This article is by Ross Barber-Smith, a web designer who specializes in design for musicians with direct-to-fan selling in mind. With his company Electric Kiwi he has worked with many independent artists to enhance their online presence.
We’re living through a pandemic, where many aspects of our lives are put on hold. Unfortunately for musicians, this means that live performances are on hold, too. We’ve all had to adapt, and musicians have been forced to take different approaches to surviving through this challenging chapter. One of those adaptations is selling direct-to-fan.
Selling direct-to-fan merch online is such an important income source for artists, probably more than ever right now. While live streams are not a *perfect* substitute for live shows, they can help you stay connected with your audience. They can also present an opportunity to promote your merch – in a similar way to how you would on stage.
You can also run Facebook/Instagram ads to direct followers or previous website visitors back to your store via retargeting. There are lots of ways to help get your online store in front of your fans. Reminding them that it’s another way they can support you (while also getting some awesome merch in the process).
This article discusses options for selling music via your WordPress website. This list is by no means conclusive – there are a huge number of plugins and options out there and this article covers some of the more widely used methods. If you don’t use WordPress, there are still many direct-to-fan options available, such as Bandcamp, Bandzoogle, ReverbNation and Topspin. Whatever your website platform, the right solution is out there!
Why should I sell via my website?
1. Your website = the epicenter of your online activity.
Your website should be the central hub of what happens with your music online, and it should be generating money for you. Displaying your products on your website, rather than directing fans and potential customers to an external store offer a more engaging and consistent experience and makes direct-to-fan selling efforts possible. You wouldn’t send people away from your show to another venue to purchase merchandise, so why would you do the same on your website?
2. You keep more money.
Selling your music and merchandise directly from your website (AKA direct-to-fan) means that you have control over the pricing. Of course, most external stores allow you to set the pricing too, but with your own website, you are more in control of what you actually make per sale because you’ll have fewer fees to pay – which is always a plus! If you’re using PayPal as your payment method, then there will be a small transaction fee to pay (approximately 5%), but you can always work this into your product cost. To do the same on an external store, you may need to increase your costs by 10 or 15% just to keep your margins the same and your finances afloat. Using a store built into your website means that you can keep the prices lower, but without sacrificing your profit.
3. You also have the opportunity to be creative.
One doesn’t necessarily need to sell the standard CDs or t-shirts that every other musician is selling direct-to-fan. Create experience packages and sell them to your fans. Are you an awesome guitarist? Offer a 45-minute lesson via Skype. Do fans always ask you for your lyrics? Offer a handwritten copy of your lyrics accompanied by a personal message. When you’re selling products on your own store, you have the freedom to sell whatever you want, and that means you can get creative – in many cases more-so than you can with an external platform.
4. Your products can (and should) tell a story…
and where better to do that than on your website? Don’t just list your products for sale direct-to-fan – talk about them, give your fans a backstory… make them care about what you’re selling, and get closer to them as a result.
5. Email addresses!
One big bonus of managing your own store via your WordPress website is that you can see the email addresses of those who are buying from you. Now, you can’t just add these to your mailing list without asking, but you can send out a personal message to those who have purchased your music or merchandise. A personalized thank you can go a long way – it could turn a passive fan into a super fan…and we LOVE super fans! Ask them if you can add them to your mailing list so they can keep informed about your latest releases. You might be surprised at the response, and you might just make someone’s day. You may not have time to do this for everyone, but if you find yourself at a loose end, take advantage of it and make a connection. It could be the start of something beautiful.
Before making any decisions…
Create a list of what you would like your store to do and separate that list into essential and desirable features. Consider:
- WHO your audience is
- WHAT you’re selling
- HOW your music or merchandise should be delivered
- GIVING your fans the best experience possible
- GENERATING income for you as an artist
There are a multitude of e-commerce plugins available for WordPress that make direct-to-fan selling easier. The features will vary between them, but the more advanced options will include features like stock control, coupon codes, product variations, and different shipping options.
Before deciding on whether an e-commerce plugin is right for you, think about what you want to offer on your store; do you want to sell physical merchandise? Do you want to offer digital downloads? Do you want to offer coupon codes as a reward/incentive for your existing fans to purchase your new line of t-shirts? Do you want to offer different shipping rates for domestic vs international destinations? These are all important things to consider when making a decision on a store plugin for WordPress, as each plugin has different capabilities.
- Relatively easy to set up.
- PayPal integration, with options for additional payment gateways available as add-ons.
- Stock management (i.e. you can tell WooCommerce how many of those awesome new t-shirts you have in stock, and it will automatically tell fans when stock is low, or you’re out of stock – no more awkward emails!)
- Options for physical and digital products – that’s right, you can offer secure downloads direct from your website, as well as selling physical CDs. It’s like iTunes, but without the middleman.
- Product variations – do you have 5 different sizes of t-shirt, or want to offer a choice between signed and unsigned copies of your latest CD? No problem!
- Options for regular and sale prices – great for offering holiday discounts.
- Large repository of additional extensions and features.
- Styles can be customized from the options menu.
- Can be connected with print-on-demand services like Printful, so you don’t have to buy a ton of stock before selling. Great for testing the waters and adding a stress-free merch option! In fact, this is the exact set up that my website store uses! https://electrickiwi.co.uk/
- While there are options for basic customization, depending on your theme, further customization may be required. Generally speaking if you’re using one of the default WordPress themes, or a well recognized theme, WooCommerce should work as is, but if you’re using a custom theme then you, or your developer, may need to spend some time tweaking things to get things looking just right.
- Extensions may need to be purchased if you require more advanced shipping options.
- So many options can be overwhelming and cause confusion when adding items, or initially setting up the store.
2. Ultra Simple Paypal Shopping Cart
Many artists already use Paypal to sell their products. It’s a simple way to sell your music direct to your fans. It’s not always the most attractive solution – however, when styled to be consistent with your website (and not just using Paypal’s standard buttons) it can look like a higher end solution.
For artists who don’t want all of the additional features that some of the larger e-commerce plugins offer, Ultra Simple Paypal Shopping Cart is one viable solution.
- PayPal integration.
- Simple to set up: you could have your products for sale within an hour, if not less.
- Ideal for artists who just want to sell a small number of products directly from their website.
- Will require some development work to make the store operate like a higher end e-commerce solution.
- No alternative payment options – must use PayPal.
- Less flexible than a plugin like WooCommerce.
- Not ideal for digital downloads (as cannot generate individual URL for each download link), so would be limited to physical products only.
- No coupon codes or discount rates available (at time of writing).
3. Easy Digital Downloads
If you’re only looking to sell digital downloads direct-to-fan, then Easy Digital Downloads is the solution for you. It’s lightweight and simple, offering only the functions needed to operate a digital-only store.
- Sell digital downloads directly from your website – keep all of the profits without paying out to iTunes/Bandcamp, etc.
- Promotional codes are available.
- Create product bundles.
- Add ons available to improve functionality.
- PayPal integration included – other payment gateways available via paid add-ons.
- Since it’s digital-only, you don’t have to worry about making trips to the post office 😉
- Mailing list add-ons available to merge email addresses provided during purchase with your existing mailing list database.
- Digital-only – no physical sales can be made via this plugin.
What if I don’t use WordPress, or want an easier solution?
If you don’t use WordPress or don’t want to set up an integrated store, there are plenty of other options. At the end of the day, you want to be able to make money from your music, and part of that is about making your music readily available, keeping prices low for fans, and keeping profits high (or at least sustainable) for you.
You should ensure that fans have an option to buy your music directly via your website in some way or another. If this is simply a link to an external store, then so be it, but an integrated store is preferable.
Bandcamp’s players are relatively customizable (although do lack in color and font options – hopefully something that will be expanded on in the near future), and Bandcamp is a trusted retailer by many. Embedding a Bandcamp widget onto your website is simple to do, and will allow people to make a decision without leaving your website.
Of all of the external platforms for selling physical products direct-to-fan where you hold the inventory, BigCartel is probably my favorite. Mostly because it’s easy to use and has many customization options.
There’s a free version available if you’re selling less than 5 different products, and this is often what I’ll recommend to artists who are only selling physical products, and have a small range of merch to begin with.
They don’t take any fees, and the option to upgrade to a monthly package is there if you do expand your range.
Shopify is similar to BigCartel and is another solid option for selling physical merch direct-to-fan. There’s no free option, but they do give you 90 days free, which is great for giving it a try before committing fully.
One good thing about Shopify is that it can integrate with some of the print-on-demand platforms (like Printful, recommended above) so that can also help to take the headache out of shipping merch yourself, and helps reduce that initial outlay of costs.
It is possible to sell merch that you hold the inventory of too, but knowing that the print-on-demand service is compatible can be a huge selling point, especially if you’re in the early stages of creating and selling merchandise.
Of course, there are many other direct-to-fan outlets available. Do your research and compare them to find out which one suits YOUR needs best. Don’t be afraid to seek out feedback from other artists to find out what has worked for them, and what hasn’t.
Ultimately, when it comes to selling your music or merchandise direct-to-fan via your website, the decision is in your hands. There’s no correct answer and no solution that is going to be right for everyone. The way that you sell your products to your fans will depend on:
- What you’re offering (physical or digital, or both?)
- How many products you’ll be listing at one time
- Whether or not you need stock control or the ability to create bundles and/or coupons
- What payment options you require
- If you need to offer different shipping rates for domestic vs international
- If you want to sell more creative/non-standard products
In other words, there are a lot of factors to consider before making a decision.
A fully integrated store solution is, in my opinion, the ideal option. Something that blends seamlessly into your website, and provides your fans with a consistent and smooth experience is a winner in my book.
Setting up your online store should be an exciting time. Consider hiring or collaborating with a designer/developer to get the best results from your new store. That will also free up some time to create some new music and packages that your fans will love. You’ll also have the benefit of drawing from a professional’s experience to help make your new store the best it can be.
If you lack the experience, budget or need for one of the more advanced, all-encompassing solutions, then an external storefront embedded onto your website may be right for your needs. It’s all about doing what’s right for you and your career at this point in time. Remember that things can always be changed and if you find that you need to upgrade at a later date, it’s very possible.
Whatever option you decide to go with, here’s wishing you a very successful, and profitable year!
Ross is doing an Instagram LIVE with Ariel on June 30, 2020! Click here to see the schedule.