How Music Should Be Sold

Commercial artists make about $0.09 per track sold on iTunes or Amazon or so I read on various other blogs. I’ll be honest, I’ve never paid for a track on iTunes, I prefer streaming or using YouTube. I think music is overpriced, by a lot. How much would I be willing to pay for Watch the Throne? Approximately $0. How much would I pay to see the concert? Well, I was more than happy to spend $60; it was well worth it and I’m not a huge rap fan. It seems to me artists aren’t getting a great deal. All the time an effort they put into recording music to sell albums and get fans to shows for less than $0.10 a track?

There’s a certain practicality to albums. It gives artists time off from touring to create new music: fine tuning their sound or sometimes pivoting completely. As music fans we love hearing the classics that made bands famous in the encore, but I think the production that goes along with a live show, the somewhat personal nature of the experience, and the mixture of songs new and old on the set list make live performances far more entertaining than buying an album.

iTunes has taken the big record label strategy of old and digitalized it. Yes, they split revenues and independent artists can sell their tracks but there’s no good way for promotion or fan connection. I thought Google Music Artist Hub would be an excellent opportunity to upset the digital frontier and allow artists to have more control over their sales and marketing. While the service is young it’s not innovating like a startup (it is part of Google after all) and I think it’s destined to merely follow the direction of iTunes.

One company that gets sales and wants to compete badly in the digital media space is Amazon. While their current offering is very similar to iTunes, Amazon has the ability to challenge the state of the music industry and make it better. Amazon has already started to wrestle book publishing away from the entrenched players so they are certainly no stranger to pissing off established players. They also have great discovery and marketing algorithms that are starting to work for Android developers.

In my vision their current iTunes-esque offering would remain but on top of it Amazon could build a platform for artists to connect with fans on a large scale. Amazon can connect the digital and physical by selling merchandise along with music. In fact they could get into the ticket sales business very quickly. They have a myriad of purchasing information on their users including their zip code. Pairing that information with artists touring dates, or even allowing artists to plan tours based on an interest map Amazon can produce from sales data would be a great tool for emerging artists.

I imagine Amazon being able to use their spanning of the digital and physical worlds to use ticket sales to drive even more revenue to them and the artists. What if Prime members got 3 free live tracks or discounts on tour merchandise from Amazon when they purchased tickets? They are not only adding prime members, introducing users to their digital media store and increasing sales, but also helping the artist connect with the user on a much greater level than purchasing a track from iTunes.

The music industry is broken and there are so many small ventures trying to solve the problems associated with it, but a player like Amazon could change the face of the industry overnight and take a bite out of Apple’s pie.

Originally published at on March 4, 2012.