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Experiment: Everyone must have a CD, even if free.

If you are a performing musician that sells CDs at your shows, please consider this:

Terry McBride of Nettwerk told this story at a recent conference:

A band he was managing was doing the usual thing of selling CDs for $15. They’d mention it once or twice from the stage, and sell about $300 per night on average.

He asked them to try a completely different approach:

  1. Say to the audience, “It’s really important to us that you have our CD. We worked so hard on it and are so proud of it, that we want you to have it, no matter what. Pay what you want, but even if you have no money, please take one tonight.
  2. Mention this again before the end of the show, adding, “Please, nobody leave here tonight without getting a copy of our CD. We’ve shared this great show together so it would mean a lot to us if you’d take one.”

It changes the request from a commerical pitch to an emotional connection. (Replace market mindset with social mindset!) Allowing them to get a CD for no money just reinforces that.

Terry said that the band did this for a while, and soon they were selling about $1200 per night on average, even including those people who took it for free! I think the average selling price was about $10.

But the important part came next:

Because every person left each show with a CD, they were more likely to remember who they saw, tell friends about it, listen to it later, and become an even bigger fan afterwards.

Then, when the band came back to a town where they had insisted that everyone take a CD, attendance at those shows doubled! The people that took a CD became long-term fans and brought their friends to future shows.

Want to try it? Document specifics.

So far this is just rough word-of-mouth from Terry, but it seems like it’d work. Anyone want to try it? If so, I’d like to tell your tale here in a future article.

So please log some specifics, before and after.

BEFORE: How many CDs did you sell at your last 5-10 shows? Average the number and price to come up with an average per-night total and average per-CD price.

AFTER: What were those same numbers for the next 5-10 shows using this method?

Also, please note any specific things you did or said that worked exceptionally well, and perhaps any interesting responses you heard back from the audience.

If you’re able to note attendance at the same venue for a concert where you did this, then at that same venue afterwards, that’s a nice bonus.

Save these specific numbers, and either post them as a comment below, or email me at Be able to give the venue info, too, because if this goes exceptionally well I’ll be contacting the venue for their verification and perspective.

Reader Comments (23)

It changes the request from a commercial pitch to an emotional connection.

This points to a major problem with artists complaining about file-sharing. Whether or not it's morally or legally right to file share, when artists and record labels say file sharing is wrong and demand payment for every conceivable usage...they are defining the artist relationship with their fans as a commercial rather than emotional. Fans will have none of that. The connection fans have with music is always emotional and they will react negatively to anyone who suggests otherwise.

September 21 | Unregistered Commenterrjk

might try that myself later this year. I like the idea.

September 21 | Unregistered CommenterMarco Raaphorst

This is an idea grounded in good ol' commonsense . . . in the long run, you will make more money being generous than being stingy. But it requires patience and a long view, and control of one's greed impulse . . . and that combination can be a challenge.

September 21 | Unregistered CommenterDeeann

I thought about this many times... this could be really nice....

but you know, giving away cds would get you in a loss...

so I'd rather give a way CD-Webcodes to those who havent got money with, and CDs to those who are willing to pay...

so everyone's got a copy of the album. only in another media format...

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

I like Carl's comment about doing CD sales and CD-webcodes for free. I was actually considering that for our release as well. I see great minds think alike. Any suggestions on where to get CD-webcodes carl?

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterShomi

Another band learns that recorded music is advertising for driving people to a live performance where you can capture most of the revenue.

I wouldn't give CDs out for free. You need to pay something (even a dime) to get the physical CD. That makes the person attach some value to it, it not a lot will get thrown away in the next trash can since people don't want to carry them yet they felt compelled to take them.

If you don't want to pay, hand out business cards with a web address where the album is available for download.

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterJon Smirl

Simple and brilliant!

I read the article, and I read the first comment by Rjk, and it all makes perfect sense, but it's still so hard to drag my "scarce economy mentality" kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

I read comments such as Carl (web codes) and Jon Smirl (charge at least a $1) and I nod and agree that they are very sensible, I also thought of pressing a "budget edition" of the CD for the giveaway (say, a carboard sleeve case and simple print on the CD) but then I realise that all these compromises would just dilute the original concept.

There is a huge psychological gulf between totally free and even just 1cent (or penny or whatever) I'm not sure, but it seems to me that charging anything at all, or giving away a "2nd class" option, immediately changes the atmosphere from an emotional appeal to a mercantile excercise thus nullifying the positive effect you were trying to create.

I really don't know, what do you think?

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterSam K

Download Cards are the way to go. Even if you do giveaway CD's to people who are unwilling to buy, how can you tell if they even listened to it? With Download Cards, you can measure how many listens, downloads per track and collect email address from each fan at the same time. I hate CD's. Their uses are dwindling by the second.

September 23 | Unregistered CommenterKevin English

I agree that CD download codes allow for better metrics and are probably more economical - even environmentally friendly - but as a fan, or better yet, a potential fan, I don't really want an errand.
If I received a CD download code on a business card, it would probably get thrown out or lost in the car seats on the way home. Even if I did keep it, it would take effort on my part to go out and download the music, which would probably require me to also register my email and other information for tracking.
However, if I had a physical CD, it might get thrown out, but the chances of that are less if it looks like a good amount of work went into making it. Plus, it would be easy for me to stick it in the CD player and listen to it on the way home from the concert.
Yes, I sound lazy, but as a new band, you need to lower the "barrier of entry" for your fans.

September 25 | Unregistered CommenterChris

This is a great approach and I bet it will work. We saw an earlier post about something similar on Music Think Tank a while back from someone else:

This takes it bit further.

Musicians, listen to stories like this, try it out (it costs next to nothing). If it works for you, BOOM!

When I was just a 20 year old lad, someone gave me a cassette tape outside of a show as I was leaving. It was an artist similar to the one I just saw live. I have since bought 3 albums from them and been to 2 shows as a result. It can work! Really.

September 26 | Registered CommenterJed Carlson

@ Chris

"...but as a fan, or better yet, a potential fan, I don't really want an errand. "

Amen and agreed completely. I think it's really important for musicians, labels who care, etc., to be careful with tech tools/toys. Just because it's obviously useful and dope for you, doesn't mean it's respectful on the other end. The first time someone handed me a download card, I told them it was dumb as fuck. Dude was offended but my mind has not changed since.

Also, based on experience with several projects on Bandcamp, there's a pretty low success rate with giving people download codes. Bandcamp will generate them in groups of 100 1-time codes. I generally sent everyone 3, and on each project the free downloads have only been in the single digits. We get more paid downloads from people who never asked for codes!

Of course, that might also mean our music sucks. I am also open to that opinion.

September 26 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland


Less and less people are buying CD's today. Which means their process of listening to music has changed. Unless you think ahead of the trend and find ways to align your music with what fans are doing (i.e. Downloading, linking, emailing, RT'ing, etc) - you are dead in the water. The barrier to entry is a lot more intrusive with a CD than a download card in that regard.


There is no data to measure a free CD's success rate. God only knows if your download stats are the same or better. The quality of your music isn't the issue here. The delivery of your download codes may be the problem. Attach it to a tee shirt, include it in your press kit, email signature or blog. Write it on a fans ass for all I care.

Our goal should be to find out what is working with downloads. Not be happy or sad with the status quo.

September 27 | Unregistered CommenterKevin English

^^Thanks for that. I will run that experiment again with some physical media involved. Rest assured you'll hear from me.

September 27 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

I was running merch for a friend's band recently and the OTHER band's merch person had an interesting tactic, which could work in this case. Their table was covered with stickers. People would come up and say "How Much for Stickers?" The answer was "they're free!" But as soon as the person's hands were full of stickers, the merch person would hit em with a pitch about "the band is struggling to make a living on their support local businesses, support local bands....blah blah blah." People threw their money into the jug. So consider giving away CDs and then giving a pitch for donations. Its a little manipulative but I've seen it work.

September 28 | Unregistered CommenterMan Mantis

Derek, since you wrote this, I've probably linked more musicians I know this way than any other MTT post so far. This is solid gold stuff, useful in any genre or level of business.

October 2 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

We just did this for our last show. We play smaller shows, and we're not aggressively trying to get big or anything - just play good shows is our goal. Still, we went from selling two CDs on average from our previous shows to selling 15 last Saturday. Lots of those were free. I can't wait to play that city again, though, after our discs have made the rounds. Also on our CD cover is printed the text "Please share this with all of your friends." Yes, CDs cost money to make, recording costs money, but I'm a musician and writer so I can be heard. Not to get rich.

October 12 | Unregistered CommenterRalph Hogaboom

Yeah, I haven't had much more success with this method either. However, I do know there are more CDs in people's hands now. I really like the idea behind it, but for now, I'm thinking of just updating our merch table, getting someone to be in charge of it, and not mentioning the price from the stage.

...and if they ask for a freebie, they'll get one.

November 9 | Unregistered CommenterDonerail

Download cards work really well for us. Band name with cover art, download site and code for fr'ee music. We print them out full color from band camp, cut 'em professionally & then laminate them with thick, glossy stock. Yeah, it costs a bit more than plain paper, but much less than a physical CD and they're not as likely to get tossed cause they look & feel like quality.

And - we get their contact email so that we can develop a relationship with that person thru' newsletters, etc. Overall, roughly 70% of the cards given out result in downloads and contact info.

January 2 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

I agree that download cards are not as handy as CD's, especially if you want to hear the tunes on your way home from the show. Maybe have both at the merch table and offer a choice? Give out the cards no strings attached and exchange the CD for an email address.

January 2 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

...and an optional donation.

January 2 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

I would love to see some solid stats on this idea from bands who have tried it. They would need to know past average sales & attendance for several venues, then try the experiment over the course of several performances in the same venues in order for it to give us any true insight.

I did know a band who gave away cassettes years ago, when they were still a popular medium. (Early '80's, maybe?) They stopped after about 4 or 5 shows because they would find nearly half of the cassettes busted & strewn about the parking lots of the venues as they were loading the truck. I always attributed that to 2 things: they weren't a very good band, and the places they were playing were rowdy college town joints, full of drunken brawlers. But for some reason, when I first read Derek's post on this, that band was the first thing that came to my mind. (And shame on me, 'cuz I took a cassette & recorded over it! But I did listen to it first. It sucked.)

I may try this anyway over the course of our spring & summer shows. If I lose my ass, well, what's new?

February 19 | Unregistered CommenterClark Colborn

Ummm - giving away CDs DON'T cost next to nothing. Problem is that we spend $360 for 100 CDs (best price we could find). I love the concept of making sure everyone leaves with a CD, but that means having to make a capital investment every other show or so. This isn't a sustainable model unless receipts cover costs after about the second instance.

November 8 | Unregistered CommenterBen

I haven't had much more success with this method either. However, I do know there are more CDs in people's hands now

December 11 | Unregistered Commenterbuy my car

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