MP Free

Alex Hayes

Marketing music for the masses

Chris Schulz, junior computer science major, has created and produced his own music without having to leave the comforts of his room. Schulz has been doing this since he was in high school.

Credit: Beth Rankin

Record labels and independent artists have been searching for methods to take advantage of the selling potential of the Internet. Services such as iTunes have succeeded in selling music to the masses. But many independent labels and artists have struggled selling music online. Demographics might help to explain some of the difficulty.

According to the National Association of Record Industry Professionals, most Internet users are between the ages of 30 and 49, a demographic far older than most people assume. The United States also is only sixth in the percentage of people who use the Internet, though the total number of users is by far the highest in the United States.

With 40 percent of the 177 million online users in the United States shopping for music, this still leaves about 70 million online music shoppers in the country.

So, how do people searching to promote their music find an audience and, eventually, buyers?

Staying focused

“It takes a lot sometimes just to get it in their hands,” said Brian Smith, president of a small record label in Massillon. “It’s as if you have to pay them to take it. Once they have it, they can’t stop listening to it and you have them hooked. This is where you start selling CDs, but if they aren’t available at their local store, it makes it a little tougher to have them make that effort to purchase your CDs online.”

Smith works 20 to 40 hours a week on his label, more when he is mastering a project for release from his home studio. He spends much of his time updating Web sites and links and looking for new outlets for promoting his label’s music.

“It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be, but I’m slowly getting to where I need to be,” Smith said.

Chris Schulz, junior computer science major, said he worked at an Internet-based music promotion company in 2001 and 2002. The company, which went out of business in 2002, uploaded music from deejays and electronic musicians and made the music available for downloading and streaming.

He said the company lost focus by spending money on expensive furniture and focusing on too narrow of an audience.

“It was over-promotion in Akron, where there was no market, and under-promotion outside of that,” Schulz said.

Promoting music online

A quick search of music online will net millions of sites to choose from, some with millions of songs each.

Smith and leading music industry experts agree that getting music to people through the Internet begins with a solid Web site design.

“Everything begins with a Web site,” Smith said. “When I started, I generally went to other sites to see how they were running things.”

Scott Meldrum is a musician with a background in mass marketing and works for Hype Council, a Long Beach, Calif., music and artist-promotion company. Some of the world’s largest entertainment companies have used Meldrum’s services to market artists on the Internet.

Meldrum was a speaker at a 2004 National Association of Record Industry Professionals conference in Los Angeles and gave details about music marketing.

He said Web sites are a necessity but also account for some of the biggest mistakes people make.

“Don’t try to put everything on your front page. Organization is the key. Lead your fans to the most important things,” Meldrum was quoted as saying in an article for

He said links should be available to buy the CD on almost every page. Also, he said registration should be offered on the site, allowing for the collection of information and e-mail contacts, which can eventually lead to a fan base.

Meldrum also suggested giving music away to win people over.

“Make your music accessible,” he said. “Offer a few full streams of your songs. Make a download available in exchange for an e-mail registration. You will win more fans and sell more CDs giving your music away than you will by not letting your potential fans really listen before they buy.”

The Web sites should be designed with different bandwidths in mind so loading times don’t deter people with slower connection speeds.

Getting the word out about your music can also benefit from blogs, message boards and social networks like MySpace.

Schulz joined MySpace and said he has met people online that he would never have met otherwise.

“I can learn from other peoples’ style and learn some new tricks,” Schulz said.

Smith said he joined MySpace and has had success networking with other users of the service. But he said it is still important to get the music into local stores and also directly into the hands of “local” consumers.

“I like giving samplers out and getting them into stores as well,” Smith said. “I think a sampler can get a person interested in your music.”

Smith suggested that exchanging links with other labels and artists as another good marketing tool.

He also said it is important to network with and learn from other people who are marketing music online.

“Sometimes if you just e-mail a record label that is independent, you might find them willing to let you know how you can get from one place to another,” Smith said.

Music services

Numerous companies specialize in hosting and selling music online. CD Baby and Broadjam offer services that make music available for potential buyers.

“I used CD Baby with a couple projects I did in the ’90s,” said Blaine Jones, one of the artists on Smith’s label.

“The promotion was the best part of it,” Jones said. “My music got into the hands of some DJs in Europe and got spun at some clubs there, but I didn’t sell a lot of units or make a lot of money.”

Soundclick is another music service and which offers a free music posting area with other fee-based add-ons.

Another popular service, TAXI, is one of the largest independent A&R companies online. The service requires a yearly registration fee and offers members the potential of submitting music to entertainment companies that don’t accept unsolicited material.

If a music deal results from a submission, then the artist handles the contract, and TAXI doesn’t take a percentage.

Smith said online music services are important for supplementing a Web site and getting the site to places that music buyers are already familiar with.

He said being persistent is the most important quality for to ensure long-term success.

“I’ll never say quit, even if it’s just down to me and my music.”

Contact features reporter Alex Hayes at [email protected].