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How Artists Can Profit From File Sharing

FACT: people download music for free.  

Sean Parker of Napster fame recently stated in an interview, “you look at the data, somewhere between 4 trillion and 10 trillion songs are illegally downloaded every year.  And we’re looking at maybe 4 billion or so legal downloadeds per year.”

Music will always surface on file sharing platforms and consumers will continue to download music for free, but recordings are even more important for artists than ever before.  There is a new purpose for recorded content; artists will no longer generate revenue directly from recordings, instead this will be the entrance point for consumers into the brand.  Great music will generate revenue through merch or ticket purchases, or lead to sponsorships as major brands seek out artists to enhance the value of their own product.  The solution to file sharing is for artists to better manage their recorded music by creating a dedicated landing page on their own website, housing a free album download.

Search Rankings for Landing Pages Defined 

There are many different factors that go into how sites rank on search engines like Google or Bing.  Let’s look at the key ranking factors that build online authority, (online ranking based on amount of links to your site and the quality of those links), to outline the importance of a landing page with free album download:

  • Inbound links: Links to your site from other websites or blogs.  These links are nods that you are creating valuable and useful content.  SEOmoz, a thought leader in online marketing and ranking algorithms, states that 24% of rankings come from the overall authority of the domain, 22% from the link popularity of the individual page linking to your site, and 20% from the anchor text, text used in the link to your site.  Links = 66% of a website’s ability to appear in search results.
  • Example: often ranks high in the search results for any online search.  According to Yahoo Site Explorer, which reports the amount of links a site has, Wikipedia has over 8.2M links, and from high authority sources. These links are the reason Wiki has high search rankings.
  • Keywords: Terms that are used to enhance rankings by including them in the title of the landing page, url, and elsewhere on a webpage.  Keywords make up 15% of ranking algorithms.  Remember, although keywords don’t have the same value as links, you can control your keywords easier than you can control inbound links. 
  • Example: Type the keyphrase “Rival Schools Torrent” into Google and the first result is a link to a landing page.  The landing page has the keyphrase “Rival Schools” in the title tag and URL that influence this pages rankings for this search. 

File Sharing Networks are Commanding Links for Free Downloads 

People are searching for free music online, and right now only the file sharing networks are benefiting. has 6.2M inbound links, has 6.4M, has 2M, has 3.8M (tally another link after these).  Files from these networks are laced with artist and album names; these are keywords that consumers are using to find music online.  Because of this, file sharing sites often rank in the search results for music downloads before an artist’s page.  It just takes one taste to convert music fans to file sharing. 

How to Capitalize with Artist Managed File Sharing 

When an artist creates a dedicated landing page with a free album download, great albums will earn artists inbound links. With more links artists will outrank file sharing sites in the search engines, and ultimately, deter traffic from those networks.  This is artist managed file sharing; it will directly benefit individual artists.  Let’s look at an example: 

Girl Talk, aka Gregg Gillis, released a new record called “All Day,” out 11.15 on Illegal Art.  GT embrased these concepts.  The record was free and hosted on a landing page, resulting in 4 key developments:

1. Girl Talk earned 14,903 inbound links.  These links would have otherwise gone to file sharing platforms.  The GT landing page received links from high authority sources like and, therefore achieving higher rankings in the search results.

2. Huge increases in traffic during the month of release.  Analyzing traffic figures with, the 6 month traffic average between May and October was 3,025 unique visitors.  Traffic jumped to over 211,111 unique visitors for the month of November.   

3. When typing the keywords “Girl Talk download” into Google search, the GT landing page appears in the search results ahead of file sharing networks.  Thus, using a file sharing network becomes pointless.  This is exactly how artists should manage file sharing.

4. Girl Talk social media conversations skyrocketed the week of release.  There was an estimated 18.5M in consumer reach the week of. 11.15.2010 - 11.22.2010 between Facebook and Twitter, up from 15 tweets the previous week.  These mentions developed the brand and encouraged inbound links.

Girl Talk landing page traffic spikes the week of album release

Optimize the Free Download Landing Page 

It’s clear that a free album download will be linked to and will attract new visitors.  An optimized landing page will convert these visitors to customers.  Make the page a better experience than file sharing sites.  Keep in mind that not everyone on a site wants the same thing; visitors are in different stages of the buying cylce.  Some are familiar with the music and brand, others are not.  Think of the buying cycle as a funnel.  Recorded content is at the top of the funnel, and is the entrance into the buying cycle and an artist’s brand.  Once in the funnel, consumers should be guided through to the bottom of the funnel, or a sale.  

First time visitors will want to check out the record.  Offer email newsletter sign-up on site, and social media links (ShareThis has great plugins and customizable buttons).  This will allow consumers to stay in contact with the brand and return to the landing when they are ready to buy.  For those returning visitors who have fallen in love with the music, there is unlimited opportunity to sell merch, tickets, and exclusive packages for super fans.  All of this should be featured on the landing page.  Great music will sell other products.

Lastly, optimize the landing page by targeting specific keywords for search rankings.  Do keyword research with the Google Keyword Tool (make sure it’s on “exact” match).  Think like a potential consumer who is looking for new music when adding keywords to a site.  Try ranking for the keyterm “your artist name Torrent.”  The keyword “Torrent” recieves an average 151M global searches per month; this is how folks are thinking and searching for music online.  

Does selling a record for $9.99 that will show up on file sharing networks anyways outweigh offering it for free on an artist’s site, generating inbound links and higher search results, selling merch and tickets, and developing a strong, lasting online presence?  File sharing has already changed the music landscape - now it’s the artists chance to change the landscape of file sharing.

Jim Grobecker spent nearly 6 years developing artists in the music industry, first at Fontana Distribution, then for Universal Music Group.  Currently he runs an Inbound Marketing and Digital Music Strategy shop based out of Boston, MA.

Reader Comments (17)

Nice article. The should it be free or not debate will probably continue on for quite some time. Girl Talk is an interesting example because I imagine he's making the majority of his music income from remixing Beck & Of Montreal & such over music sales & keeping some sort of cool & hip factor is integral to scoring those gigs. I think their definitely are music models where giving away music for free makes sense, but the dilemma is when does giving music away add to a sense of entitlement of fans to have free music? I have noticed that when I (as an indie label owner) have done free give-aways, they don't get as many downloads as a leak of an upcoming album I'm trying to sell. Getting the word out about a free release is still somehow less cool than getting the word out about "stealing" a releases before it comes out....

These are all great points Brian, thanks for commenting! I think Sean Parker's data was pretty staggering regarding the volume of free downloads vs paid. It could be hinting at consumer expectations for recorded content and challenging labels & artists to come up with a profitable business model around those expectations.

With other free album downloads, it seems like the total number of downloads was looked at to determine success (which is really important to gauge buzz, etc.). But with Artist Managed file sharing it goes beyond analyzing just downloads. It's important to look at what a free download is doing to build an artist's overall brand and influencing online search results. Each new visitor searching for free music would have ended up on a file sharing network. Instead, they show on the landing page, deterring from file sharing and giving opportunity for labels & content owners to sell stuff. An optimized landing page based on consumer on site behavior can really generate sales for merch and other product. Like you mentioned, looks like Girl Talk is getting gigs, and he's near capacity at some sizable venues across the country, like the House of Blues. It started with a free album.

January 10 | Registered CommenterJim Grobecker


Do you believe that this advice really matters to an artist that is almost completely unknown? I believe the answer is "yes" it does, but I believe readers here are probably asking themselves "why does this matter when I am just starting out?" As for the landing page.. Should this page be an inner page where "free music" from artist X can be found, while preserving the front page to attempt to sell tracks to those that want to support the artist by using iTunes (for example)?

January 11 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

Great article if not the best one I've read on here. This is exactly the blueprint we're following at CRVD Media. We optimize every single article page we put up to make sure we show up when people are looking for the music they care about.

The result? We have routinely outranked major sites on Google, Bing and Yahoo. is now well on it's way to being a respected and trusted source of new music that people can both stream and download.

We envision a way that artists can use our platform (or any platform) to get their music out and take control of their product. Gone are the days when you had to rely on a major label or distributor to press copies of a song to a piece of vinyl. Artists should jump on the new digital innovations and control their product.

We're in the process as well as coming up with way to incentivize the experience of listening and downloading music for not only consumers but artists and businesses as well. Exciting times to say the least.

January 11 | Unregistered CommenterNoah

OK this is what I'm talking about! This is the kind of article I like to read. What would make it even better would be a link to the actual squeeze page. Or samples of squeeze pages that are successful. Here is the thing, Most of us enjoy posts like this because they address the main reason we come here, to find NEW ways of promoting ourselves, and getting more fans. Very good post. I think I speak for a few of us in the indie music scene, we need promotion ideas more than anything, and we know things in this "business" if you can call it that, are getting bad and worst by the day, but we are tired of hearing about all of that. We want answers.

January 11 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Fantastic case study - thank you :)

One further thing I'd like to know (the only thing a sceptic cares about) is how much of this activity converted to sales of tickets/merchandising or sponsorship income? How successful was this strategy for Girl Talk financially compared to if they had released the albulm traditionally?

Thanks, luci

January 11 | Unregistered CommenterLuci Temple

Great post Jim. The industry needs more like it.

January 11 | Unregistered CommenterPierre

Thanks for commenting and the feedback Bruce. I think these ideas can really benefit developing acts, especially those with limited budgets because these strategies take time and effort to implement over spending any money. By drawing inbound links to a free album download page artists will earn better rankings in search results, which equals more qualified traffic and potential buyers to the site (which could have otherwise gone to Torrents).

The landing page can be anywhere on the site. This is the page that will show in the search results so best practice is to make it visually engaging, walking consumers through the buying cycle, with free album download as the entrance to brand, and merch, tickets, or other artist products available for purchase.

Thanks for the kind words Noah & Chris. Keep building those brands!

January 11 | Registered CommenterJim Grobecker

really good advice Jim. Music companies are generally a long way behind in SEO assuming - wrongly - their artists will always come top in search. Unless they understand SEO then you are right to point out, other companies who understand it will often rank higher.

Media Junction is a music marketing company

See what I did there ;)

January 12 | Unregistered CommenterNeil

Hmm.. I'm sure that not all bands/singers will get this much traffic and benefit from free sharing but I think it still is best way to do things. And I love how simple it is:

Free album =Branding=Fans => opportunity to sell merch

Free album is branding and branding is very important. Marketing rules the world and this is low-cost option. Then with branding comes fans and you get a chance to monetize them.
Exactly what I'm trying to do now with acts that I help.

Thanx Jim for good read!

January 12 | Unregistered CommenterAdrijus

Torrent sites are a fact of the industry now and rather than seeing them as a problem I like to think of it more like getting played on the radio.

Nice step by step guide Jim, I'm going to post this out to twitter.

- Chris

Thanks for commenting Luci, and those are valid concerns! Although I can't speak to the direct profits of Girl Talk, I do know that Gregg is selling out or near capacity at some pretty big venues across the US, like the House of Blues. These are larger venues than previous tours and made possible due to the exposure, visibility and demand for GT, spurred by sharing of the free record, since consumers could get without risk (free content). From my experience in the music industry, profits from tours dwarfed those from record sales. With all of the buzz around GT I think he's in a great spot for potential sponsors, too.

Hahah, right on Neil, nailed it.

Appreciate the kind words Pierre and Adrijus.

Great outlook on Torrents Chris. Thanks for the post on Twitter; I'm going to follow you.

January 12 | Registered CommenterJim Grobecker

Girltalk is really a terrible example because the music itself, while sonically amazing, includes more stolen music than any other artist in the history of music. This is documented.

Girl Talk has to give music away for free because all of the major labels are on cock ready to shit his shit down.

This is a great debate that we discuss at least once a week in my office.

My philosophy is that a record label sell the music. People that are going to steal it are going to steal it. I think you have to condition fans to understand that the music is being sold and intended to be purchased.

I think all this article is stating is that there are benefits to controlling where and how the stealing takes place.

January 14 | Unregistered CommenterPiffsburg

So the idea is that musicians should give their music away for free so that they can sell T-shirts.

Call me old-fashioned, but wouldn't it make more sense for musicians to sell music?

And remind me, how does this idea work for songwriters, producers, session musicians, and so on?

January 16 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

In the end show me the money.

Most real bands cannot afford to tour and having millions of links is NOT convert to useful data for promoters who want to see sales as the ONLY verifiable criteria for booking acts.

As far as capitalizing from traffic, Indies will never be able to do get the kinds or ad rates that the major players get even if they get equal traffic for a few weeks or months.

To be able to maintain the visibility you describe requires enormous amount of work, work which is not supported in this economic model except by some vague promise of a return (knowing that re-mixers and Dj's are not the same as bands nor do they have the same expenses). At some point in the absence of money, the artist stops producing. Simple as that really.

Grandiose columns such as this are more cool aid drinking nonsense that flies totally in the face of the real facts we experience everyday in the REAL music industry.

January 16 | Unregistered CommenterJean Renard

Great point David, thanks for commenting. Sean Parker, formerly of Napster, announced some very alarming numbers where 4 - 10 trillion songs were downloaded from file sharing sites last year. In comparison, there were 4 billion legal downloads. Taking that data into account, this post aims to look at some alternatives to the album release and how it can be used to build an artist's brand and ultimately profit. Music file sharing is bound to happen, but when an artist manages it it is much more valuable.

Those are all valid points Jean. In the case of promoters looking at sales to book shows, track downloads of the free album. With a great recorded product you'll tally a ton of downloads. Girl Talk recorded a lot of downloads, which you could bring to promoters to show them consumer interest. Now GT is selling out or near capacity at some big venues. This strategy can be helpful for indie acts because there is no ad spend to compete with the majors for traffic. But you are absolutely right, the only spend is time invested and hard work.

January 17 | Registered CommenterJim Grobecker

I Started using TAWKLE and its the best FILE sharing website . it offers unlimited uploads and downloads and its for free!

March 15 | Unregistered Commenterhenry

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