The Musician's Automated Store Part 2: Print-On-Demand

Staying Lean Through Print-on-Demand

If you are an independent artist, you’re also an entrepreneur. Whether your goal is to make just enough from your music to keep creating, or if artistry is your career path - you operate your own small business. The sooner you accept this, the better.

Major labels have seemingly infinite money to develop and market artist merchandise. They have entire departments dedicated to exactly this. But what about you, modest independent musician? How could you possibly stay relevant in a world like that?

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Believe it or not, without millions of dollars at your disposal, you are actually at an advantage. By utilizing lean principles you can automate, optimize and efficiently manage your e-commerce, without the large overhead required in the past. Thanks to print-on-demand, you now have the tools to design products and test them out in the real world - with minimal investment and time from your end.

What exactly is Print-on-Demand?

POD is a service that allows you to design products and put them for sale online, without having to physically create anything. Whenever a customer completes an order, the item is printed, packaged, and shipped. In other words, print-on-demand companies also handle third-party-fulfillment. This makes POD an integral part of any musician’s automated store.

We’ll walk you through the process using Amplifier, however there are many print-on-demand companies that offer similar services. Amazon Merch specializes in branded t-shirts, but is currently invite only. Zazzle, Redbubble and Printful offer a variety of products to be printed on. Fine Art America and Society6 specialize in art prints. Before we dive into POD, let’s talk about what it means to be lean.

Lean Principles Applied

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As an independent artist, you’ll try many strategies that don’t work. It’s by going through this process continuously that you find your sweet spot - a place where your music, merchandise and fans’ preferences perfectly intersect. To operate leanly means to reduce your initial investment when developing new products, and instead get something up for sale as soon as possible. The ultimate goal is to quickly figure out what the customer wants and is willing to pay for. This underlying concept was made popular by Eric Ries in his book, The Lean Startup, and discussed in great detail on his website and podcast.

Print-on-demand perfectly illustrates lean principles in action. Bulk ordering merchandise is no longer necessary. Never again will you have to guess the quantity you’ll need of each size. As we mentioned in our musician’s automated store intro, how to order the right sizes of t-shirts has been an unsolved problem for generations. Ordering 500 t-shirts is undoubtedly a nerve racking ordeal. For an artist just starting out with an online store, bulk purchases are risky.

Print-On-Demand in Action

When you subscribe to Amplifier’s Starter Plan, you’ll have access to their design studio. Select which product you’d like to create then decide how much to markup the price. Pick a starting color, upload your logo or art and position it on the product. Hit save and when you’re ready and upload the design to your Shopify store to start selling.

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Print-on-demand makes A/B testing easy and instantaneous. You can create 2 different designs and put them both for sale on your artist store. Keep what sells, adjust the price if you’d like, then take down what people aren’t buying. You can experiment with tons of products: t-shirts, hoodies, posters, phone cases, popsockets, and bandanas, to name just a handful. By avoiding a large upfront bulk purchase of merchandise, you are mitigating nearly all of your risk.

Amplifier offers print-on-demand service in parallel with fulfillment. Meaning… you can sell print on demand products and items that you’ve ordered in bulk side by side in your shop. Amplifier will handle the fulfillment of both.

Say you test out a print-on-demand product that ends up selling really well. You could analyze your store data and predict future sales of this specific product. Through the same Amplifier design interface, you can order this exact product in bulk, increasing your profit on each product sold. Take this as far as you want; you can do basic calculations for every product in your store to determine when to order in bulk. POD allows you incredible flexibility. Test away without drowning in overhead costs.

Be You.

Ultimately it’s up to you, the artist, to choose which tools that work for your music and career. If your goal is simply to keep making music, create few print-on-demand products and essentially let your store run itself. If you want to maximize the revenue of your business and create a lasting and identifiable brand, focus on analytics and adapt.

Print-on-demand services are generally built to be hands-off, or “set and forget”. For the first time, you as the artist don’t have to rely on a major label to have access to affordable design, manufacturing, and automation. You can set up various aspects of your business and continue doing what you love.

Up next in our Automated Store Series: The Musician’s CRM.

-Joe

The Musician's Automated Store Part 1: Third Party Fulfillment

Outsource order fulfillment and headache, spend time making music

This is the year of the independent artist.

Avoiding a record deal means creating your own path, but there’s still no tried and true formula for success. Instead of relying on labels to provide tools, today’s musicians must integrate services from a handful of different music businesses.

These services can be used in parallel to create a musician’s automated store. Today we’ll focus on one artist service: third party fulfillment.

What do you mean “fulfillment”?

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Order fulfillment simply means getting your products into the hands of customers who purchase them. If you’re operating your own store online and making just a few sales a week - you can likely fulfill orders by yourself. This is called merchant fulfillment.

Note: If you are an artist and haven’t yet set up your e-commerce, check out our past blog, “Using Shopify Lite to Sell Music From Your Site”.

The process of merchant fulfillment is a familiar one. First, you order boxes of CD’s or other physical merchandise to your house and store it as inventory. When someone places an order, you pack a box with merch, print out a shipping label and bring the completed package to the post office. Send the customer a tracking number and voila! Sale complete. Fulfilling a few orders a week on your own is a cost-efficient and manageable task. But eventually your growth may exceed your capabilities - or you may simply wish to allocate your time elsewhere.

So… what is third party fulfillment?

Third party fulfillment is part of a larger subset, third-party logistics. Large third party fulfillment services maintain a warehouse and complete the same tasks as a merchant fulfiller. In summary, they:

  • Receive and store inventory

  • Package orders

  • Ship boxes

  • Send shipping info to your e-commerce hub

Bringing on a third party to fulfill orders saves you time each week. As most fulfillment services integrate with e-commerce platforms like Shopify, outsourcing this segment of your business can be a key component in automating your entire store. For help deciding if you’re ready to bring on a third party fulfillment service, check out this great Shopify Blog Post.

How do I choose a third-party fulfillment service?

Shopify integrates with most fulfillment services. In fact, their only requirement is that the warehouse can process orders by email. We’ve selected some of our favorites based on ease of use, integrations and resources available. Warehouse fulfillment centers have very specific requirements for receiving boxes of merchandise. So any mistake on your end will translate into late orders and unhappy customers.

Amplifier: a powerful self-service logistics platform

Amplifier stands out to us because of their excellent help center and seamless integration with Shopify. They walk you through packaging and labeling boxes of merch to expedite their receiving process, so your customers get products on time.

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Amplifier also allows your suppliers to send merchandise directly to their warehouse. But you can still stay on top of the entire supply chain - Amplifier gives feedback about your suppliers, in real time. If there is a late shipment, an incorrectly labeled box, or missing inventory, they’ll let you know asap. The Amplifier platform is packed full of these features, and many more.

Shopify orders are sent to Amplifier automatically and inventory is synced between the two. They can process incoming shipments from multiple sources (CD manufacturer, screen printer etc). Once Amplifier packages and ship an order, tracking info is sent to Shopify and on to the customer automatically. Whenever a service uses the phrase “set and forget”, that is a good sign - and code for “automation”.

FBA and more

We also love Fulfillment by Amazon - another service completely integrated with Shopify. Products listed by FBA are eligible for free shipping through Prime, which your customers are sure to love. Selecting one of the top e-commerce companies in the world to handle your order fulfillment ensures reliability and cost efficiency.

For tons of fulfillment services that integrate with Shopify, search “fulfillment” in the Shopify app store.

While each service offers something similar, there are variations that may work better for your business. It all depends on how your e-commerce is set up, your sales volume, and of course personal preference. The goal is to find a service you’re comfortable using. But don’t be overwhelmed - once you decide on a third party fulfillment service, you can spend less time managing your growing business, and more time making music.

Up next in our Musician’s Automated Store Series: Print on Demand.

-Joe

The Musician's Automated Store

The Musician's Automated Store

Musicians who avoid traditional record deals have more freedom in both their music and overall business strategies. But this leaves a gap in artist services that labels used to provide. Fortunately, there is a batch of new music companies who provide services that were once only accessible as a package through a record deal at a major label.

What's the difference between MP3 and Lossless (FLAC / WAV)?

It's all about quality.

Steve Jobs changed everything when he told us that you could fit “1,000 songs in your pocket” - yet the first generation iPod was only 5gb.

Some quick math…

The average CD quality audio file size is roughly 10 mb / minute. 10 mb x 3 minutes (average song length) x 1,000 songs (Steve’s magic number) = 30,000 Megabytes. That puts us at 30 gb. If the first iPod was only 5 gb, how is this possible?

Lossy Compression / Voodoo Magic

Lossy compression is a method of reducing file size by removing “unnecessary” data from the original file. In any song there are many overlapping frequencies and tones. Lossy compression (ex. MP3) is an algorithm that eliminates data from those overlapping sounds. The ultimate goal is to limit file size without creating any noticeable difference in audio quality.

So… what’s the big deal?

At first listen, it can be difficult to tell the difference between an MP3 and a lossless audio file. Depending on your headphones / speakers, that difference may be negligible. But not always. Complete a side by side comparison using a hi fidelity audio system and both file types. You might not be able to define exactly why they sound different, but you can generally recognize that the larger audio file sounds more full.

Ok we get it… what does this all mean?

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As data storage becomes ridiculously cheap, (you can purchase a 128 gb SD card from Amazon for $29.98) removing data from audio files has become nonessential. Even as streaming dominates the music landscape, fans still build huge collections of digital audio files - and to them, lossless has become a #1 priority. Why settle for a trimmed down version of your favorite album when you can listen to the mix as the artist, producers and mixing / mastering engineers intended?

We’re proud to announce that Single Music now supports direct downloads in multiple formats - MP3, FLAC & WAV.

We believe in giving power to the artist, and now they can offer music to fans at the highest-quality possible.

-Single Music

Feature Announcement: Lossless Audio

Studio quality sound. Now available to everyone.

We’re constantly asking our users what new features would help make Single even better. An overwhelming response has been lossless audio - we listened.

Single Music now supports lossless audio downloads for your fans.

After someone purchases your music, they now have the option to “Select Audio Format” - MP3, WAV, or FLAC.

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And the best part… If your music is already released, you don’t have to do anything.

We’ve pushed an update to our digital standalone template for this, but have no fear - whether your music is being sold as a standalone album OR as part of a bundle, fans will have their choice of format.

Stay tuned to our blog this week - we’re taking a deeper look into the history of lossy formats, and why lossless audio is so important to artists and fans alike.

Have any more features you’d like to see added? We’re all ears.

- The Single Team

Shopify Adds Venmo Integration

Use that money Nancy sent you for brunch last week to support your favorite artists

Shopify recently announced that they’ve added Venmo as a checkout option. Here at Single Music, we couldn’t be more excited. Venmo has already proven itself as one of the most convenient and useful peer to peer payment solutions.

We strive to make artist and fan interactions as direct and straightforward as possible - this is why we chose to build our app using Shopify.

According to their press release, 67% of Shopify purchases are made on mobile devices. Many of us already use Venmo - so introducing it as a payment option will only help fans better support the musicians they love.

Artists using Single Music know how simply they can create digital releases, tag for physical reporting, build bundles and publish everything to their Shopify storefront.

Learn more about how Single turns Shopify stores into virtual record shops by scheduling a live demo!

Why Bundle?

The first blog post by our CEO Tommy discussed why Single Music exists. As this is my first post, I’ve decided to follow suit and talk about why we’re driven by this fundamental assumption: bundling content can help you better connect with fans.

Quickly, a “bundle” in this context can be described as a combination of products, both physical merchandise and a digital album download that are sold together by an artist.

Why make them wait?

Physical merchandise is incentivized with an album download, which can be instant or automatically delivered on the release date. If a fan is stoked enough to pull out their wallet and purchase something from your merch store, give them something they can enjoy immediately. They will likely pass your record along to friends and promote it within their social circles. Because artists no longer rely on labels for marketing, this word of mouth promotion is invaluable.

Above the Static

Thousands of songs are uploaded to the web each day. Therefore, finding innovative ways to connect with fans has never been more important. An artist doesn’t just write and perform music; they develop a brand as a complement to the music they create.

In a best case scenario, their personal brand pushes fans to dig deeper into the artist’s catalog. A fan relates to the lifestyle / persona of the musician and can better make sense of the music they hear.

Keep your physical products tied directly with your music

Your music is a reflection of you, ideally you want your physical merchandise to simply be an extension of that. As you come up with new and interesting products to add to your merch store, it can be easy to lose sight of your goals.

Are you simply looking for another revenue stream? Or to develop your brand, provide cool products for fans to proudly wear around town, and push more people to connect with your music?

For the first time ever, artists of any size have the ability to attach a direct digital downloads with any physical product, and have the album be automatically sent out on your release date.

Take advantage of trends

As the music industry experiences rapid change, regulations are constantly forced to play catch up. Some of the biggest artists of today are using merch bundling to propel their albums to the top of the charts. A recent article in Fader highlights some of the recent controversy surrounding Travi$ Scott and his team’s method to boost official album sales.

The point here is that if these top-tier artists are capitalizing on changing trends in the music industry, so can you. In order for a digital album that is part of a bundle to count as an official sale, the fan has to both make the purchase and redeem the digital download.

Boost your official charting

While many metrics exist today that reflect an artist’s reach, the official Billboard Charts still remain the authoritative source. Single Music has done everything possible to remain compliant with Billboard’s policies - as much as we would love to boost the sales of artists who choose to release using our platform, we don’t want to risk falsely inflating numbers.

We look forward to an official statement from Billboard, and will continue to use our understanding of the music landscape to help artists of all sizes. Until then, we will push bundling as an innovative way for artists of any size to better connect with fans.

Check out our recent support article “How do I bundle a digital album with a physical product?” for step by step instructions.

Have questions? Talk to us.

- Joe

Feature Announcement: Digital & Physical Bundling

Bundling made simple.

Over the past few months we’ve been quietly piloting a highly-requested feature with select artists. 

After a long summer of research and development, we are excited to announce our official support for digital & physical bundling! 

Thanks again to for KING & COUNTRY, RL Grime, Masego, and the many others who participated in the beta for the invaluable feedback provided.


There’s a lot to unpack with this update, but here are the main points:

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1. Instant Digital Copy

In 30s you can now attach a digital release to any (or all) physical products in your shop! If you've ever used our physical reporting tool, you'll know how simple this process is.

Search your existing inventory, confirm whether the product contains a physical copy, and save! 

Single will automatically categorize your bundles into Digital Only or w/ Physical Copy and report in accordance with the updated SoundScan rules.


2. Transparent Reporting Counts

We've added new "Digital Release Stats" sections to help clarify reporting counts for digital standalone v. attachments. You can see which bundles have been the most successful and their individual reported sales categorized as Standalone Digital, Attachments (Digital Only), and Attachments (w/ Physical Copy).


3. Smarter Fulfillment

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Many artists and merchandising companies use fulfillment apps like ShipStation to manage their inventory across the web. We ensure compatibility with these apps by only updating fulfillment status for standalone digital releases - this includes instant grats & pre-orders!


4. Variant Support

We've added support for variant-level tagging to the Physical Reporting & Create Digital Attachment tools. This makes it possible to create album "one-pagers" with each format as a separate variant (e.g. digital, vinyl + digital, CD + digital, etc.)

If you have any questions about setting up a digital attachment, check out our support article or schedule a demo.

Happy bundling!

-Single Music

Using Shopify Lite to Sell Music From Your Site

You drive traffic to your website. Why do you send fans elsewhere to download your music?

Not only are you giving DSP’s a cut of your revenue, you’re also missing out on data that accompanies the sale. Who purchased a digital version of your album after they bought your new t-shirt? If 1,000 fans purchased the deluxe version of your album, where are these passionate fans located?

This is crucial information when planning releases, bringing on a producer, collaborating with other musicians, hiring a manager, getting radio airplay, working with a PR firm, and booking a tour.

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One way to create your own web store is through Shopify, a powerful e-commerce platform packed with tons of tools for merchants. From invoicing, setting up a domain, building out a web store, managing products and inventory, fulfilling orders and handling payments - Shopify does it all.

But what about artists who already operate a store on their own website, or aren’t interested in a full-featured service?

Welcome Shopify Lite

Shopify Lite’s Buy Buttons help you to integrate your store with your current website - whether you use Squarespace, Wordpress, Weebly or built it entirely yourself.

This $9 / month service is a great way for artists of any size to manage e-commerce. It allows you to sell music directly from social media and provides a POS system so you can take your store on the road. Communicate with customers via messenger - to both provide support and even complete entire orders.

When paired with the Single Music app, Shopify Lite provides even more benefits for artists:

1) Physical & Digital sales reporting to Nielsen Soundscan for the Billboard Charts

2) Bundle a digital download with any product sold through your store

3) Release management tools including automated digital delivery on release date

Shopify Lite + Single Music = Freedom for Artists

Questions? Our team would love to chat.

- Joe

"Start With Why"

The most common words of advice in marketing nowadays are “start with why?” - essentially asking for the reason your company exists.

As this is our first post I figured it was only fitting to begin with an introduction and why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Back in 2010 my co-founder and I graduated from Middle Tennessee State University - one of the largest Music Industry programs in the U.S.. Due to the affordability of Nashville at that time - my first rent was $350/mo - all of our closest college friends stayed in the area to pursue careers in various parts of the industry. We’ve grown together and worked on each other's projects as we’ve tried to navigate the complex maze to succeed in music. Some of us are musicians. Some of us started labels. Some of us manage. It’s been an all-encompassing view of the industry from the ground up and our passion since we were kids.

My path took me down the website development and ecommerce route, eventually landing a job at a digital agency where I learned much of what I know today. I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the largest names in country music - Kenny Rogers, Charlie Daniels, Lady Antebellum, Sam Hunt - and hundreds of independent artists while directing product development for Bombplates.com.

I have massive respect for the musicians I’ve worked with regardless of where they are in their career - it’s an extremely tough profession. It’s why I’ve always focused on making things that will hopefully grow their careers.

Taylor’s post-MTSU path took him to Virginia Tech to pursue a Computer Science degree, ultimately landing back in Nashville after securing a second degree and more student loans. Prior to this endeavor he was an Architect at a mortgage bank - it’s why I tend to joke “if he can help secure money, he can secure your music”. I could always tell he wanted to be focusing on music in some capacity and I’m glad I was able to convince him to join me on this path.

The idea for Single came to me one night while thinking about the issues my agency was having with Shopify and the 50+ artist shops they managed. If this is where most high-level artists are headed, why are there no publicly available music solutions? Seemingly simple things like a tracklist with previews and reporting physical sales to SoundScan would cost thousands - prohibitively expensive for indies and “not worth it” for many majors. I sent Taylor a text that night and the rest is history currently being written.

We have many ideas how this can be something much bigger than simple tools and direct-to-fan music distribution, but we also don’t want to exist in a bubble. If there are any ways you’d like to see us improve or features you’d like to see added, just let us know.

We’re here to help.

-Tommy