Let’s face it, there’s a lot of choice on the internet. No matter what you’re offering, there’s an alternative somewhere else that will do just fine.

I’ve said before that people hear music, then they like music, then they buy music. It’s important to realise that you need to go a step further than just allowing that to happen. You have to remove all the friction in between.

People may love your music. They might be enormous fans. But let’s not forget they’re no longer a captive audience, enslaved to the tyrranies of geography or time. You might be the most specialist baroque chamber music retailer or bhangra act — chances are you’re not the only game in town anymore.

You have to give people a reason to choose you — and then keep giving them reasons.

In these days of mp3 blogs, streaming radio and on-demand services, the low-quality 30-second sample just isn’t going to cut it any more. It was never really enough to give people a good idea of whether they like your music or not, and now it’s pretty much laughable.

In fact, it’s worse than useless. The 30-second (or 1-minute) lo-fi streaming sample makes you look mean and suspicious. You don’t have to give away the whole catalogue, but a couple of full tracks of each album’s a great start.

This is particularly true for customers who have bought from you in the past (or engaged with you in some other economic fashion — substitute your own business model here). There’s nothing that encourages an ongoing economic relationship than gifts, rewards and incentives.

It doesn’t even have to be the music itself. Popular gifts and incentives include ringtones, wallpapers, preferential bookings for events, discounts… anything that will turn an interested punter into a repeat customer.

And one of the best rewards is to make the customer / audience feel as if they are part of something. Membership is its own reward.

One of the ways to incorporate your audience — whether you’re a musician, label, retailer, promoter, venue or some other music business — is to encourage them to participate in your website. A forum — or better yet, a group blog — that allows communities to form around what you make and do can quickly take on a life of its own.

But be careful: without critical mass, a forum can seem like a bit of a wasteland, and then you just look a bit Johnny-no-mates. Get a decent conversation going, and you can turn your satisfied customers into your best advocates. You just need to give them a reason to get going.

Reward. Incentivise. Enjoy the economic karma.