Not at all evil
September 18, 2003 4:48 PM   Subscribe

Magnatune is a killer new record label that is doing everything a cutting-edge record label should be doing. They offer music from a wide range of genres that you can download, stream, and listen to, but like shareware, you only buy stuff you like after trying it out first. The label splits profits with artists 50-50, and even offers a sliding scale when buying through paypal. After paying for an album, you get both high quality MP3 and uncompressed WAV files for download.
posted by mathowie (40 comments total)
I've been listening to a bunch of the world music there and I'm impressed. I even bought a couple albums to give it a try, and it went pretty smoothly. I've gone off on record labels on my personal site for years, but Magnatune seems to be the first label I've seen that is doing everything possible to not be evil and realize the strengths of the internet for music distribution.
posted by mathowie at 4:49 PM on September 18, 2003

It's very cool how you can choose to pay between $5 and $18 for an album. It would be interesting to know how much the average customer pays.
posted by Triplanetary at 5:01 PM on September 18, 2003

yep we'll drag the RIAA into the 21st century kicking and screaming if we have to. and beth quist is so cool. yeah it's pretty much Dead can Dance, but what the hell she's cute!
posted by carfilhiot at 5:09 PM on September 18, 2003

Sounds like a record company that even I will pay for.
posted by Keyser Soze at 5:13 PM on September 18, 2003

Right on! And since the lead singer of Emma's Mini is a friend, I'll happily part with some cash to support 'em!
posted by black8 at 5:18 PM on September 18, 2003

since the lead singer of Emma's Mini is a friend

Awesome, I just bought that album a few minutes ago.
posted by mathowie at 5:26 PM on September 18, 2003

"We're a record label. But we're not evil."

*mind boggles
posted by fuzz at 5:30 PM on September 18, 2003

Wow. Just wow.
posted by dg at 5:35 PM on September 18, 2003

You can buy shareware without trying it first, usualy. I dunno why you would.
posted by delmoi at 5:51 PM on September 18, 2003

Yes, yes, yes. About blinkin' time, too. Though their business model might need a little clarification here:

we expect guilt to fuel voluntarily higher prices

Well, we'll see if this happens--but I still think this is the way of the future. Kudos.
posted by jokeefe at 6:01 PM on September 18, 2003

We'll fuck this up too, somehow, but until then this is way cool.
posted by WolfDaddy at 6:04 PM on September 18, 2003

Totally the way to do it!

I hope they can attract a bunch of additional artists. I'm not huge into elecronica, and the rest of their genres are a bit thin. I'm determined to find something that I can like/buy there though. Right now it's looking like maybe Emma's Mimi.
posted by willnot at 6:15 PM on September 18, 2003

The basic problem with businesses nowadays is that they want to leverage control to make their profits, rather than provide a compelling (or more compelling) service/product. Our friends here seem to be turning the clock back from the era of oligarchy capitalism to good ol' fashioned honest entrepreneurship.
posted by namespan at 6:16 PM on September 18, 2003

They mention that bands already signed to labels might use this model as a way to sell live recordings... I'm waiting for the day when you attend a concert, enjoy the evening, log onto (say) Magnatune, buy the soundboard recording for that show, and have it quickly available to you for download.

I would so do this. And so would lots and lots of other people, judging from the amount of traffic on live recordings sites. Instead of waiting (and waiting) for a recording of a live performance to appear, and finding that it's of dubious quality when it does, you could just download the MP3s the next day.

*Waits impatiently*
posted by jokeefe at 6:17 PM on September 18, 2003

*still waiting*
posted by jokeefe at 6:18 PM on September 18, 2003

Hmmmm, Emma's Mini is playing on my computer now and, if the rest of the album is as good as the first couple of tracks, I will be hauling the Visa out. I guess that means that the system works - at least for people like me who are too put off by the price of CDs to buy anything that I am not already familiar with and know I will like.

WolfDaddy, I suspect that you are right. The problem with this model is that people will take the "you can share our music" to the extreme, limiting sales. To some extent, it is an honour system where those who want to own the music should put some money in the hat, but I do not have enough faith in human nature to expect people to do the right thing.
posted by dg at 6:25 PM on September 18, 2003

Triplanetary, some stats for you.
posted by whatnotever at 6:47 PM on September 18, 2003

I'm waiting for the day when you attend a concert, enjoy the evening, log onto (say) Magnatune, buy the soundboard recording for that show, and have it quickly available to you for download

Pearl Jam does pretty much exactly what you describe through their "bootleg" website. I think it's a really great system and it makes me wish a lot of other bands would pick up on the idea...
posted by puffin at 6:48 PM on September 18, 2003

If you want a demonstration of honor system in action, turn on Fox television for 5 seconds, then change to a PBS affiliate. Granted, Emma's not gonna get money from the NEA or ADM, but in principle this could work brilliantly. You just have to accept, going in, that you're paying for some college student to listen, too.

I wonder if music sold in this format will be geared to the sort of people who will pay for music. Could it be slightly less infantile, to reflect a crowd unlikely to mooch? (as opposed to Garbage in, Britney Out)

I'm also intrigued by the notion of licensing this stuff. Anything's better than the royalty free crap you have to choose from now, when doing a small multimedia project.
posted by condour75 at 6:48 PM on September 18, 2003

oh -- and someone hook up with these guys and give them collaborative filtering. oh -- and someone else tell Doctorow. This is right up his alley.
posted by condour75 at 6:50 PM on September 18, 2003

i was so ready to bash this as just another heartless attempt as a pay-for-music site, but i'm impressed. yeah, selection of course is limited but i've yet to see any other music service out there that even comes close to customer service like this. damn. damn.

who knows, perhaps the online porn industry could learn a thing or two :).
posted by poopy at 7:05 PM on September 18, 2003

We're a record label. But we're not evil.

Methinks the lady doth protest too much. But I hope not.
posted by moonbiter at 7:26 PM on September 18, 2003

I'm sold. Big labels watch out.
posted by orava at 8:46 PM on September 18, 2003

I remember reading about a restaurant a few years back that removed prices from the menu and told people to pay what they thought the food was worth. Revenue went up 20%.
posted by dobbs at 9:14 PM on September 18, 2003

Real nice! I hope these guys sign tons more great acts!
posted by LouReedsSon at 9:21 PM on September 18, 2003

Hey I thought we're supposed to promote piracy, at least for today.
posted by gyc at 9:27 PM on September 18, 2003

If you're looking for concert downloads, check out Furthur. It's a P2P network for trading shows, but only for bands that allow taping. 100% legal, and they have a surprisingly good selection (availability may vary...).
posted by mkultra at 9:34 PM on September 18, 2003

of course, in the case of restaurants, dobbs, there's that whole social dynamic. I'm sure in that scenario, the lone diner served by a robot might not be so generous.

The solution might be some sort of symbolic acknowledgement that you contributed. This works in the case of pledges: you get some branded booty -- hat, t-shirt, totebag, etc -- that tells the world you forked over the money. This would work especially well in teenagers and tweens, who are unlikely to pay out of the kindness of their hearts. Case in point: as it stands, crappy official t-shirt prices at a big arena show costs like 35 dollars. (or they did last time I was at one) Subtract the RIAA, a couple middlemen, and substitute concert with album release, with maybe a slightly lower price, and a little "support us and get the official shirt" message, and you could make more than enough to pay for the musicians and technicians recording time.
posted by condour75 at 10:04 PM on September 18, 2003

I love the idea, although after about half an hour of scrolling through various sounds, I didn't find anything I wanted to download and keep--let alone pay for. Actually, I'm almost tempted to kick down some green just because I want them to work out. In time, I know they would get more artists that I would dig. Thanks for the post!
posted by squirrel at 11:16 PM on September 18, 2003

Hey I thought we're supposed to promote piracy, at least for today.

It's not a matter of promoting piracy so much as being fed up with lining the pockets of monolithic corporations and watching musicians getting screwed... If I know that half the money is going straight to the artist, my hard earned money is ready and available. (Yeah, I know you're joking.)

Pearl Jam does pretty much exactly what you describe through their "bootleg" website. I think it's a really great system and it makes me wish a lot of other bands would pick up on the idea...

I can't imagine that a band wouldn't make money on this--even if 10% of the people who attended, say, Radiohead in Vancouver on August 30th, decided to buy a copy of the recording of the gig, that would be a thousand payments of, what, 5 to 10 bucks each? Not huge numbers, but enough to defray some touring expenses (those expensive vegan caterers, perhaps). And I wouldn't be sitting around getting antsy waiting for somebody to convert their tapes to Mp3s and share them with the world. The potlatch system--where you gain the cultural capital of status and prestige based on how much you give away--is actually made extremely efficient and effective through the web, but I'd be very happy to just point, click, and pay for a premium quality live recording that I could have 24 hours after the show.
posted by jokeefe at 11:58 PM on September 18, 2003

If you like the business model you may want to help them spread the word. I've submitted a story to Plastic (with a nod to Metafilter), but I think we also need to contact our favorite musicians to get them excited about this idea (and to improve the selection on Magnatune).

How you can help:

Do you agree that Magnatune is a wonderful thing, and want to help the cause?

Our #1 problem is that with so many awful music sites out there, it's hard to get the word out, and today, very few people know about Magnatune.

Here are some tangible things you can do that help tremendously:

* search out blogs that you think might mention Magnatune and email them. Blog authors almost always include stuff that's personally sent to them.
* Any magazine, newsletter, discussion group, journalist that's appropriate, email them about Magnatune.
* Look for other radio and/or music sites and email them telling them about Magnatune and ask them to link to us. If you find like-minded sites, email us about them so we can link to them as well.
* Try to recruit other musicians, either by telling them about Magnatune, or send me an email with a URL to their web site so I can hear it.

Basically, pester the heck out of anyone and everyone who is connected with music on the Internet.

posted by sic at 4:51 AM on September 19, 2003

This is excellent.

Not being real fond of bankruptcy, I'd planned on self-publishing my music -- but I may have to look deeper into this. Awesome.
posted by Foosnark at 7:27 AM on September 19, 2003

If I get my band involved with this label, do you think there would be some brand confusion?

My band: Magnapop.

"Go get the new Magnapop album today on Magnatune!"
posted by fletchmuy at 8:37 AM on September 19, 2003

The sliding scale price ($5 to $18) is actually a really good idea, and something I've considered doing for selling physical CDs at gigs. I've seen buskers do this too: they just set out a box of CDs with a bunch of $1 singles for change, and people help themselves and pay what they feel the CD is worth. Considering that you can make CDs for about a buck each, you're still likely to cover your costs.

(Of course, that's hell on accounting.)
posted by scottandrew at 11:18 AM on September 19, 2003

If you're looking for concert downloads, check out Furthur.

I found another good one if you like the Dead. Enjoy.
posted by LouReedsSon at 7:25 PM on September 19, 2003

I got an email from John Buckman:

you wrote:
Right on! And since the lead singer of Emma's Mini is a friend, I'll happily part with some cash to support 'em!

Would you believe this this one comment you made sold 7 copies of Emma's Mini in 48 hours, many at way above the $8 suggested price:

Emma's mini $8 $10 $15 $10 $10 $8 $5

And, as you know, they'll see 50% of all these sales.

I can't post back to metafilter (they don't allow new users), but could you let them know this?

Also, thanks for the mention in your blog... every little bit helps, as you can see.


posted by black8 at 1:11 PM on September 20, 2003

I've had an email from John as well, covering the same subject but in greater detail:

I can't post a response on the metafilter blog because it's not allowing new users, but perhaps you can post this for me.

Firstly, in the past 48h, all the blogs covering Magnatune (hey, could you mention it in your blog too?) has caused an upsurge of sales.

You can see for yourself that many people pay more than the minimum $5 or the recommended $8.

beth quist $8 $10 $8 $8 18
solace $8 $8
masley: $8
kouroush $10 $8
anup $8

cargo cult $10 $9
monoide $7
belief systems $7 $8 $5
rapoon $8
aba structure $5
markitos: $8

emmas mini $8 $10 $15 $10 $10 $8 $5

kyiv $8 $8 $8 $8 $8
sreteniye $8 $8
filles: $8
oberlin: $8


and here's a longer article examining 3 month's worth of stats:

At Magnatune, I've been trying a "pay what you feel the album is worth" system for buying downloadable albums. (for an example, see )

Many, many people have asked me how this is working out (it's a fairly novel idea for the Internet, though common at small concerts), so I thought I'd do an analysis and pass the info on.

As you know, people can choose to pay between $5 and $18 for an album, with an $8 default being the 'recommended' price. Note that the buyer gets nothing extra by paying more than the $5 minimum, other than a "warm fuzzy feeling" of doing good (since the musician gets half of the price picked).

Here are the results so far (after 3 months of the site being up)

44% of buyers pay $8 (the default)
32% pay less (between $5 and $7)
24% pay more than $8 (between $9 and $18)

In total dollars earned:
42% of revenue comes from the $8 purchases
21% comes from purchases $5 to $7
37% comes from purchases $9 to $18

The quantity purchased at each price point is:

$5: 21% of purchases
$6: 10%
$7: 1%
$8: 44%
$9: 1%
$10: 9%
$11: 0%
$12: 2%
$13: 0%
$14: 2%
$15: 1%
$16: 8%
$17: 1%
$18: 0%

My analysis:

* most people pay the recommended $8
* $10 is a popular price to pick -- this might be a "sweet spot" for the future
* a fair number of people double the recommended price and pay $16
* Not shown on this analysis is that $5 is a popular price when people
buy several albums at once (people seem self-justified in lowering how much they pay per album when they buy several albums)


posted by jokeefe at 2:34 PM on September 20, 2003

black8, one of those was mine. I also got an e-mail from John Buckman, responding to my comment on my site that there was not much music there that suited my taste, although I applaud the concept so much that my hands hurt.

The biggest drawback with this (and it is no fault of Magnatune) is that there are millions of tracks that the blood-sucking record companies will hold onto forever unless they can be convinced that this way will work for them, the artists and the consumers.
posted by dg at 3:40 PM on September 21, 2003

Actually, the only thing that is missing is album art for those if us that want to create an actual CD of the album we have bought. I know that creating this would be an expense, but it need not be elaborate, just some appropriate images that could be downloaded with the album. Nitpicking, I know.
posted by dg at 5:40 PM on September 22, 2003

Cargo Cult is far out. Great stuff. I'm listening to "Sunday" right now. No words but sometimes the music is too good for words. Beth Quist is brilliant, and her style is reminiscent of Aeone, bringing styles from several different cultures under the same tent, and then merging them together. Emma's Mini is ..okay, but a bit too obvious in the electropop direction. It's kinda candy art. Cute on the surface, but not all that satisfying. Cargo Cult's "Dilemma" is streaming now. I think they're the winner of the moment. If my CD Burner weren't indefinitely offline, I'd consider this approach.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:29 AM on October 4, 2003

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