Magnatune, an Open Music Experiment

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After the Payment

Immediately after making your purchase, you are sent to a Thank You page that contains a URL for downloading the music. A simple four-character HTTP name and password is given. The instructions also are e-mailed if an e-mail address was provided with the purchase. The download page provides the album in a variety of formats (see Figure 4). You can download a perfect-quality WAV or FLAC file and have an exact replica of the original CD. Ogg Vorbis, MP3-128 and MP3-VBR files also are provided. You can download any and all variations you like for as long as you like (passwords don't expire). The entire album is available as a single ZIP file, for ease of downloading. The ZIP file provides a modest amount of compression, about 10% on WAVs. More importantly, it means you can click Download on one file, let it run for an hour (on a DSL or cable line) and have the entire album without any more fuss.

Figure 4. It's download time. Pick a format, any format.


Clicking the License button next to any album brings up a page (see Figure 5) with the question “what kind of music license?” Sixteen different scenarios are displayed, such as Movie Use, Radio Advertising, Web Site, CD Compilations and even On-Hold Music for telephone systems. The connected page outlines the relevant variables for that scenario, and a price quote is given. The user enters the project details and then is sent to a Check Out page with a music license agreement, which is valid as soon as the fee is paid.

Figure 5. Making a movie? Need legal music for your music-on-hold system? Try the licensing page for each album.

What's Next?

Since its launch in May 2003, Magnatune has been discussed on everything from Slashdot, Fark and BoingBoing to Wired and NPR. During these press events, we've experienced huge bursts of Web traffic. I run five servers at two different locations, each with 100Mb feeds, and send load-balanced pages with dynamic PHP URLs to each of them. I've found this to be sufficient for the current demands. However, as Magnatune has been growing by 30% in traffic and revenue each month, I'm seriously looking at peer-to-peer as a load balancing and scalability solution.

As I'm writing this article, Magnatune has about 60 musicians and 130 albums and is growing by about 15 musicians and 30 albums per month. My top musicians should see about $6,000 US of royalties in a year. On average, musicians should see about $1,500 US each year. If the 30% growth holds up, I'll be able to pay my musicians even more. More than anything, that's what excites me: that I'm able to have a material impact on these musicians. They are excited by the success, people are hearing their music, and the artists have the financial wherewithal to continue recording great albums.

John Buckman is the founder of Magnatune, an Internet-based record company. He is the Webmaster of Piazzolla (, a Tango music site, runs the Internet Lute Society ( and co-runs, the main Web site for the classical composer J. S. Bach.



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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?