Magnatune an Open Choice, iTunes an Expensive Choice

Finally, a company that understands Internet media distribution.
The Business Model behind Magnatune

Besides joining the Second Life community and starting the Open Music Project, Magnatune now has a MySpace site with more than 1,300 friends. Another on-line community site Magnatune uses for advertising and marketing is YouTube. Yes, Magnatune has a YouTube page that has, at the time of this writing, 17 videos that include information on Magnatune. And, you can watch and listen to artists from Magnatune on YouTube, over and over again, without having to purchase or pay a royalty to watch the video. Because those free services are used for marketing, the company and artists save money that they would normally need for getting their names and labels out to the public. You also can be a part of the Magnatune's marketing team by requesting free recruiting cards or printing Magnatune mini-posters and handing them out.

Magnatune's founder John Buckman's idea was to target people who listen to music in the background while they do other work (while writing this article, I'm listening to Rocket City Riot, Last Of The Pleasure Seekers from Magnatune) or music that gets little radio airplay or major record distribution, but that has a fairly large audience. Targeting those audiences is what keeps Magnatune's business going in the long run.

One of the biggest ways Magnatune stays in business is the commercial licensing it offers for the music it sells. It allows the music to be used in films and television, on the Internet and for presentations. And, the license contracts are royalty-free, meaning you don't have to pay more if a project is successful. The license and the cost to use the music depend on the project. Magnatune gives you a price quote in a matter of seconds from the site, and the prices are a lot better than other commercial licensing fees and are 30% lower than industry standard.

Music is not the only way Magnatune makes money. It sells other merchandise, such as posters, clothing and mugs. As with the albums, 50% of those sales go to the artist.

Running on Open Source

Magnatune does not just support open source, it also runs on it. Its servers run Linux with the most widely available HTTP server on the Internet—Apache 2 supporting and using PHP and OpenSSL. Magnatune uses a MySQL database to store and log purchase information, and it's also used for searches on the main site, such as for an artist or track. When the search is done, a Perl script creates the track listings and playlists so transactions can be made.

Figure 3. Magnatune's Web Site


So, if you're an open-source advocate and like to listen to music that's not mainstream while supporting artists instead of putting money in the label companies' pockets, visit Magnatune's Web site and sign up for the free song of the day and maybe buy some albums while you're there. And, if you're an artist, Magnatune is just the place to check out, especially if want to get your feet wet in the music industry. Magnatune is there to help artists reach audiences and receive a profit (note that albums must have at least 40 minutes of music). Then, you can listen to your album on Amarok's open-source media player while making an average of $1,500 US (according to Magnatune) if your album is accepted. So let's forget about iTunes and make the migration to a community-based project with a great business model.

James Lees currently is a Web site developer, and he's about to go to college in Network Engineering. He's also a computer hobbyist and die-hard Linux user who wants to help promote freeware and open-source software. And, let's not forget, he's also a longtime Linux Journal reader.



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I like the music there and its a reasonable price

Anonymous's picture

I found a few bands that I like at magnatune a while ago. One is called Electric Frankenstein, they are a punk/rock/speed-rock band I guess. CD's cost about $5.00 to make. Flac files cost less and sound just as good. I don't want to pay more than $5.00 for an album and this is a good solution for that. I just wish they sold music on vinyl. Digital media tends to last around 9 years as far as I know. That's the average shelf-life of a CD, and hard drives fail all of the time. It kind of sucks to have to back up your music collection every time you get a new song or album. I definitely support their work because they are independent and I like some of the music they release. If you are looking for something free as in freedom, and as in beer, you can also check out this list of sites to find out where you can find music that is free and Creative Commons Licensed with some rights reserved just like at Magnatune but free as in beer.

I support Magnatune, other independent music labels, and I'm boycotting the RIAA's products. Find out why you should too at and

Their definition of "Open

demiurg's picture

Their definition of "Open Music" is quite interesting, they invite you to "be a part of the Magnatune's marketing team by requesting free recruiting cards or printing Magnatune mini-posters and handing them out", i.e. work for them just because their web site runs on Linux!

Alexander (Sasha) Sirotkin
Metalink Broadband

My blogs:

Alexander (Sasha) Sirotkin
Metalink Broadband

My blogs:

"they invite you to "be a

Cristiano's picture

"they invite you to "be a part of the Magnatune's marketing team by requesting free recruiting cards or printing Magnatune mini-posters and handing them out"

You have informed so nice Alexander (Sasha) Sirotkin.


Response to your comment and your blog post on blogger

James L's picture

First I'd like to point out a few things about your blog post and the comment above. It's not that they are an open source project but that they contribute to open source projects and to the open source community, while helping to spread the idea of open source and open freedom. Magnatune has greatly helped and supported the Amarok project, they are even holding a contest allowing people to take samples from the Magnatune sample pool to create a theme to Amarok when it first loads. They have also helped by giving a bunch of songs to the Amarok Live CD Project to be put on the CD. Nikolaj who is working for Magnatune is developing Magnatunes integration into Amarok. If you look at it they do have a programmer who is contributing to open source. The thing is, it's not about the Amarok project but about how they should still get recognition because of the creativity of their business model, and the choice to use Linux and open source software within the company.

Last time I checked or what I feel as a crisis in the music industry would be called DRM. Magnatune is trying to find new ways to fix this crisis and they have found it within "Open Music" and DRM-Free music. Any company that promotes the freedom of choice and creativity is a freedom fighter. From what I remember in school and from purchasing things in my life, is that it's up to the consumers to say an album is lousy or not. So before you go saying the labels are lousy you should visit Magnatunes site and maybe listen to some of the artist that are in the genre of your liking; since you said you did not visit their site.

I'd also like to know how you warped the definition of "open Music" to Magnatunes promotional/Advertising campaign. One has to deal with music in the concept of open source software applied to music, while the other deals with allowing people to promote a site and label company they support, because they feel it's doing the correct thing unlike many label companies today.

I'd also encourage you to check out some of the other sites/projects created by John Buckman such as so you can see it's not just about business to him, but the spread of creativity and freedom. By the way I don't work for Magnatune or for Buckman but support the ideas he follows, and the promotion and use of Linux and open source software.

Nobodys for free, all others pay cash...

Ken Melton's picture

So, what you're saying in this advertisement... err... article, is that I can either listen to artists that no one has ever heard of for next to nothing and feel really great that I'm supporting a company that supports the open source movement; or I can use iTunes, accept that the artists that I have heard of have signed exclusive deals with evil labels that force us to pay through the nose to get songs that are only moderately free. This is the unfortunate reality of life; artists sign the deals that restrict their music. If you want to it be free, how about trying to convince your favorite artists to sign with an independent label. The only risk is that they may never get their work heard in the mainstream.