Selling Audio and Music Everything you need to know about selling music and other audio online

Selling audio and music

Over the past few months, we’ve been diving into all the different types of digital products which can be sold online. As you may have perceived from the title, we’re addressing selling audio this week…

There are so many different kinds of audio based digital products. People will pay for audio which entertains them, soothes them, informs them, inspires them, and helps them achieve business goals, to list just a few examples. Audio products can be things like:

  • Recorded lectures
  • Musical samples
  • Audiobooks
  • Foreign language lessons
  • Relaxing background noises
  • Karaoke versions of popular songs
  • Reusable sound effects

And there are so many more. Audio is a powerful medium for communicating messages and delivering value. It’s also a vibrant market, rich with opportunities to turn creativity into cash.

Do you have ambitions for selling audio products? Reflect first on this information:

Pricing

Audio pricing varies greatly but within certain segments standards do exist. Music intended only for listener enjoyment can definitely be sold but competes with the vast amounts of freely available music elsewhere online. Artists who have already achieved some notoriety can earn money selling individual tracks and albums through music marketplaces like iTunes, Amazon and Google Play, but most musicians will be unable to earn anything significant due to the low prices for music and the overwhelming competition.

As is the case for most product types, businesses pay more and are more likely to pay. Fortunately, there’s a lot of room for audio based products serving commercial needs. Short audio tracks intended to be used for background music in commercials are an example of something in the music category commonly sold to businesses. Podcasts need intro “bumper” tracks. Videos for advertisements, tutorials, training, etc. are all complimented by musical samples. Audio engineers and audio based show hosts often require libraries of sound effects to use within their content. All of these are just examples of the products already in demand.

Many successful e-Learning sites employ audio to provide or supplement their lessons. Recordings of teacher lectures, recitations of vocabulary words, and interviews with relevant topic experts are examples of audio being used in educational contexts.

When sold individually, most audio products can justify only a small price such as $0.99 songs on iTunes or a $7 audiobook. More and more common today are subscription based sites which grant customers access to audio files on a site for as long as they continue paying.

Before making final pricing decisions, I recommend reading our other post on pricing digital products. But also keep in mind that you absolutely can change your prices, and probably should on a regular basis.

Ongoing revenue

As is the case with video, audio tends to be a consumable good with rapidly diminishing utility. Some audio will be continuously replayed (like my Nickel Creek or Chevelle CDs), while in other cases a single listen is sufficient (like the audio version of Game of Thrones). Continuing to charge customers usually requires creating new products constantly. These new products could be up-sold to past customers or could simply give them a reason to renew if operating on a subscription model.

Incorporating a strategy for recurring revenue may not be possible or important to your business. But if it is, there are a few options available. Such as:

  • Site memberships. Membership sites are all the rage these days. If your catalog is substantial and/or your products are the kind which customers desire access to consistently rather than just once, your customers may be happy paying you on a subscription basis just to be able to login and download what they need, when they need it. Additionally, if your catalog is constantly changing, customers may prefer the membership model because it is simpler for them compared to evaluating and buying new items as they are released.
  • Licensing and royalties. Some products can be licensed so that users must pay a fee in order to legally use them or create and distribute derivative works.
  • Provide services. This is obviously distinctly different from selling digital products, but is worth mentioning because the two can be linked. Many audio-centered online businesses offer services which produce audio files. For example, one could record spoken translations of text or audio in other languages. Or simply vocal recordings of text like blog posts, eBooks, or course material. Or musical accompaniments like drum tracks or cowbell solos. The possibilities are virtually endless.

All this said, recurring revenue is not a requirement. In fact, the vast majority of audio sellers that we encounter are relying entirely on one-time sales with no subscription option.

Distribution

Channels

Different types of audio offer different types of outlets for getting into the ears of customers. Musicians can sell their MP3s on major music stores or make them available via streaming services like Spotify. Marketplaces do exist for tracks intended for commercial use. Audiobooks are most easily distributed through popular sites like Audible.

Of course, any creator of an audio product always has the option of creating their own site and selling files there, direct to customers. Self hosting and managing a digital store is worth considering for any audio entrepreneur. When operating independently, as in not selling on someone else’s platform, there are a number of core benefits. These include getting to maintain the relationship direct with customers, having complete control over pricing, not having to share any of the profits, and developing a standalone brand.

Recommending where and how to sell your audio product requires a certain amount of insight into your longer term plans, skills, and resources. In most cases though, if selling the product is a side project and not something you are looking to expand and build upon, then it is smart to find the most relevant marketplaces and sell through them. On the other hand, if the product is just the beginning and a bigger future is planned, creating an independent eCommerce site will be a worthwhile investment.

Format

Audio is very similar to video (which we’ll cover in another post soon), in that there are choices to be made regarding how the content is delivered to customers. Audio can be streamed or it can be downloaded The right choice depends on your desired user experience, how the customer will be wanting to use the track and, in some cases, bandwidth limitations.

If allowing files to be downloaded, the specific file formats you make available are important. MP3s are a very popular format for music, audiobooks, spoken word and more. But .wma, .wav, .aiff, .aac, .mid and many others are relevant for certain uses and may be requested by customers. Be sure to look into which formats potential customers are using now and be prepared to either offer multiple formats or to have answers for customers who ask for something different than what you have. Those answers could be to recommend audio conversion tools, seek alternative sources, or just deal with it and use what you provide.

Other considerations

Much like with video, file sizes are significant. If dealing with a large catalog of files or processing a high volume of transactions, offloading to a third party service instead of storing files locally on your web server (if you are running your own site) would be advisable. Amazon’s S3 offering is a popular choice but others exist such as Dropbox and Digital Ocean’s new Spaces product. These kinds of services can be extremely valuable because they:

  • have scalable pricing models which allow you to pay as you grow
  • allow you to separate your website files from your product files (better for management and also for security in case your website is ever compromised)
  • deliver files faster and more reliably
  • change where your website is hosted without migrating all of your product files

Previews are very important. Some stores watermark their audio files, share a snippet of the track, or allow one of many tracks to be played for free in order to demonstrate what the rest are like. This often means that an extra file needs to be created which is separate from the original. So for each product file, a preview file must theoretically also be created and made available on the product page. This is often a requirement as customers are reticent to purchase certain types of audio products without first getting a sample. But even if customers are willing to purchase without a preview, adding one is a great way to increase sales and reduce the number of customers who complain after purchase because they expected something different.

An important part of previews is providing prospective customers an easy way to play the file. While you could technically just provide a link to download the preview file, which can be acceptable sometimes, in most cases it is best to include an inline audio player on your site which will allow customers to simply hit the play button while perusing your catalog.

We wrote a whole lot more about creating product demos last week so definitely check that post out as well!

Licensing matters. Not only is it important for you to carefully consider how to license your own products but you must respect others’ licenses when using their works. For example if you are creating a karaoke-ready song you must have permission to use the original song in most cases. Or if you are sprucing up your dramatic reading of your favorite novel with some background sound effects and piano music, unless you created those additions yourself, they are subject to the license terms defined by their creators. If your works are in any way derivative works, you’re subject to any license agreements imposed by the creators of the works you borrowed.

Production quality expectations are high. While there is abundant demand for audio based content and products, customers are definitely expecting to hear highly polished, professionally produced sound. This is especially true for tracks meant for commercial use and most music. Not many audio products can sacrifice quality, though there are definitely some kinds which will not sell unless they’re professional and pristine. Music meant for people to enjoy listening to fits this category and anything less might be worthless. But some other content like live recordings of long form educational lectures and sermons may be able to get away with a lower standard of recording, as long as the message is conveyed clearly.

Audio based businesses have many opportunities to sell other types of products concurrently. If a customer is interested in listening to a song, they might also be interested in the music video or a video demonstrating how the song is played. Or they may be interested in the sheet music for the song or the lyrics or a translation into a foreign language. If a customer enjoys listening to recordings of a speaker pontificating on a given topic, they may be willing to pay for access to further resources on the subject or a complimentary eBook or a transcript of their speeches or to take an online course. In some cases, customers may even be willing to pay for the raw, unmixed files which went into producing a finished product or the project files for software like Pro Tools or Garage Band. Try to think out of the box about what your customers might appreciate in addition to your audio products.

Outro

The market for selling audio based products is exciting right now. Anything with video can be enhanced with audio. Anything text based can have an audio version. Pure audio can be consumed passively which means consumers’ capacity for listening is only limited by their waking hours. That’s a lot of available time! Just think about how many times people could be listening to the catchy song you wrote, or your entertaining podcast, or your powerful motivational speech, or your creative recitation of classic poetry, or your hilarious comedy standup routine. All you need to do is record it and start selling! So, what are you waiting for?

Now it’s your turn! We’ve got this comment form below and are really hoping you’ll chime in. Did we miss anything? Let us know!

Illustration by Jessica Johnston.

Comments

Nice work Kyle Maurer. Thanks for putting this together.
We are musicians with many years of recording and performing in a number of different styles. We are in the process of setting up new websites on WordPress to deliver our music (also in print). We would love to stream and sell our music but the tech part is a real issue. I am not sure how to proceed. The learning curve – Yikes!!! Not sure what to use or how to use it. I hope I can get this all sorted out soon.
Cheers
Andy
http://www.redcastlepublishing.com

Reply

Thanks Andy! There’s definitely a lot that goes into selling music these days. Are there platforms, marketplaces, or other places online where customers usually shop for the kind of music you produce? It’s important to do a lot of research into the market you plan on operating in. As for the tech, is it something you are confused about but haven’t started yet or are you already trying and hitting a wall?

Reply

I think it would be useful to give some examples of how EDD can let you sell a multiple tier licensing set up for selling your own production music as the system you guys have built is great. It’s also one of the few out there which has all the features you need to set up a proper music library, so highlighting that would be useful for solo musicians like myself.

Reply

Thanks for the compliment Taco! And for the suggestion! I’ll see if we can add that to our plan for future posts.

Reply

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