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The Musician's MP3 Download Pennies Donít Add Up by Pat Boardman
When I read the monthly reports on my online music sales, I see that the downloads have yielded amounts in fractions of a penny, about one and a half cents each song, for a total of a dollar forty-seven in three years. I decided to go it alone and start my own MP3 download site. It may take over a year to spot any trends, since I'm raising my rankings in the search engines via SEO. There's a lot of research, long hours at the keyboard, and writing skills required, but those lucky enough to have a budget can hire someone to do the promotion for them.

The micro-payments earned from streaming MP3s don't begin to pay for the expenses needed to get there. A struggling songwriter has to pay for recording, setup fees, and equipment - everything from start to finish. Then the artist's album is dumped into a pool of a quarter of a million people doing the same thing. Percentages are taken off for each service, and they are usually reasonable slices because the number of transactions is so high. An SEO project on artist pages in a network like CD Baby is extremely time-consuming and frustrating because few directories will process sub-folders. If there's any budget left at this stage, some traffic can be generated by using a direct placement on one or more of the search engines. Campaigns need to be analyzed frequently to adjust key phrases and geographic targets. In my experience with optimizing however, I did manage to get a modest number of directory listings for URLs belonging to music download pages on sites like MP3 Tunes, eMusic, and even Walmart.

The aforementioned sites are options for members of CD Baby, founded by the affable Derek Silvers as an online record store for unsigned independent bands and artists. The music is distributed on download sites and MP3 streaming services but searchers who are ready to take a song and pay for it have to find the artist purely by accident, since most Indie acts are totally unknown. Customers who listen to songs also have to be ready to make a purchase.

The odds on all these events happening at the same time are too astronomical for the musicians to start ordering their yachts in anticipation of floods of download money, so live appearances are still the main income; a fan base needs to be established first-hand before the loyal buyers do searches online. CDs can be sold live, and band sites can serve as the place for fans to stay updated on the latest activities of the performers. Personal sites have good potential if enough traffic is generated, providing the visitor takes the time to make a purchase. Logically, it's less frustrating for buyers to avoid filling out applications for a membership in a download site and give out personal information. The set-up requires so much navigation away from the artist's song that they must fight off notices and enticements from advertisers to find the way back to where they started. The online store can sell these ads for a hefty profit at the expense of the musicians who didn't get a sale during the twenty minute period of reading instructions and making decisions, and many potential customers hesitate to set up a membership, so they leave the site in search of easier alternatives.

When designing my personal site I took into account the frustrating process of providing credit information, paying fees, reading terms of service, and being bombarded with offers of wonderful gifts from advertisers. The customer would have a better and faster experience with a straight download through PayPal. People want to have time to navigate to other sites, so a focus must be put on fast sales. One main principle of sales is to make it easy for the prospective customer to buy your product. When transactions take too long, the buy has time to turn around and leave. I discovered a piece of software that eliminated most of the problems, so I installed it on my site. Now my guests can hear timed clips of each song and download their favorites from this java script application, the Website MP3 Music Player which has a built-in shopping cart and a link to PayPal. The software must have been new, because I ran into many problems after putting it on the site. The problems were fixed in quick succession by the support team who corrected every kink promptly, so they get full points for response. The best points about the software are convenience and low price. It can be sent over the web for re-use and the 2007 price was less than seventy dollars.

I remains to be seen if my experiment yields any profit; expenses for such a venture include the cost of a custom website, hosting on a Unix or Linux server, membership in CD Baby (where you can put a link to your site), an investment in time to perform SEO, and any advertising costs that seem to be worthwhile. The Music Player feature is desirable not only for its functionality, but for its appearance as a sleek-looking plaything that tempts guests to hit the button and see what happens next.

About the Author

Pat Boardman is a Canadian songwriter and author and a member artist on CD Baby. He played as a traveling folksinger for ten years and writes songs in the Blues and Acoustic Rock genres also. In 2006 he completed his first novel, The Golden Blues, which is published in the form of an eBook with his music on his website Rock Music Records where visitors can listen to samples of his music and download MP3 tracks.

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