Hello Everyone and welcome to my first 'Music Biz' column. Here I will be discussing various issues that are faced by musicians and offer my tips and advice on how to not only 'survive' the music industry but how to get the most out of your band and the opportunities that come your way. Whether you are just starting your first band or have been in the game for a while, I hope you can get something positive out of this and invite you to discuss your opinions in the comments section. Today I will be covering the touch topic of "Should You Give Your Music Away For Free?" a question that is going to be answered differently depending on what you are trying to get out of your music. Personally I believe that if your main goal is to make money out of music then giving it away for free is the worst thing you can do. If you have just spent thousands of dollars and hours and hours of effort making something then you should respect the value of your final product and sell it at a price you deem fair. Nothing devalues a product more than giving it away for free and although you may think it is great promotion, no one will respect its worth. I can't tell you how many times I have seen a really great performance by a local band and been inspired enough to purchase their CD. Often there will be another band that I wasn't impressed by who are giving away cds at the merch desk so I’ve grabbed a copy anyway "because it was free"... First thing I do when I get in the car is chuck on the CD that I paid for while the free cd gets dropped into the glovebox where it lives or the next eight months until I clean my car out and decide to just throw it away because after all it was free so what am I loosing? If you've just pressed and given away 100 CD's and most of them have seen a similar fate then you have wasted a lot of money and effort. If your music is good and your live show wins people over they will pay for your CD instead of taking a free disc from a band they didn't like.
Never give something for nothing, your music is valuable. There are ways you can make your music appear ‘free’ that can still generate sales and/or exposure for you. One of the most valuable is offering a 'free' download in exchange for an email address. (Check out an example of this here) Here you have traded your music for valuable contact info and although you are not making a sale you now have a direct line of contact with a new fan of your music which can be used to send them all kinds of information and promotional material. By trading your songs for contact details you can grow a database of fans, keeping them up to date and in the loop which will hopefully convert to long term sales.
When you're first starting out getting noticed is extremely hard and giving your music away for free may seem like a good quick way to get attention. From my experience unless people know who you are or are familiar with your band they won't give you a look in. Quick example. How many Facebook posts or tweets saying “hey man check out my band's new album click here for a free download” have you clicked on? Unless it’s a good friend or a band you already like then you've probably ignored all of them. People want music for many reasons but "because it’s free" isn’t one of them. Nobody cares about free music from a band they have never heard of. Spend some time building up a fanbase and make your music easy to access for the people that do like you but arn't yet committed to buying, this is where streaming comes in.
Streaming is when people can listen to your music but can’t store the file on their computer. Examples of this include YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, SoundCloud etc. Some streaming services such as Bandcamp & SoundCloud are of great use to artists while others like Spotify & Rhapsody are more focused on consumers. I suggest that rather than give your music away for free, allow it to be streamed and accompany all media with links to purchase the music. (example here) This not only allows everybody easy access to your music but offers them the important opportunity to buy it. If your music is good and fans enjoy it then they will want to support you so don’t overlook the importance of providing a link to your webstore. There are many websites created to assist artists with Bandcamp being one of the most valuable because it acts as both an online store and a streaming service, allowing fans to listen for free whilst displaying where to buy it. If you’re just starting out and don’t have your own website then definitely get this in the meantime.
Other streaming services like Spotify, Rdio and Rhapsody are essentially online radio services and are good in the way that they allow millions of people access to your music as well as social features that allow users to share and recommend music to their friends. The downside is that you see almost little financial return and face the same problem of not standing out from the thousands of other bands who also have their music available. When using these services it is best to research what each can do for you and find what suits your trying to achieve.
Lastly a mistake that I have noticed many bands do is give an older EP's away for free once a new CD is released. I have seen several bands announce that they have a new CD out and that the leftover copies of their old EP will be a giveaway only to see everyone run and grab the free disc at the merch stand and leave without paying for the new more important disc. Let me say again that your music has value and anything that can enhance the perceived value of your product is going to help you sell more CD's. Many of the bands were happy to giveaway the old EP but overlooked the idea of using it to enhance the value of their new product. Why not make it so that every purchase of the new album gets the old EP free? You're still giving it away but punters now see it as getting two CD's for the price of one and they perceive it as a better deal, Supermarkets do this all the time.
In closing, my point of view is that If people like the product you are selling then they will pay for it. Giving it away for free not only impacts how people perceive the value of the item but also takes away the opportunity for genuine fans to purchase your music and give back something for the product you put your heart and soul into. Even if you are not concerned with making money, trading your music for information that can help you expand your fanbase and further your career is a much better option and will ensure you have more genuine fans to appreciate you.
I hope you have enjoyed my article and taken something away from my thoughts on this topic. Please share your own advice and experiences in the comments section below.