Connect With Us

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner



« How To Make Your SXSW Sticky! Advice From The Indie Max 100 Experts on How To Keep Your Conference Alive | Main | The 1st Musician to Make Amazing Use of Chat Roulette »

3 Timeless Steps to Music Business Success

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 (and rise) of the Long Tail.

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.

This timeless piece of advice first appeared on New Music Strategies in November 2006. How’s it holding up?

Reader Comments (12)

That may all be true, but there is a place for samples and the like in the BUILD UP to a bigger release in order to get some discussion going, and develop drama. The new Laura Marling album is a case in point, there were countless little tasters in forms of tracks, downloads, videos even, which got fans talking.

This article also presumes that you can get your music on the radio - once most bands have reached this point, I don't really think they'll need this advice, as it's pretty self-explanatory. The real advice should be how do quality bands get heard above the hubbub of the millions of mediocre bands currently playing gigs and prowling myspace?

One such example is Feldspar. A band I found on facebook, and who I love. They are doing a free download this week:

and it's something their growing fanbase will appreciate, but getting MORE people to hear about the free download is the real issue.

Good article though, just a tiny part of the picture.

March 23 | Unregistered CommenterTed Meegr

This article lays a good foundation for musicians to develop a sales system (or sales funnel) around their music and associated products. The sales system for musicians is something that I have been pondering for some time. There are a couple of specifics that I would add to this post:

I think you can turn a browser into a fan, in fact, it sounds like that is what this article is suggesting. By making your music available to people to hear, isn't that exactly what you are doing? Another thought - many, many musicians under utilize email lists and name capture techniques. If you have a browser on your website, you should make it as easy as possible for them to join a mailing list. This way you will have the opportunity to win their heart in the future. They may not be a fan when they sign up, but their small spark of interest can be nurtured.

The other thing that I would add to this post is that the Hear, Like, Buy is not the only music business model that works in todays music industry. A little while back Ariel Hyatt submitted a post as part VI of her "In Defense of 1,000 True Fans" series. Josh Ryan has been making a living off of music placements. He played 0 concerts and a whopping 16% of his revenue came from people who Heard, Liked and Bought his music. This post kind or ignores this business model.

However, this is a great foundation in developing a sales system. Thanks for the post.

Tom Siegel

March 23 | Registered CommenterTom Siegel

They hear. They like. They TORRENT.


March 23 | Unregistered CommenterFebreze

They hear. They like. They TORRENT.<./em>

Cynicism is such a great business model!

March 23 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

Good post, nice simple advice, but that first step -- hear -- is a tough one, at least on any significant scale.

I think this is why I really believe in the "1000 true fans" model, which is what I'm going to try to employ. Check back with me in about six months and see how I do at


March 23 | Unregistered Commenterjeffshattuck

Torrent, cynicism? Get with the program and figure out that people actually don't buy all the music you would like them to. Really, this article was written by someone without a firm grasp in distribution models today. This is not 1970.

March 23 | Unregistered Commentermachaut96

Hello Andrew,

Thank you for your 3 step guide to make my head explode from further questions.

- You say, "Don’t bother with streaming. Let people download your music and integrate it into their daily lives."
- Do you mean, to let them download all tracks from an album or just some tracks from the album? and in what format ? (mp3 128 or 320 or. full wav or....? ) Since if you give it away in 128kb the listener can hear it, and might wanna buy it later in a better quality, but at the other hand, if they don't buy it in a better quality, I then don't like people to walk around and listen to my music in a bad quality. So therefore I believe the quality has to be as good as possible from the very beginning, even though its a give away. What do you think?
+ And why not streaming as well? Actually I believe that all music business is going to be about streaming in the future, but that's another thing to discuss in another blog.

- I see your point of letting them integrate my music into their daily life, and I why not let them download it from my site instead of from some torrent site. But if they download the full album, why, when and how should they then pay for the music? How do you make them come back and fell like paying any money? Do you believe they will come back and actually buy the album after having it for free? And again, in what format will they buy it in then, after having it for free in some digital format all ready?
Would a solution be to have demo downloads that works for 20 days, and then at day 21 you get a message, asking you to pay to be able to hear it any again. Like how you can download other demo software, to try them out, before buying?

- Maybe I am stupid, but I think it's too easy just to make an article like this, as long as I can't see how you do it your self on your sites, since you are not an artist yourself, as far as i understand. As a stupid artist, that know more about scales and beats than about marketing, I need a more clear recipe/marketing plan to be able to use your advise, and I am sure that many other readers do too, but just don't dare to ask - even though I did all ready read all your other blogs and 20 things and so one...

- To put it in another way: Your 3 step guide leaves more questions than answers, so please get into this discussion even further. Hear -> Like -> Why, When and How to buy?

March 25 | Unregistered CommenterAugust

sure, this formula directly benefits jango, but it's missing some crucial factors to success: simply getting the music played isn't enough - you have to absolutely and relentlessly ram it down the public's throats with not just music, but image and hype as well! gotta be on radio, tv and video games too - everywhere the public goes, they need to be aware of us! people want to see the whole package beyond the music before they'll cough up any jack.

we musicians aren't so swayed by the non-musical elements (not to mention that we generally don't buy music at all), but we're after the non-musicians to buy our music, so there needs to be alot of frosting on our cake.

March 27 | Unregistered Commenterchris hardy


Here's an example using my own music of how to give it away to people:

I offer downloads on my site in ZIP format containing 320kbps CBR MP3 files and NO-DRM. ALL OF MY MUSIC IS FREE IN DIGITAL FORM.

The music is also available for free full streams AND downloads via iLike and to the listeners who might happen to discover it there.

Next, it's available on Jamendo, a site that only offers CC licensed free music. Plus, they will also distribute your music to torrent sites that list legit torrents.

Finally, I've taken advantage of Mininova's Content Distribution program which lets me upload the ZIP files to their servers where they will distribute it as a torrent. There's nothing wrong with torrents if you created the torrent.

For streaming on my site, I use SoundCloud and am using a paid Solo account. But right beneath the embedded player is a one-click download link.

In short, I think you should put it up in as many places as possible because not everyone downloads from one site or service.

I have a bandcamp page, but currently I have the music disabled because I am dissatisfied with the stats' failure to give me an all-time count of free downloads, plus the 'require email address' feature doesn't let me require anything else like a first name. You're probably not so picky, so you could use Bandcamp as well to embed onto your own site.

As far as getting people to come back and pay, there's no easy formula for that. It's different for everyone, and if someone knew the formula to it he would be a very rich man. But that person doesn't exist. Anyone who has ever tried to succeed in ANY BUSINESS EVER wants to know this answer.

I hope this helps you.

March 27 | Unregistered CommenterRob Phas

I think a couple of elements that this formula omits is
-the difference between recording artists and performing artists...

It may seem like a given that if you write songs you probably have a band or solo act and do gigs here and there. I know for me that is the case and if I get people to listen to my music I am hoping to see them live where I get a chance to interact and strengthen the bond between artist and fan.
But to be fair, there are many many artists who just create recordings, electronica, hip hop or otherwise that really don't have any other product than what they create in the studio. I suppose they could be looking to license for film or ads etc... and letting potential licensees hear tracks first might help but that seems like a real long shot.

-the power of perception...
marketing in the music business relies on hype. The feeling that is created in a potential fan that everybody else is listening to and experiencing something that you have not yet been cool enough to discover. And it usually works but is very expensive. We as independent
artists just aren't going to benefit from hype, therefore, plays (or the "hear" part of the formula) is extremely difficult to come by.

I think the moral of the story is, there is no "formula". Sure "hear-like-buy" is true but as everyone has stated, the "hear " part is the hardest part. So if you do garner a fan, find a way to connect with them and hold on to them. One by One!
I do let listeners download for free and would be grateful if any of you would like to as well. You can find tracks here:

March 28 | Unregistered CommenterDouglas

"They hear. They like. They buy."

Sort of.

Before Christmas last year I started an album project called ‘Once A Day’ for my band All India Radio where we gave away a free track every day for 25 days leading up to Christmas, ending up with an entire album

I used Bandcamp for the downloads and all I asked for was an email address. To be honest giving away these tracks didn't seem to make much noticeable difference to sales of our other tracks/albums but by the end of the 25 days and following weeks I'd gained well over 500 new email addresses for my list. After 3 months I switched it to ‘Pay whatever you want.’ Of course it's still free if people want (and this is totally OK with me) but I've been very surprised at how many are happy to pay a few dollars (or more) for the album.

Giving away the free tracks (which by the way were older tracks, remixes and demos that would otherwise have been gathering dust) = more people heard us, liked it and (some) bought it.

March 30 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

if they get to hear for free then why would they buy it even if they like it?

March 13 | Unregistered Commenteraqueena

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>