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Buzz: There's More to a Free Music Campaign than Free Music...

You’ve done it again. You’ve given away a free track from your latest album. It’s on your website. You’ve talked about it on Facebook. Job done, you think. Well think again.

There’s no doubt about it. Free music is a powerful marketing tool. However, the music industry has become so over-saturated with free music that we’ve become desensitized to the process of consuming, promoting, and thinking about the importance of free music. This age-old debate has become, well, old.

I was lucky enough to revitalize my thoughts on the topic recently when I met the artist Derrick N. Ashong who launched the “Million Downloads Campaign” earlier this year. The aim of the campaign is simple - To give away one million downloads of songs and remixes from the new album AFropolitan by Derrick N. Ashong & Soulfège by Christmas 2012. So far the campaign has been such a success that Derrick witnessed over 20,000 downloads in one month.

“How?” I hear you ask. Well, Derrick did something a lot of artists are forgetting to do - he planned, strategized and philosophized over the process beforehand. So take a step backwards, and consider the following….

Define Your Purpose

Before you even contemplate giving your music away for free, you need to define your goals. We know you want to increase your fan base and drive awareness to your latest musical offering, but you need to be MORE SPECIFIC. How many downloads would you like to achieve? By what date? If your fans know your goal and timeline they may be more willing to help you spread the word. Use your previous download statistics as a benchmark. You can also try something like “If I achieved 5,000 downloads by my 30th Birthday it would be the best b-day present ever!!” You’ll be surprised by how specifics motivate people.

Your goals don’t have to be just physical either. Philosophical and creative goals are just as important. Derrick N Ashong’s goal is to create a movement that connects people around the world; to create a grassroots campaign that will break a band without a corporate label; and to make a statement in the music industry. He explains “We wanted to show that a committed group of creative people can put the power of music back in the hands of artists and fans where it belongs. In the end, we’ve said from the time we started this band that this is about more than just music…it’s a movement.”

Have a Story

Fans aren’t going to listen to your music just because it’s free. You need to attract attention. Nothing grabs people’s attention more than an intriguing and authentic story. Communicate the story behind your music to your fans and you’ll witness more of a reaction – what’s the inspiration behind the giveaway, and why is it important to you? Utilize all of your marketing platforms to do this – feature the exact details in a blog post or on your website and link to it in your newsletter and social networking sites.

Derrick’s story is both political and creative. “It was an election year.” He said “We’d heard a lot of heated rhetoric and some very poor ideas from a number of candidates. A number of us have worked in the political arena in the past and we wanted to leverage our skills not necessarily to sanction a given candidate, but to promote the ideas we believe in. Principles of freedom, creativity, community & empowerment. So we decided to launch a grassroots political-style campaign to “elect a band.”

Derrick had both a PURPOSE and a STORY behind his music. Most importantly he focused on what he could give rather than what he could get “ We reached out to people who had a profound & abiding belief in who we are and what we do - who feel like we are an extension of their own values & interests in the world. So by promoting our success, they are in fact promoting their own, because we articulate what they believe in, in a way they cannot necessarily do by themselves. In short, we offered them an opportunity to be a part of something that advanced their own interests by aligning those interests with ours.”

Harness Your SuperFans

Your social media platforms aren’t always enough to promote your free music. You need to move beyond your own marketing tools and harness the power of others. You can do this by enlisting the help of your superfans, who may just be a small group of close friends and family. This is where Derrick began. “We started by recruiting a small group of campaign “organizers,” each of whom committed to recruiting a team of 10 advocates.” He explains: “Every week we give a campaign action to our organizers who after taking that action engage their team of advocates in doing so too. Using this method, we took a small group of people and rapidly amplified their voices to reach many more.”

Derrick’s superfans are rewarded with exclusive access to the band. Most importantly, however, he has made them feel like they are part of something bigger – a grassroots movement that aims to break a band without a corporate label.

Think big, start small.

Get Something in Return

Free music should never be totally free. Derrick obviously wants to spread the word about his latest album but he has a broader purpose too. You don’t have to be as political or far-reaching as Derrick but you do need to identify exactly what you want in return for your music. An email address? A zip code? To increase your google ranking?
Identify what you want and do you best to quantify it. You need to be able to build on this free music campaign in the future.

The Take-Away

Realistically, your free music strategy can’t always be as ambitious as Derrick N Ashong’s “One Million Downloads” campaign. However, there are things you can learn from his story that should revitalize the way you think about your free music giveaways. In short:

  • Be specific about your goals.

  • Give yourself a timeline to measure your success.

  • Always make sure you are getting something in return.

  • Communicate a story to your fans to inspire an emotional connection.

  • Create memorable branding that will attract the attention of new fans.

  • Be strategic about harnessing the power of your superfan.

Remember. There’s more to a free music campaign than free music!

To get involved in Derrick’s movement, download and share his free album “Afropolitan” HERE. Help him make history.

Jem Bahaijoub is the founder of imaginePR, a music marketing company based in Washington DC. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Reader Comments (3)

Thanks for sharing! Great info in this blog. Just a heads up, the link Derrick N. Ashong should not have the "n" in the link. Just thought I'd let you know.
Take care.
~ Jarod from @AugustRising

March 27 | Unregistered CommenterJarod Woznik

Thanks for this starting point. Toying with the idea of relaunching our band 15 years after the first time around. This article provided some much needed structure to work with.

March 27 | Unregistered CommenterJames

I disagree with the requirement "always make sure you are getting something in return." Many successful hip hop artists have had their careers propelled forward simply because they gave away free mixtapes with no strings attached. While I agree it makes sense for some artists to require an email in exchange for a free download, it doesn't make sense for all artists. I'd rather have 100,000 people listening to my free album than 1,000 people and their email addresses. It really depends on the situation and I think this article oversimplifies things.

April 3 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony

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