– Is It The Best Music Download Site?

The London-based online music platform has become one of the greatest success stories of Music 2.0, as their acquisition for $280 million by CBS earlier this year illustrates. is clearly a very robust model for music distribution: but why?

There are a number of factors which have led to its widespread popularity amongst music fans:

Free downloads:

Although not every artist has free downloads available, there are enough in there to make people search for them. In fact, a service which offers free downloads from every artist in its catalogue will have a huge advantage here – if its catalogue is as big as, for example, that of Yahoo Music. There is no valid reason for not doing this, either from an artist, label or distributor’s point of view – it’s free music for the consumer (enhancing user experience, making them more likely to return to the site, listen to more of that artist, and perhaps buy an album by that artist on that site); it’s free promotion for the artist/label and it makes the distribution site more valuable.

Full-length previews:

Being able to listen to an entire track is a good user experience; listening to a thirty-second snippet is not. The idea that hearing a small fragment of song will tantalise a listener into buying an album is flawed; the listener will just leave and go somewhere they can hear the entire song, and perhaps the whole album. The single greatest advantage has over Pandora is that it’s easy to browse by artist and find songs by any artist whenever you want.

Focus on the Music:

Everything on the site is about the music. It’s uncluttered, easy to navigate. It has a huge catalogue of independent and local bands in every possible genre. It’s not about celebrity – no pop gossip, no chart-topper news, just music that its users want to listen to. It’s also easy to discuss music by finding people who like the same music as you (an important social feature), and you can find new music through their playlists or favourites.

Artist Wiki:

Extra information about musicians is a great added-value feature, and gives an extra dimension to the user experience. Fans of bands love to read about them; but such information should be easily available upon request, not by having the top-selling acts plastered across every page. The use of the wiki makes fans feel connected to the bands they like and the site itself; they invest in it, and make it part of their online experience. From’s point of view, it’s also an easy way to generate a huge amount of relevant and useful content without any real effort on their part.


Provides users with a history, gives them a listen count and displays their listening tastes to the world – which is important for many listeners, who define themselves (in some ways) by what they listen to. Musical identity is an important social function. However, the idea of giving people a score for participating on a site often works brilliantly – it was used to superb effect in Yahoo Answers, where, even though the points are not actually worth anything, people still try to rack up as many as they possibly can. If you can harness that fundamental competitiveness of your audience then you are on to a winner. Point scoring per se is not an essential element of’s success, but scrobbling may well be.

Ad-free, Targeted Content Radio with Full-length-tracks:

This is what listeners want – great music by artists they love, and the ability to discover similar artists that they are likely to love. Although Yahoo Music does this already, the intermittent advertising is extremely detrimental to the overall listening experience.

New Independent Music:

Any independent label can sign up and put its artists on show to the world. This anti-elitist approach has won the platform many friends, greatly expanded its userbase and enhanced its usefulness as a promotional and music development tool. It also allows users to discover truly new and original work by musicians who have not been in any way compromised by corporate restrictions or external creativity control. Listeners can also buy music directly from the artist or label by clicking on their shoplink.

So Who Will Buy Music Online?

The person who buys the most albums per year is the one who is seriously into their music, the one who seeks out new and interesting work by obscure (or less-than-mainstream) artists – not the one who gets their tunes from the top 40. The fact that the dedicated music-listener often buys a single album (and almost never buys singles) from a huge number of different artists means that none of these artists tend to sell enough to attract industry attention. However, the combined spend of these dedicated music fans is probably much higher than many people think. It won’t touch the short-term cash influx of a major chart hit, but this is a valuable audience nonetheless, and will not be inclined to use a music site that has Britney Spears videos and Shakira gossip plastered over its home page.


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