What does it take for musicians to sell you CDs and MP3s over the Web?

Big name (and long time) acts like Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson are now joining a huge barrage of newer musical artists in trying to hawk CDs and MP3 files over the Web. But what will it take for these musicians to convince you to buy?

According to speakers at this week's Digital Music Forum in New York, musicians need to keep from getting snarled up by the maze of different promotional channels for them to choose from, including: satellite Internet stations, music download sites like iTunes, social networking sites like Facebook, and ads on Google and other search sites.

Other potential pitfalls include a "plantation system" that has allowed record labels and an assortment of their associates to cash in handsomely on CD, tape, and album sales for decades.

On the other hand, though, the Internet is opening up access to music sales for a lot more talent these days, said music industry veterans.

Music acts no longer need to ink contracts with huge lables like Columbia, Epic or Sony to get their work in front of people, noted Benjamin Campbell, CEO of OurStage, Inc.

Satellite stations can specialize in virtually any kind of music, whether rock, rap, country, jazz or more specific genres like Celtic Folk, concurred Celia Hirschman, host of KCRW's "On the Beat."

Furthermore, where it once cost $2,000 an hour for a record label to rent a recording studio, musicians are now churning out CDs and MP3s in studios that cost only $2,000 in total to build, contended Elliot Mazer, "multi-platinum producer/engineer/founder" at Left Turn Music.

Big labels are trying to take full advantage of Web-based sales and marketing too. Sony's BMG Label Group, for example, puts together Internet-oriented marketing materials for household names along with lesser-known acts from around the world, said John Fleckenstein, BMG's SVP of International.

But on the other hand, to lower the overhead costs traditionally passed along to consumers, big labels still need to ditch a plantation system that's supporting folks like tour managers and contract attorneys in "Fifth Avenue Manhattan real estate," Campbell said.

Campbell told attendees that all it takes for a music act to succeed is a good product, research into the potential markets for that product, and some knowhow about how to reach the right audiences.

Moreover, through the wonders of Web analytics, it's also easier to locate members of a small audience that will be receptive to the work of a non-mainstream artist, he said.

But other speakers at the digital music show indicated that things aren't always as simple as all that.

Once upon a time, a record label might have targeted the 25-to-35-year-old age demographic for a specific band's music.

Now, however, labels have determined that there is an "eon of difference" between the interests of a 26-year-old and a 27-year-old, for instance, said Sony BMG's Fleckenstein.

Decisions need to be made, too, around which if any social networking sites to harness.

MySpace is starting to lose ground as more musicians drift over to Facebook instead, according to Vicki Saunders, director of music marketing and promotions at TouchTunes Music.

But Shahi Ghanem, CEO and president of Brickfish, recommended the use of at least three social networking sites, so as to reach a broader audience.

The over 35-year-old set, though, could well be a tougher sell, even among consumers who frequent the Web all the time.

Aside from social networking sites geared mainly to a young demographic, a lot of the conference banter revolved around topics like how to offer the right kinds of downloadable MP3 ringtones.

Yet meanwhile, studies by major industry analyst firms are showing that digital music downloads remain largely the province of a much younger age group, still in their teens.(https://betanews.com/article/Digital_music_downloads_wont_replace_CDs_says_report/1195502891)

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