enter a password, I don’t want your music any more.

10. Professionalism: Have a proper domain. MySpace is not your website. Learn to spell. Use high-quality photography. Get a web designer who understands design — not just code.

11. The Death of Scarcity: Understand that the economics of the internet is fundamentally different to the economics of the world of shelves and limited stock. Know that you could give away 2 million copies of your record in order to sell a thousand.

12. Distributed Identity: From a PR perspective, you are better off scattering yourself right across the internet, rather than staying put in one place. Memberships, profiles, comments, and networks are incredibly helpful.

13. SEO: You need to understand how Search Engine Optimisation works, and how you can maximise your chances of being found. Be both findable — and searchable.

14. Permission: This is very basic stuff. Don’t spam. Let people opt-in. Make the information you send them relevant, useful and welcome. Long lists of dates and events are impersonal and feel like work. Personalised messages seem far more important.

15. RSS: Provide it, use it and teach it. Relying on people to come back to visit your website is ultimately soul destroying. So is always making more content all the time. RSS is the single most important aspect of your site. Treat it as such – but remember it’s still new for most people. Help your audience come to grips with it.

16. Accessibility: Not everyone has a fast computer or high speed access. Not everybody has the gift of sight. Make everything you do online accessible. Make your site XHTML compliant. It’s easy to do, it’s important, and it stops you from turning people away at the door. You wouldn’t have a shop without wheelchair access, would you?

17. Reward & Incentivise: Everything is now available all of the time. Give people a reason to consider you as part of their economic engagement with music. A 30-second streaming sample is worse than useless.

18. Frequency is everything: Publish daily. There’s nothing more sad than an abandoned website or a disused forum. Search engines prioritise active sites. You want people to come back? Give them something to come back to that they haven’t seen before.

19. Make it viral: Whatever you do, make it something that people will want to send to other people. Your best marketing is word of mouth, because online, word of mouth is exponentially more powerful.

20. Forget product — sell relationship: The old model of music business is dominated by the sale of an individual artefact for a set sum of money. iTunes is still completely old school. The new model is about starting an ongoing economic relationship with a community of fans.

And a bonus:

21. The chart is a mug’s game: Not only is the top 40 singles chart entirely meaningless, it has even stopped working as a promotional tool. Don’t aim for the chart — aim for a sustainable career.

And that’s what I came up with. I didn’t have time to elaborate on most of them during my presentation, and so I thought what I’d do is for the next few weeks, just pick one at a time, and elaborate a little bit to try and explain each of those core principles.

Stay tuned. Better yet — subscribe for free, so you won’t miss a thing.

21 thoughts on “The 20 things you MUST know about music online

  1. Hey Andrew,
    sorry I missed it last night, in the same spirit of hear, like, (want) and buy, I think another general strategy online is:

    Research, adapt, overcome.

    by this i mean find out the best way to do something, adjust your strategy accordingly and generate a new income stream. I also mean regularly research what you are already doing and ask the question, do i need to adapt my existing “new” strategies again to engage a changing online environment and overcome…again?

    for those who don’t know me….in my case, building my own webshop was a false economy when the most effective tool for my particular niche turned out to be a mixture of
    1. standard shop distribution (Much like the Mad Hatters tea party at the moment but looking to change rapidly in future. I thought I had better play the “generate a retail profile” game for now just in case….),
    2. digital distribution (John Henry has a hammer and those new customers are waiting). I’m still waiting on my first accounting, we’ll see how far into the mountains this “railroad” has got…..
    3. Ebay (Chris anderson’s “get it all online and sell less of more”)
    as that was where all my particular punters spend a lot of their time….. and ebay comes with all the web 2.0 accessories/functions my current website does not.

    Having said that, I’m already looking for the solution that will replace my ebay shop. And I haven’t worked out whether I’m the Mad
    Hatter of the old strategy, the John Henry of the new one or whether I must face the fact I’m none of the above but Alice??!!

  2. Javier Marti says:

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    It is up to you, you choose the subject.
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    You can even re-use some of what you have here, in the last part of the article, “your view and comments”. That would save you time and still be interesting for readers.
    And yes, I know you may not have the time. Theoretically, none of us do…;)

    Failing that, if you like the project and you can help us spread the word -even if you don’t write- it would be great.
    Since we are starting, any help is appreciated.

    By making this valuable information available online for free, I truly believe we are helping to make the world a better place.
    And you could do your bit for the world too, by sharing what you know, as we already do.

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  3. Hi Andrew,
    I agree to the rule number 10. You should be professional about your presence online, having your web site with your domain name and photography that doesn’t come from you mobile phone!
    Nevertheless, I think that MySpace (or even is a wonderful networking tool. It’s very easy to redirect the myspace visitors to your web site and show that are actually professional.

    Very good job this 20 rules, I think that anybody who wish to get known on the web should know these rules. It’s a little bible!

  4. Stef says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Enjoying this series very much. You’re putting in print a lot of the thinking I’ve been using for my record label for some time –

    I think the distillation of much of this is that artists and albums are becoming more like memes that people can refer to and reference. As a label it is our responsibility to act more like an art gallery, managing the growth and reputations of the artists we work with.



  5. Hughie says:

    Andrew, spot on on all counts. My PhD research is finding exacly how correct you are – especially on the first point! (interesting ho wmost of the commenters hijack your cred for this reason :-)

    To this list, I would add (which is kind of a summary of the other points): It’s the network, stupid! What you need to to build many networks – with fans, with associates, with other musos, with lots of websites and related online and offline media. This cannot be bought, and has to be developed slowly and meticulously over time. Only then will the quality of your music be shown …

    Of course, we’ll know how accurate my views are when I release my own CD in the coming months …

  6. Gary Storm says:

    Excellent points, especially number 20. A perfect example of this in action is, where indie artists have excellent relations with people who go there, listen, and invest. 6 artist in the recording studio so far, and thousands of meaningful friendships have begun.

  7. D.A. Boyer says:

    Thanks for including #16 about accessibility: high speed and vision impairment. There’s also a gap in people’s ability to access education about how to participate in online resources. Nobody over 40, for instance, grew up with computers, and the learning curve continues to accelerate and get steeper. Including basic nav hints and tools keeps space democratic and inclusive.

  8. JohnM says:

    I found “20 Things” from a blog post on I want to thank you for taking the time to put together this great (no, awesome!) eBook, and then giving it away for free. As a software developer and musician, I really agree with your views on open source (as stated in your Manifesto). Replacing traditional copyrights with other licensing models (like the Creative Commons) which encourage reuse, sharing, remixing (recasting, as you put it), fosters creativity. That, in large part, is why I’m a member of kompoz. I know putting this eBook together was a ton of work, so … many thanks.

  9. Felix says:

    What valuable reading, thank you for making this available.
    I can’t hold back the urge to quote this piece though – it’s just too funny:

    “If you don’t give proper consideration to your written communication, then you’re probably going to be lazy or unreliable elsewhere.
    Yes, I’m a university lecturer. Yes, this probably concerns me more than it does most people — but you’re trying to business here, right?”

    No disrespect intended.

  10. August says:

    Thanks for interesting and helpful reading.!!!

  11. Jarome says:

    Thank you for this excellent resource Andrew!
    I use it in my music 2.0 business class and it is essential reading for all the students. I produce a number of independant artists from around the world and have posted a link to the eBook on my Blog so they can read it and use it. You have helped myself and independant artists really get excited about what they can do with their music again.

  12. Natalie says:

    I’ve referred my readers to this post for online music promotion as i think you give great tips (my website is about songwriting and recording music).

  13. Johnson says:

    Hi Andrew,
    It’s the first article where I found such an overall information for me. A lot of thanks!

  14. Dear Andrew

    Thanks for developing the 20 rules. I am sure you will expand on those in the future, but it’s a great basis to start with.

    I love “The long Tail”! An absolute MUST READ for anyone in the music business…

    I recommend the book to all my friends and clients. Besides producing music I also help other artists to launch their music and help with marketing campaigns.

    I am also running an online shop called

    I will recommend your writing to everyone.

    Keep up the good work!


  15. Brendan says:

    Hi Andrew,
    Interesting article, enjoyed it. Brendan

  16. Ambient Guy says:

    Im reading through this as recommended by another site. I had to stop and comment on number five because it is close to my heart.

    I run a site for ambient music artists, called Ambient Music Garden and some of the artists are more niche than others. Some of the guys don’t sell as well as the others but it doesn’t mean their work is any less valuable. One of the artists who is particularly niche and doesn’t sell well is one of my personal favourites because of the great feeling his music creates within me.

    So I’m thinking, yes, sell less of more because this gives music lovers more opportunity to find music that they will love and that will become personal to them throughout their life. The Internet does that for us and has been doing that for us for many years now. we can share our music loves with others who may never have heard such esoteric music or ever would have had the chance to do so.

    Music is perfect for the Internet, the Internet is perfect for music. Sure there are some legal and rights challenges but I don’t feel they outweigh the advantages to the musician nor the music lover.

    Thank you for the opportunity to read and comment, This is a great site, why didn’t I find it before!!! :O)

  17. Damien says:

    I love the list but my favorite is #17 Reward & Incentivise. One example of this is the marketing plan employed by Nick Minaj and her marketing team. She gave away close to ten mixtapes before she actually blew up and put out an album. If people like your music they’ll buy it, you just give them a chance to do so.

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  18. Ellen says:

    While I generally agree that specialty retailing requires a custom website and unique marketing, the musician should determine their audience rather than the listener choosing how their musicians will beg for their attention. A musician is not a court jester or social idol. As a musician, I am not interested in having my music appreciated by those who can no longer read or make a full paragraph of intelligent thought on a page, or have more involvement in the process of selecting their own music than to buy what their friend says is good or be able to use only one or two brain cells to push a button that says “buy now”.

    I make music for the intelligent connoisseur of quality music. That means albums that take more than 5 minutes a song to make by real artists who have studied music the way doctors study medicine or dancers study dance – that is blood, sweat and tears over the years in a course of serious study.

    To attempt to placate the social agenda of the time is counter to being an artist. The artists lead into new paradigms of thought. They are not influenced by the tastes of the masses and their job is to explore the unknown and create original works of art to advance the social culture, not succumb to it. To do otherwise, for any artist, is an act of prostitution in the guise of social acceptance.

  19. John Chang says:

    Great advice here, the 20 rules cover a lot of what artists need to know about the industry these days!

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