Making the Long Tail Theory Work for You [GUEST POST]

The Long Tail of Fans

This post was contributed by Nick Lewis from Zimbalam, a digital music distribution company. Zimbalam is powered by Believe Digital, one of the largest digital distribution networks in the world, and pays 100% of all royalties to artists.

The Long Tail is a concept not many musicians are likely aware of (unless you’ve been reading music and tech blogs over the past few years), but it’s important to understand if you‘re using the web to advance your music career.

There are enough explanations of the Long Tail floating around (there’s even one right here on Tight Mix) to get a basic understanding of the theory. For the record industry, the Long Tail can be analogous to CD sales from a bunch of smaller, independent acts that when added together equal the total CD sales of one major, mainstream artist.

It’s a phenomena that is particularly prescient for the web, where the cost of distribution and inventory of digital products is nearly zero. Because these particular costs are so low, this makes the theory a viable business model (e.g. Amazon) in a way that was impossible a few decades ago.

As an independent/DIY musician, you are part of the Long Tail, certainly for big online music retailers like iTunes and Amazon, and for streaming companies like Spotify and Rdio. They appreciate the small change they make from selling and streaming your music when it’s pooled together with everyone else’s, because it becomes a significant portion of their income. However, just because you’re the small fish in the big pond it doesn’t mean you can’t use the concept yourself, and apply it to your music career.

Every sale matters…

Unless you’ve got massive mainstream exposure and a label backing you, the Long Tail is your bread and butter. Every single sale makes a difference when you are building and maintaining your fan base, so you must make sure you’re present in as many places as possible. This means maximising your distribution network.

Doing so is pretty easy these days with the proliferation of low-cost digital distributors, all offering “over 300 music stores” so there really is no excuse for not choosing one of these distribution services to get your music in as many digital store as possible.

Maximize your web presence

In addition to these digital stores, you also need to make sure you have a presence on relevant social networks and websites like SoundCloud,, Facebook, Twitter, your brother’s blog, etc. No matter how big or small, each one can lead to one or two sales – and remember, they add up. Even if you only have time to frequently update a few places, at least make sure you can be found almost anywhere that your fans might be looking for you.

Equally important is to post your music using widgets that freely allow embedding. If people like your tunes, they may post it elsewhere, increasing your reach further and adding to your Long Tail. There are dozens of services out there that can provide you with these useful widgets (ReverbNation, Topspin, Bandcamp, and Soundcloud, to name a few).

Track website analytics

Make sure you keep an eye on your analytics as well. Google Analytics is a free service that is insanely easy to setup. You will be surprised to find out how people arrive to your website and it might present an opportunity you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. You might find you had two visits from some blog you’ve never heard of in the Ukraine that would love to do an interview with you. Or you might realize that more people come back to your site from than Facebook, making you reassess how much time you spend updating each.

Try to think of the Long Tail like gigging – even the smallest gigs are still worth it because you never know who’s going to be there. It’s the same on the web. You might never go on MySpace (sorry, My_____) but your next biggest fan might, so it’s important to at least have a presence there.

Until you’re headlining Glastonbury (and even then you can’t afford to ignore it), the Long Tail is a great business model and philosophy for musicians to follow. Can you make it work for you?

  • Dan Fonseca

    The long tail theory is the theory of the internet. With the democratization of access and power across industries, there will be/are many faces and many slices of the pie, each valuable and unique. We have to be ready to listen and collaborate with them all! It will ultimately help bring forth greater product and creativity :)

    Awesome post