Thing 2: Hear / Like / Buy

There are lots of sophisticated tricks and tips for marketing music, online and off. But if you mess up this one fundamental principle, you might as well not bother at all.

Music is pretty much unique when it comes to media consumption. You don’t buy a movie ticket because you liked the film so much, and while you might buy a book because you enjoyed reading it so much at the library, typically you’ll purchase first, then consume.

DVDs are, perhaps, a little closer to the music buying experience. You love a film, so you buy the disc. But generally, you love the film because you took a chance and paid to see it in the cinema.

But music is different — and radio proves that. By far the most reliable way to promote music is to have people hear it. Repeatedly, if possible — and for free. After a while, if you’re lucky, people get to know and love the music. Sooner or later, they’re going to want to own it.

This isn’t just true for pop music. It’s not just about getting a hook stuck in someone’s brain so they hum it to themselves as they take out the rubbish. So-called ‘serious’ music also benefits from familiarity — perhaps even more so. The more challenging a work, the more exposure is required to really get inside it and appreciate it.

Likewise, liking music is not just about entertainment. Music consumption, to many people, is a serious business. And by consumption, I don’t just mean buying or listening. It also involves collecting, organising and making sense of the music in relation to a personal canon. It takes more than an impulse purchase to break into that sphere.

But either way — whether it’s a pop tune, a heavily political punk album, or an experimental, avant-garde suite — the key is very simple: people have to hear music, then they will grow to like it, and then finally, if you’re lucky, they will engage in an economic relationship in order to consume (not just buy and listen to) that music.

That’s the order it has to happen in. It can’t happen in any other order. There’s no point in hoping that people will buy the music, then hear it, then like it. They just won’t.

This is not, I trust you’ll agree, rocket science. It’s perfectly obvious, straightforward and practical. And yet it’s the one mistake that most people make when promoting music online.

Nobody really wants to buy a piece of music they don’t know — let alone one they haven’t heard. Especially if it’s by someone who lies outside their usual frame of reference.

And a 30-second sample is a waste of your time and bandwidth. It’s worse than useless. That’s not enough to get to like your music. Let them hear it, keep it, live with it. And then bring them back as a fan.

More than ever before, you have to build that relationship, because it’s easier than ever before to just not bother and simply go elsewhere. Elsewhere, after all, is right here too. No matter how good your music, it’s competing with millions of other choices. Millions.

The simplest way to promote music and build an economic relationship with a consumer is to let them hear it. Let them hear it repeatedly, without restriction. Let them grow to love your music and hear it as a part of their collection. Then they will want you to have their money.

This is not just a truism about music online — it’s also just how capitalism works. You provide value, then you are rewarded with money.

You don’t get the money first — and you don’t get to decide what value is.

15 thoughts on “Thing 2: Hear / Like / Buy

  1. Boris says:

    Dubber, when someone buys music, they are, on a practical level, buying the ability to hear that music when they want. When you say “Let them hear it, keep it, live with it. And then bring them back as a fan.”, the “keep it” part makes a mockery of the practical reason to purchase the music. That is why the method for marketing must not allow the potential customer to retain the music, or else there is no reason to purchase the track.

  2. Dubber says:

    I see your point, but I disagree with the premise. You’re assuming that the way to make money on the internet is to make one track, sell one track, rinse, repeat. While this overlooks the success of radio airplay in the selling of albums, rather than just singles, I think there’s also something bigger at work here.

    I’m not convinced that the way forward for making money from music online is a simple retail model (you give me some money, I give you some music). I think a more complex economic relationship between audiences and artists is on the cards — whether that’s Peter Jenner’s blanket license fee or some other model.

    In the meantime, I’m convinced that there is more value in a fan than in the sale of a single digital music artefact.

    There’s another, deeper point about economics to be made here — and it goes to the heart of the fallacy of the ‘lost sale’ — but I’m going to be writing a whole ‘thing’ about that, so I’ll save it till then.

  3. OrangeJon says:

    Personally I’m also interested in the idea of giving away music solely to build a fan-base and reputation, then exploiting that reputation for commercial gain. Anything from music tuition to commercial sponsorship, signing albums to composing music for advertising – there’s loads of ways of monetising fame. If you’ve got any thoughts on that, I’d like to hear them!

  4. Boris says:

    You’re right, Dubber, my unspoken premise was the assumption that it should be possible to make money using the retail model of a unit of music for a unit of money. I worry that everybody seems to be equating everybody that wants the music with a fan of the band. I’d say that if this was the case then yes the “new strategy” of give away the music and find other ways of making money from the fans mayt actually work. But the way I see it, most people just like a good song. Once they have the song they have no loyalty to the artist. My opinion (no research to back it up) says that the numbers of fans you generate makes making music a non economically viable option if you remove the income stream of those who buy a single song because they like it. Sorry, I’m not explaining this well: I think if you make a song thats really good, then you should be rewarded. If the only people who reward you for the goodness of your song are your fans, who represent maybe 10% of the people who think that your song rocks, something is wrong. I think you should be monetarily rewarded for creating demand for your music by making a song really good. And if you can’t then I think there is something wrong with the model.

  5. you know, this problem of is it a good idea or is it a bad idea is the issue. Its not all yes or no, good or bad. Sometimes it can be yes and no and good and bad but at different %’s or proporstions depending on the given environment. I reckon if you’re a new band starting out it may be 90% a good idea to give away your music so you get people into your band and buying tickets for your gigs. giving music away free when you have no income from your music anyway at this early stage is clearly no major problem. Perhaps if you’re robbie williams and you only have one album to last you 18 months and you are losing sales all over the place as your fans now have more choice on what to spend their hard earned money on…you should be be perhaps 20% thinking of giving away free music to keep new fans coming in the door but more importantly 60% of the giving of free music could be giving away tickets to the shows to propagate the myth that your fan base hasn’t disappeared after all etc. And someone who has been to the gig may buy a cd and be a fan to a higher % success rate than giving them ccess to a free mp3 etc I don;t think its giving or not giving it away for free but knowing when to give stuff away and what type of stuff to give away and when to change the emphsasis…so rather than stop one thing, just increase the activity of another to reduce its importance or attention blah blah….something like that

  6. Osvaldo says:

    All these thoughts you have here are thoughts that come across my mind often. I could agree more with what you are saying. Another misconception is that promotion is work. There needs to be time involved. It takes effort and time just like learning an instrument.
    Kudos to you.

  7. Jay Sandifer says:

    Very interesting. What you say makes good sense. If desired, any artist (artisan) should be compensated for their efforts. The gift should make a way of provision in all areas.

    I am finding that way and you are helping. Thank you.

  8. Wow! That’s deep. I’ve been waiting on a bar code. Learned something new yet again. Let them have it, let them make it a part of their college…then you may reap the benefits.

  9. Hairy Larry says:


    Good discussion. I want to respond to the point that giving away free music on the internet is a bad model.

    It doesn’t matter. You may not want to give your recordings away but there are thousands of talented musicians who have never made anything off of the current model anyway who see the starting point as getting it out there so people can hear it.

    To me the thing really being threatened here is the selling of the you’re gonna be a rock star and make a lot of money dream. For decades the music industry sold this unrealistic dream to millions. It is only the very very few even among rock stars that actually make a lot of money.

    We need to drop this pretense and make music for the joy of making music and distributing music so others can enjoy it as opposed to living in a future dream of a rock star lifestyle and millions of dollars. This was always a lie even before the internet and free downloads destroyed the CD industry.

    So to get to the nub of my point. Joe and Fred are unknown but talented songwriters. Say Joe doesn’t want to give away his music so he charges a dollar a track. Say Fred really wants to get his songs out there and is willing to let anyone download them free.

    Who’s gonna get more downloads all other things equal?

    And if Joe is competing with a thousand Freds all uploading new stuff all the time he doesn’t have a chance.


    Hairy Larry

  10. Eca333 says:

    Most people have to spend a fair dollar to create and publish music so other music lovers can hear it, so why is it wrong to ask a small fee to own that song so they can listen at any time. One song might cost a thousand dollars or more to professionally record, so is asking 99 cents not fair, especially when all that 99cents will not end up in the artist pocket? Giving it away cheapens the value of music, people feel that it cost you nothing to produce it and they are doing you a favour by taking it, if you don’t value it, why should they. If they like it enough to purchase it, then they will value it.

  11. Chris says:

    I have to disagree with 30 second songs are useless. In the DJ world, DJs mix songs sometimes with 30 seconds or less snippets of a particular song. Artists, especially hip-hop artists, push their music to DJs to include them into their set so listeners can hear their music – even though it might be a short snippet. All a DJ needs to do is blend a hook into a mix and that is enough for listeners to potentially purchase the track.

  12. PartyLewis says:

    first off, if your sole intention of writing and releasing music is to make money then you shouldn’t be in a band or making music. write your music, record your music, give your music away, play your music at shows. hundreds of shows. all over the country, continent and world if you have the balls. fund it yourself because in all probability your music sucks no matter how great you think you are or how much you value your intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus at. but… somewhere down the line someone will think “hey, this band is wicked, I want to own a record and a t-shirt”.

    now go and press some CD’s and vinyl… include some CDr’s in there or a link to a free download because putting vinyl on all the time gets annoying and putting it on your mp3 player of choice isn’t that straight forward.

    sell these records at gigs, sell your shirts at gigs… you might even make the money to cover your petrol or the hire of your van for that night…

    when people start to actually like your band and want to see you, promoters will be in touch to want to put you on. negotiate your fee or door split but don’t be greedy as no-one will want to put you on then and that’s a bummer.

    you have to still rehearse loads and loads, no one will want to get your record or tshirt if you’re a shoddy band.

    if you have made it this far, people like your music, they sing the words at gigs and you’re funding your own tours. hows that for your business model?

    now keep going DIY or be a sell out, it’s your choice.

  13. Hope says:

    We give alot of music away. We sell music too. Dubber makes sense. For a band like us, dark music, usually have to grow on a new listener. We’ve heard the same things over and over, “Hey, your music is growing on me! I love it!” We know we’ll never be rock stars, but we do know we make great fans by lettng them hear the whole song.

  14. Tracy says:

    Agree. When I try on pants, I like to put on both legs.

  15. Kayln Yeoman says:

    Yes of course. Let them hear the music. You can even let them try to sing with a mic. Just to assure them that all is okay with your product.