Sites & Services

The 1-2-3 Music Store

I get at least one phone call per week asking about my experience with the 1-2-3 Music Store, a server script I’ve been running for three years. It allows me to sell mp3 downloads direct from my web site, with no middleman. Put simply, the 1-2-3 Music Store is the ugly stepsister of the iTunes Store. She may not be beautiful, but she’s all mine.

The 1-2-3 Music Store

Is the 1-2-3 Music Store right for you? Consider the benefits:

  1. Maximum profit. You keep 100% of sales, minus PayPal transaction fees.
  2. Flexibility. Change your content and pricing at any time.
  3. Ease of use. Every aspect of the store is completely automated.
  4. Price. At $68 for bands, it only takes a few sales to recoup. Labels pay $168.

At this point, you may be thinking it’s so cheap, why not give it a shot? While the financial investment is minimal, the time investment is substantial. I spent a full week – at least 40 hours – customizing my store. The stock installation is clunky and, at least back in 2006, buggy.

stock installation

My store isn’t going to win any design awards, but it’s better looking and simpler to navigate.

Color Theory music store

Customization involves modifying the included .tpl files, which I renamed as .htm files to tweak in Dreamweaver. Changing the look and feel without sabotaging the mechanics of the script took some trial and error. While you can pay extra to have Alfred, the script’s author, install the store for you, you’re on your own when it comes to customization. Most musicians will either have to hire a web designer or stick with the stock install. Todd Durrant of A Different Drum hired me to customize his store, which was more work than I anticipated, even using my own store as a template.

Other causes for concern are:

  1. Security. My store was hacked once, and Todd’s was hacked twice. Shortly thereafter, Alfred updated the script to patch the hole, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were hacked again. Todd ultimately decided that the few sales he was getting weren’t worth the hassle, and removed the store from his site.
  2. Compatibility. Most web sites use Flash audio players, but the 1-2-3 Music Store uses m3u playlists for song previews. Browsers don’t always handle the files properly, and users may wonder why they’re downloading files when all they want to do is hear a song clip.
  3. Tech support. Alfred handles all support himself, via e-mail. He can’t always respond within 24 hours, and since he’s in Germany, the time difference makes for an even longer delay.
  4. Bugs. Occasionally the store currency switches to Euro, even though US Dollars is exclusively selected in my admin panel. There’s no way for users to switch back without purging their browser cache and deleting cookies.
  5. Download hassles. Buyers download mp3s individually using links in an e-mail. That’s not a big deal with a single EP or album purchase, but it’s a lot to ask of someone who just paid for my entire discography.
  6. Fixed format. You can only sell songs in one format, though technically it doesn’t have to be mp3. I’d love to offer higher quality alternatives like FLAC and Apple Lossless.

My advice: Wait until you consistently sell $50 in music per month through your web site. Worldwide music sales are tanking, and the vast majority of online sales are through iTunes. Only my most dedicated fans buy through my store, simply because they know I make the most money that way.

Other options to consider:

  1. Affiliate links. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! It’s easy to become an iTunes affiliate and link directly to your albums on the iTunes Store. You can do the same with Amazon Associates, and even set up your own Amazon store on your site. If your referral ends up buying a TV, you get a cut of that too.
  2. CD Baby. Doesn’t this look a lot nicer than my store? CD Baby recently added single song downloads, and it looks like they might offer alternate formats in the near future. They keep 25% of download sales through their site (but only 9% of sales through their partners – iTunes, Amazon, etc).
  3. Bandcamp. Speaking of alternate formats, Bandcamp offers a plethora of options for selling your music in a plethora of formats. You can even let buyers name their own price! You could be the next Radiohead, kinda.
  4. WordPress plugins. If you’re running a self-hosted WordPress site, there are a bunch of store plugins to consider. I’ve read mixed reviews on WP e-Commerce, but it’s quite popular, and handles downloadable files.
  5. PayPal. If my store gets hacked again, I’ll revert to basic PayPal buttons. I’ll fulfill orders by e-mailing a link to a .zip file of the songs. Sometimes the simplest solution is best.

UPDATE 2/16/10: I switched to Bandcamp, and love it! You can find me at music.colortheory.com.

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    Curt Siffert
    July 30, 2009 at 9:30 am

    It’s the m3u that would probably rule it out for me. I’ve never liked iTunes launching when I just click on a link.

    I’m thinking of switching to a model where all songs can be streamed from my site, but not downloaded, especially now that I’m about to produce an E.P. of “really produced” songs.

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    July 30, 2009 at 10:18 am

    If songs can be streamed, they can be downloaded via a variety of methods. Unlike the old days, it doesn’t require any technical savvy. Firefox has a number of simple extensions that can save streaming audio or video.

    Sorry to rain on your parade. It’s what I do. πŸ˜‰

  • Reply
    Curt Siffert
    July 30, 2009 at 10:30 am

    haha πŸ™‚

    I can’t believe how much I’ve gone back and forth on the download strategy. It’s like a complicated equation. I’ve let everything be downloadable for free so far to grow the mailing list. That was a better strategy a couple of years ago though. Now it seems like everyone and their brother is doing creative commons free downloads.

  • Reply
    Rub Wrongways
    July 30, 2009 at 11:23 am

    My experience was just about exactly the same. The main difference was that I never even managed to get a working version up online. After struggling with it for more-time-than-I-had, I just gave up and called it a loss.

    I’m impressed with what you managed to do with 1-2-3.

    Now I just use the affiliate links to Itunes and Amazon, like you mentioned. Most people are more comfortable with buying that way anyway.

  • Reply
    Todd Durrant
    July 31, 2009 at 5:25 am

    I was not impressed with 1-2-3 Musicstore. I paid Brian to help me match it up visually with A Different Drum’s homepage, and he did a great job tweaking the code. But the big problem for me as a label trying to use this program is that there is absolutely NO tracking built in. The only way to know what your customer purchased is from the Paypal receipt email you receive, and you can’t go back and look up what “customer A” purchased in terms of songs or albums from within the control panel, and you can’t check “song A” or “album B” to see how many people have purchased it. When tracking royalties, it becomes a big chore that must be done outside of the program itself.

    The response from the product manufacturer about these concerns was basically, “You bought a very cheap program to create a digital store, so of course you won’t get fancy extras…” Well, something like that. Basically, “You get what you pay for.”
    SO…if you are a band (not necessarily a label) and want an easy way to sell your downloads on your own homepage, or any other page you have access to, including your Myspace page, etc. I’d recommend something FREE. Use http://www.bandbox.com You can upload the content you want to sell with artwork, etc. and then Bandbox creates a widget code you can place anywhere to sell your music. You get 100% of the sales and you can check reports, etc. Maybe it won’t be the “Store” setting that 1-2-3 is, but who cares… it’s free and easy to use, and considerably less of a struggle to set up.

    Oh, one more note on the 1-2-3 store. It was hacked while I was using it, where somebody in another country broke through their code, changed the graphics to give a “haha you’ve been hacked” kind of message in my digital store and changed the Paypal payment address to another which was not mine. D’oh!

    -Todd

  • Reply
    Steven Pennington
    July 31, 2009 at 8:15 am

    In addition to Bandbox, you could simply add a link from your website to your own music page on http://bandcamp.com ? It’s free, very slick, and allows fans to choose their preferred audio format. We provide a website platform for indie bands and musicians (called FourFour) and one of our artists is doing just that: http://www.lifelovemisery.com/home (click the Digital Downloads link).

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    July 31, 2009 at 8:42 am

    I have to agree with Steve. Bandcamp looks like the best thing going, at least until they start charging.

  • Reply
    Eric
    August 17, 2009 at 6:09 am

    WP E-Commerce has some limitations that make it rather impractical for album sales. I’ve been grappling with this on my site and on a client’s, and while it works fine for individual song sales (and integrates nicely with a whole bunch of checkout/payment providers) it uses PHP streaming for downloads, which means anything over a certain size is going to either time out (PHP Execution Limit maxed) or not work (PHP file buffer size exceeded).

    So if you try selling an album’s-worth of mp3’s in a big zip file, your customers won’t be able to download it. And forget FLAC.

    I hacked a workaround to redirect the browser to a disk location but it’s entirely unsupported and Instinct seems to have no will to fix or support anything similar.

    Bandcamp has worked pretty well for me so far. I wish their embeddable widget wasn’t a big ol’ redirect back to their site, though.

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    August 17, 2009 at 7:04 am

    Thanks Eric! That’s really good to know. I spent a couple hours with WP E-Commerce before giving up. I simply couldn’t get it to work. Perhaps it was incompatible with my Thesis theme.

  • Reply
    Unsigned Band Promotion
    August 18, 2009 at 3:18 am

    I help indie bands with their Website promotion. A part of being a totally independent band is taking control of your band’s finances – that’s a big subject in itself. Websites and e-commerce obviously go together, so I looked around for a simple, cheap solution and found Easybe! When I first came into contact with the easybe 1-2-3 musicstore sometime in 2004/2005 I thought they would be great for bands, so I joined up as an affiliate. Now I’m not so sure they were ever that simple or cheap and I wouldn’t recommend them – even though my website is strewn with links and favourable blurb!!

    I wouldn’t recommend Easybe because of My experiences with them, as an affiliate not as a band using their musicstore program, at the moment visitors who click on my affiliate links are sent to: http://www.yoursiteurl.com, a problem I brought to Alfred’s attention back in Feb 2009. “Looks like something has messed up the settings last month”, he said. Looks like something is still messing up the settings and nothing has been done about it. Over the course of the next few weeks I shall purge my site of easybe affiliate links and recommendations and stop being an affiliate – I’m fed up with them.

    Brian, one of the reasons you get asked about easybe so much is because you are one of only fourteen sites linked to from easybe’s opening page – apart from the fact that you’ve got one of their best indie music stores, it’s a good example.

    It would be very possible to create a store that looks like yours but is run completely by PayPal πŸ™‚ I would do that if I were a band.

    Hope you’re keeping well Brian
    luv
    ian

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    August 18, 2009 at 7:44 am

    Great to hear from you Ian! I appreciate your input and unique perspective as an affiliate.

    I recently added simple PayPal buttons to http://colortheory.com/me for physical CDs. I could always make another set of buttons for digital and fulfull orders by e-mailing links to zip files of mp3s, FLACs, etc. At this point, I’d probably go with Bandcamp first, but I don’t have time to mess with it right now. It ain’t broke… yet.

  • Reply
    Kenny
    October 23, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    Why not use Paypal’s Payloadz ? It runs on the same principle as Paypal buttons and as far as I know is free. Mind you I will have a look again. Another one (here in Australia) is http://www.fulfillment.com.au. They are also free except for their commission per sale.

  • Reply
    clayton
    November 13, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    I could always make another set of buttons for digital and fulfull orders by e-mailing links to zip files of mp3s, Question :where do you keep the zip files ?

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    November 13, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    Kenny, maybe there is a different Payloadz, but payloadz.com is not free, and though it uses PayPal, it’s not an official PayPal service.

    Clayton, I was thinking I’d email the links manually using a site like yousendit.com. In that case, the zip files would be stored on my hard drive, not on the net.

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    February 16, 2010 at 9:28 am

    So much for the 1-2-3 Music Store. I just switched to Bandcamp, and love it! You can find me at music.colortheory.com.

  • Reply
    Mark Lee
    January 27, 2012 at 2:50 am

    Brian, its seems 1-2-3 Music has gone out of business? I bought the script a few years ago and sales were so bad, I forgot about it. Just decided to look at the store and clicked the link to easybe and NO LUCK.

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    January 27, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    That makes sense. I don't see why anyone would pay for it when there are so many great alternatives like Bandcamp and the totally free (for now) Vibedeck.

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