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The 1-2-3 Music Store

1-2-3 Music Store

I get at least one phone call per week asking about my experience with the 1-2-3 Music Store, a server script I’ve been running for three years. It allows me to sell mp3 downloads direct from my web site, with no middleman. Put simply, the 1-2-3 Music Store is the ugly stepsister of the iTunes Store. She may not be beautiful, but she’s all mine.

Is the 1-2-3 Music Store right for you? Consider the benefits:

  1. Maximum profit. You keep 100% of sales, minus PayPal transaction fees.
  2. Flexibility. Change your content and pricing at any time.
  3. Ease of use. Every aspect of the store is completely automated.
  4. Price. At $68 for bands, it only takes a few sales to recoup. Labels pay $168.

At this point, you may be thinking it’s so cheap, why not give it a shot? While the financial investment is minimal, the time investment is substantial. I spent a full week - at least 40 hours - customizing my store. The stock installation is clunky and, at least back in 2006, buggy.

stock installation

My store isn’t going to win any design awards, but it’s better looking and simpler to navigate.

Color Theory music store

Customization involves modifying the included .tpl files, which I renamed as .htm files to tweak in Dreamweaver. Changing the look and feel without sabotaging the mechanics of the script took some trial and error. While you can pay extra to have Alfred, the script’s author, install the store for you, you’re on your own when it comes to customization. Most musicians will either have to hire a web designer or stick with the stock install. Todd Durrant of A Different Drum hired me to customize his store, which was more work than I anticipated, even using my own store as a template.

Other causes for concern are:

  1. Security. My store was hacked once, and Todd’s was hacked twice. Shortly thereafter, Alfred updated the script to patch the hole, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were hacked again. Todd ultimately decided that the few sales he was getting weren’t worth the hassle, and removed the store from his site.
  2. Compatibility. Most web sites use Flash audio players, but the 1-2-3 Music Store uses m3u playlists for song previews. Browsers don’t always handle the files properly, and users may wonder why they’re downloading files when all they want to do is hear a song clip.
  3. Tech support. Alfred handles all support himself, via e-mail. He can’t always respond within 24 hours, and since he’s in Germany, the time difference makes for an even longer delay.
  4. Bugs. Occasionally the store currency switches to Euro, even though US Dollars is exclusively selected in my admin panel. There’s no way for users to switch back without purging their browser cache and deleting cookies.
  5. Download hassles. Buyers download mp3s individually using links in an e-mail. That’s not a big deal with a single EP or album purchase, but it’s a lot to ask of someone who just paid for my entire discography.
  6. Fixed format. You can only sell songs in one format, though technically it doesn’t have to be mp3. I’d love to offer higher quality alternatives like FLAC and Apple Lossless.

My advice: Wait until you consistently sell $50 in music per month through your web site. Worldwide music sales are tanking, and the vast majority of online sales are through iTunes. Only my most dedicated fans buy through my store, simply because they know I make the most money that way.

Other options to consider:

  1. Affiliate links. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! It’s easy to become an iTunes affiliate and link directly to your albums on the iTunes Store. You can do the same with Amazon Associates, and even set up your own Amazon store on your site. If your referral ends up buying a TV, you get a cut of that too.
  2. CD Baby. Doesn’t this look a lot nicer than my store? CD Baby recently added single song downloads, and it looks like they might offer alternate formats in the near future. They keep 25% of download sales through their site (but only 9% of sales through their partners - iTunes, Amazon, etc).
  3. Bandcamp. Speaking of alternate formats, Bandcamp offers a plethora of options for selling your music in a plethora of formats. You can even let buyers name their own price! You could be the next Radiohead, kinda.
  4. WordPress plugins. If you’re running a self-hosted WordPress site, there are a bunch of store plugins to consider. I’ve read mixed reviews on WP e-Commerce, but it’s quite popular, and handles downloadable files.
  5. PayPal. If my store gets hacked again, I’ll revert to basic PayPal buttons. I’ll fulfill orders by e-mailing a link to a .zip file of the songs. Sometimes the simplest solution is best.

Brian Hazard is a recording artist with fifteen years of experience promoting his seven Color Theory albums. His Passive Promotion blog emphasizes “set it and forget it” methods of music promotion. Brian is also the head mastering engineer and owner of Resonance Mastering in Huntington Beach, California.

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Reader Comments (14)

I've gotta say I think bandcamp is the best for at least starting up and creating an online face for your music store. The reporting is nice and the actual look and feel works really well. It's pretty simple to do the setup too.

July 30 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

Are musicians still using Snocap?

July 30 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Co-sign on Bandcamp, as far as hosted, free solutions go, it's the best, cleanest, most's awesome.

July 30 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

My only concern with Bandcamp is that they haven't nailed down their pricing yet. Otherwise it looks ideal!

July 30 | Registered CommenterBrian Hazard

i'm surprised you put up with the 1-2-3 store for that long.

yes bandcamp looks great, and the script appears to be very well written. however i do agree with brian, that not having a pricing model down is a little intimidating. but then again, twitter doesn't have a revenue model in place either but people are embracing it regardless.

July 30 | Unregistered Commentermr. tunes

You mean a pricing model in terms of the cost of joining? The dangling sword of future membership fees....meh, I'll take it.

If you mean a pricing model in terms of selling your tracks, that's 100% up to you and impressively flexible.

July 30 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Good points.

Something that wasn't mentioned, which I think is really important, and a big advantage of sites like Amazon or iTunes, is...

1. Traffic, which they already have and you can leverage for more sales.

2. Trust, which they already have and you can leverage for more sales. Believe it or not, lots of people are scared about giving out payment info online. They want to know they'll get the product.

3. Usability. People already know how to purchase from iTunes and Amazon. They also know the files will play.

4. Problem free. They work and somebody else handles the tech/support issues.

From my perspective, these two sites are the obvious choices. You're in the business to make/sell music, not re-invent the wheel. :)

July 31 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Hooper

I agree David!

If I weren't such an audio geek, I probably never would've bothered setting up my store. If memory serves, at the time there was no Amazon mp3, and iTunes downloads were 128 kbps AAC files. Having VBR mp3s encoded at the latest Hydrogenaudio recommended settings was a monster improvement over any other download store.

July 31 | Registered CommenterBrian Hazard

For I Tunes affiliates, can you actually control your music - i.e., post the mp3 files, the artwork, the references /cross references of artist names and players? If so, that would seem the simplest of the present options. Question 2: Can this be done and also have IODA or CD Baby handle taking care of digital files on other sites and in CD Baby's case, selling actual CDs?

July 31 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Dave, I may not fully understand your question, but I believe the answer is no. You'd just be posting links created through your Linkshare control panel which will launch iTunes when clicked (you can make them through this site but they won't have your affiliate ID). Your job is to send people to the iTunes Store. They'll take care of the rest.

July 31 | Registered CommenterBrian Hazard

I despise this piece of software. Ive tried using it a number of times over the past few years. Inputting new albums is a serious pain, and takes forever. I encountered weird bugs constantly. I see no reason at all to bother with this when getting music on iTunes or something like Bandcamp is so easy.

August 1 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel

Thanks for the heads-up about bandcamp!

August 3 | Unregistered CommenterKawika

I'd like to know more about the security issue you found with the 1-2-3 music store. Specifically, what file(s) contained the issue and what did you do to fix patch the issue?

January 2 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

isee that the easybewebsite is parked and no more support it seems . i would like a copy of the instalation instructions and especially to acess the the administaor panel . i somehow misplaced that . thanks

January 4 | Unregistered Commentern grossman

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