Radio stations selling music online. Talk about a no-brainer, right? Imagine listeners paying to download the songs they’ve just heard on air, priced at 99 cents each, by surfing to their favorite station’s Web site, and clicking onto its brand digital music store.
About U.S. 75 stations are selling music online via MusicToGo (the company’s site is www.tunegenie.com ). The company was founded by President/CEO Jeff Specter, a radio veteran with credits at WNUA Chicago, KPWR Los Angeles and WJIZ Philadelphia.
MusicToGo is responsible for licensing downloadable songs from major labels (it claims about a million titles to date); managing the actual e-commerce systems for selling and providing it, including credit card transactions; and creating easy-to-surf music sales sites branded with a station’s logo, look and music selections.
Basically, the company says, all a station has to do is to sign up and it handles the rest, including providing a link for the station’s site and uploading the station’s playlist to the music site so listeners can buy what they heard on air.
“I believe that radio stations are natural music stores,” Specter said. “All we’re doing is taking the station’s brand and moving it into digital music sales.”
Case study: WMGK
WMGK(FM) in Philadelphia is one of nine Greater Media stations that have MusicToGo music sites. However, you wouldn’t know this from the station site: It is branded with the station’s name, slogan and a cartoon caricature of its handlebar-mustachioed morning man John DeBella.
“The station’s own personalities serve as ambassadors to the store,” Specter said. “Their friendly, cartooned faces help make the listeners feel more comfortable about buying there.”
Once in the site, the listeners come face-to-face with a cartoon “Tune Genie.” Stylized to fit the station’s particular genre – MGK’s is a rock chick – the Tune Genie can provide listeners with appropriate music suggestions, based on their answers to short yes/no questions on a Concentration-style game board.
In addition, “As soon as you add songs into your cart the Tune Genie will make suggestions, and keep making them as you add more,” Specter said. “She learns your tastes very quickly.”
Listeners can scroll through the station’s on-air playlists, organized on an hourly basis going back 24 hours. Also available to help at MGK is a cartoon version of John De Bella: Click on him, and he helps you search by Song or Artist.
Functionally, these features are similar to those used by iTunes and Napster. The difference is that MusicToGo has made them colorful, easy to understand and simple to navigate. This “Downloads for Dummies” approach matters to MGK program director, Cruze.
“Because our station is more classic rock-based, our audience is a little older and thus not that familiar with music downloading,” Cruze said. “However, they’ve heard about downloading and like the idea of buying songs through their computers. MusicToGo’s system makes it easy and convenient for them to do so.”
Cruze says MGK listeners have taken to music downloads.
“We have been seeing a lot of traffic on our site, and it has been very consistent,” he said. “As well, people tend to buy anywhere from six or seven to 20-25 songs per purchase. They’re not just coming in for one song.”
Where benefits are and aren’t
With lots of traffic moving through MGK’s MusicToGo site, one might expect the station to be cashing in. But this isn’t the case.
“We give them only a couple of pennies per download,” Specter said. “The record companies take the overwhelming majority of each 99-cent payment. Then there’s credit card and service fees: We make a bit of money after that, and so do the radio stations.”
Cruze agrees that MusicToGo isn’t making MGK rich.
“However, my motivation for signing onto the service was not to make big money,” he said, “but rather to have people come to us whenever they want to hear or buy classic rock.”
Thus the benefits of the service seem to be in attracting listeners to a station’s branded product and personalities; handling site set-up, maintenance and customization; and kicking some money back to the station.
It also gives stations the chance to give away downloadable songs as prizes and to do other promotions.
“We just held a Download Day on MGK, where everyone who downloaded songs from our music site was entered in a draw for five iPod Minis,” Cruze said.
In the future, Specter plans to expand MusicToGo’s site services including allowing stations to sell concert tickets, physical CDs and DVDs, and event station merchandise online.
“Where stations can make big money from their music stores is from selling sponsorships to local advertisers,” he said.
Overall, MusicToGo’s goal is to put commercial radio into the forefront of online music sales, and make a tidy profit while doing so.
“For the past 40 years, radio has been the main music distribution channel for consumers,” Specter said. “We want to make sure it stays that way for the next 40 years.”