Magnatune, an Open Music Experiment

It's a record label, but it's not evil. How to build a business without ripping off artists and annoying customers, and why you might need three different kinds of Web server software.
The Home Page

Figure 1. The Magnatune home page ( answers visitors' top eight questions.

I believe that the home page of any successful company, project or organization needs to address eight issues immediately. As shown in Figure 1, Magnatune's home pages answers all eight:

  1. Where am I? — a graphic logo on the top left or top right does the trick. It's even better if you have a catchy line. For Magnatune, it's “We are not evil”.

  2. Why should I care? — a one-line description of what you do and, if possible, why someone should be interested. For Magnatune, it's “Internet music without the guilt” followed by “Magnatune, the Open Music Record Label”.

  3. What do you want me to do? — for first-time visitors, it should be clear what the next step is. For Magnatune, I want people to listen to the music immediately, so it says “Explore a music genre: Classical, Electronica, Metal & Punk, New Age, Rock, World, Others”.

  4. Why is this cool? — there are way too many sites on the Internet, and people have a limited amount of time. You've got the visitor's attention for a few seconds, so you need to explain quickly why this is something he or she wants to support. If you're doing e-commerce, expect that your visitors are jaded. If you answered the second question well, you've got another 30 seconds of their attention. Magnatune starts with: “We're a record label. But we're not evil. We call it 'try before you buy.' It's the shareware model applied to music.” The concepts of record label, not evil and shareware are an odd combination, so now they're interested.

  5. What's new? — give people an incentive to come back to your site by making it easy to see what's changed. There's a lot of new stuff at Magnatune (new press coverage, for example), but most people care only about our new artists and albums, so that's what's on the home page.

  6. Newsletter signup — every Web site should have a newsletter. If you put the signup on the home page, you can expect 2% to 5% of Web site visitors to sign up.

  7. I want to know more — an “about” section also is crucial. The founders should explain why they created the site, project or company.

  8. I want to steer — despite all these hints on what to do next, visitors often want to decide for themselves where to go. On Magnatune, 15% of people coming to the home page click on the Artists tab. Make the major site navigation options clear.

The Genre Page

Figure 2. “Play” links on the Electronica page ( offer immediate gratification.

My main gripe with most music sites is they take too much of my time, when what I want to do is play music and get back to my work. My second gripe is they usually don't give you enough music and not at a high enough quality to make a decision. Most of the people I know buy music by hearing it first, either on the radio, at a concert, at a friend's house, at a restaurant and so on. Because only a small number of visitors to a music site already know the bands, isn't it reasonable to let visitors listen and make up their minds? At Magnatune, you can listen all you want, with minimal effort, to high-quality 128k MP3s.

Once a user clicks on the Magnatune home page to select a genre, such as Electronica (see Figure 2), a Web page is displayed that shows four main choices: 1) listen to every album in Electronica, one album after another, 2) listen to a mix of our Electronica artists, 3) listen to the entire album of any of our Electronica artists and 4) click on an artist to learn more. The first three choices offer users immediate gratification by allowing them to hear music immediately.

People would prefer to find music from their friends or on their own than be force-fed by the major music outlets—radio and MTV. In the 1980s, most software couldn't be evaluated before it was purchased, yet today no one buys any software without first trying it out. Eventually, all music will be shareware: the competitive advantage simply is too great.



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Re: Magnatune, an Open Music Experiment

Anonymous's picture

This is the single best thing that has happened to the music industry. Giving the consumer broader options (multi-format downloads, listen before you buy, etc.), in addition to the 50/50 split w/ the artists, equals exactly what I've been looking for!

Promotional and Advertisement expenses

Anonymous's picture

Can you kindly tell me the approx promotional and advertisement expenses of online music companies, magnatune for eg.

Thank you

is it 80% of the revenues?

Anonymous's picture

is it 80% of the revenues?