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In this article we look at the various ways you can build a good online store for selling your music and merchandise…and ensure that people can find it. By Chris Singleton

First came the cheap recording equipment, which turned everybody into a bedroom recording artist. Then the web arrived, turning all these bedroom recording artists into bedroom recording labels, able to flog records (in theory at least) to a massive global audience. Now, many artists are great at making music in their bedrooms, but not so savvy when it comes to selling it from them, so in this post I’m going to outline how you can build a really good online store that makes it easy for people to purchase your wares – and ensure that people can find them.

Let’s start with building your store: there are three main approaches you can take, with various pros and cons – so let’s look at each in turn.

1 Send people to Amazon or iTunes

The first method of creating an online store, and possibly the easiest, is to simply create a page on your website called ‘store’ and place a few links on it to well-known online retailers that are stocking your CDs or selling downloads of your MP3s (Amazon, iTunes, 7 Digitial and so on). There are three main advantages to this approach: firstly, you don’t need to fulfil anything yourself (i.e., walk down to the post office and send stuff off to your customers); secondly, your music is chart eligible if you sell it this way; and thirdly, many people shop regularly with these companies and will be comfortable with buying your products from them. To maximise income from this approach, you should ideally obtain and use ‘affiliate links’ for your album from any online retailer that provides them (see the bit about iTunes affiliate links in our recent, sexily-titled post on ‘making as much money as possible from your music’ for more information on this).

2 Use Paypal

Although selling music via Amazon and iTunes is pretty easy, and has several advantages to it, you may find that selling your music direct to fan is more profitable. Instead of losing 30% or so of your sale to iTunes etc., you get to keep all the dosh. If you only have one or two products to sell, then selling them through Paypal is probably the easiest way to do this. It’s fairly straightforward to create a couple of ‘buy now’ Paypal buttons, accept payments and fulfil any items yourself.

3 Use e-commerce software / an online store builder

If you have lots of products to sell – i.e., a big back catalogue and a wide range of already-manufactured merchandise items – and you are fulfilling orders yourself, you may find it easier to go with a more comprehensive ‘online store solution’ – a paid-for web service that lets you manage lots of items of stock, keep track of orders / inventory, present items in an attractive way and add / remove products easily. There are lots of different solutions out there, but two stand out for me: Ecwid and Shopify

Ecwid is ideal for people who already have a website (for example, a Wordpress or Squarespace site) and want to ‘plug in’ an online store system. You set up your store on the Ecwid website, add products, upload artwork, set up pricing...and then, when you are ready to launch your store, you are given a snippet of code that you can add to the shop page of your site; once you do this, your online store and all your CDs and tacky t-shirts magically appear. You still fulfil the products yourself, but you get a professional way of displaying stock online, tracking orders, capturing data and accepting credit card payments. You can try out Ecwid for free here.

If you don’t already have a website, then Shopify is possibly a good option for you, because it’s a system that doubles up as a website building tool and a sophisticated online store which lets you sell physical and digital products. There are more sophisticated / user-friendly website builders out there, but its online store functionality is amongst the best available, and with a bit of perseverance or help from somebody who knows their online onions, you can put a very nice site together with it. Shopify’s free trial is available here.

The downside of using one of these solutions is that they come with monthly fees attached. So really, they are best suited for bands who are going to be selling enough items every month to justify these payments.

Selling direct to fans? Give your customers some options

Even if selling direct to fan is the most profitable option for you, some people prefer to buy music from the big retailers. As such, even if you are using Paypal or an online store builder to facilitate online sales, it's still worth offering people the option of buying your music using Amazon or iTunes. By all means encourage fans to buy direct from you, and explain that this is the best way they can support your band...but give people the option to buy elsewhere – or you could lose sales. An iTunes sale, even if less profitable than a direct-to-fan sale, is better than no sale at all...

What about selling merchandise, then?

There are two main approaches you can take to selling your tacky t-shirts online:

  • You can manufacture merchandise yourself, and sell it using one of the methods described above.
  • Don’t manufacture any at all but use a site like Cafepress or Zazzle to design an item of merchandise virtually – with these sites, your item only gets manufactured and shipped once a customer  places an order.

Which option is for you really boils down to how popular your band is and how many items of merchandise you’re likely to sell. If you are only likely to sell one or two items a year, then I’d avoid manufacturing hundreds of t-shirts like the plague, but if you are huge and likely to sell thousands of t-shirts and leather thongs with your band’s logo on them, then manufacturing them yourself will lead to a much greater profit margin. This is because sites such as Cafepress and Zazzle charge a ‘base rate’ for items which is quite high, meaning you have to keep your mark-up very low to prevent your t-shirts becoming prohibitively expensive.

How to ensure that people can find your online store

If you are distributing your music digitally you will probably find yourself in the odd position of competing with various digital outlets for sales of your own music. For example, you may find that iTunes is beating you to the top spot in Google search results when you type your album’s title into the search box. Or that a Google advert encouraging people to buy your album on Amazon is appearing next to these results.

Obviously it makes a lot of financial sense to ensure that your online store is highly visible in search results – you ideally want your store at the top, so that you can either avail of the more profitable direct-to-fan sales or purchases made through your iTunes / Amazon affiliate links. There are two ways you can do this: through search engine optimisation (SEO) or by advertising your album via adwords. With regard to SEO, here are some tips on getting to the top of results:

  • Your band’s name and (important) album titles should be listed in your online store’s page title – for example, a title such as "David Bowie – Online Store – Albums including Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs" is infinitely preferable to a very non-descript ‘Online Store’.
  • Ensure your page has a ‘meta description’ which lists your artist name, albums, merchandise items and so on. This can be longer than the page title – for example, “David Bowie’s official online store, where you can buy all his albums and merchandise. Get the remastered editions of Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs, or buy t-shirts, coffee mugs and leather thongs”.
  • Ensure all your product descriptions are ‘keyword-rich’ – i.e., contain very accurate descriptions of those leather thongs you are selling.
  • Where possible or applicable, use ‘meaningful URLs’ – web addresses that contain keywords. For example, if you happen to have individual pages for individual items (this will be the case if you are using Shopify), ensure that you are creating URLs such as ‘www.davidbowie.com/ziggy-stardust-album’ rather than ‘www.davidbowie.com/album1’.

You can check out our article on search engine optimisation for bands for a more in-depth guide to SEO for musicans, but following the above tips will help you enormously when it comes to ensuring your online store is optimised for search.

As for online advertising, it’s probably only worth spending money on Google Adwords if you know you are going to be selling significant quantities of records and want to ensure that they are bought from a particular location – your online store, basically. More useful perhaps is advertising on Facebook – using promoted posts or side adverts to put your release or store in front of your existing fans (who constitute your warmest audience of course).

That’s it for me for now – hope these tips help in your ambition to sell music to your parents succeed.

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