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Why Music Should Never Be Given Away For "Free"

At this point, most emerging artists are familiar with the (potential) benefits of giving their music away for free:

- Maximizes the possibility of discovery
- Free Advertising
- Can create viral-buzz about your music

But in reality, unless you already possess quite a large fan-base along with the subsequent reach, giving your music away will be the last you hear from most of these new “fans”. This situation is only ideal for artists who have successfully converted people from fans to loyalists - those who not only want to share this music with others, but who actively seek out others who share a common interest in the music. If you are not at this level on a large scale, consider using a slightly different strategy.

What you need, is a way to turn this seemingly one-sided transaction, into one that is mutually beneficial. You essentially want to continue charging for your product, but in a way that replaces value in terms of money with that of brand growth. Consider charging for your music using social currency, which would put you in the position to receive a tangible return that would increase your reputation and reach, rather than increase your bank account.

The following are a few different ways for you to charge for your music using social currency:

Collect e-mails

This is the ideal choice of social currency. Building and maintaining a mailing list has many long-lasting benefits that can be used to leverage fan engagement and can even lead to the necessary conversion of fans to loyalists.

Most importantly, a mailing list gives you a direct channel of communication between you and your fans. You may have 10,000 followers on Twitter or fans on your Facebook fan-page, but if you post up an announcement, how many will actually see it? Social media works in real-time. Unless all of your fan-base is online or is specifically looking for updates from your Twitter/ Facebook account (a typical characteristic of a loyalist), the chances are that the initial announcements will be overlooked. Your mailing list, however, ensures that your reach out to your fans WILL be seen.

As mentioned above, mailling lists also give you the opportunity to leverage additional fan engagement that may cause the conversion from fan to loyalist. Through exclusive benefits such as pre-sale opportunities, additional free downloads, discounted merch, etc. you have a better chance to keep your fans engaged and interested.

Bandcamp: This site offers an app that allows you to build your mailing list in exchange for giving away some music of your choice. Bandcamp allows you to choose whether you want to give away an entire album, a collection of songs or even just a single track, all of which can be downloaded for free as long as the person joins your mailing list.

<a href="">A Moot Point by Espy</a>

Exchange Tweet For DL

This can also be an effective form of social currency, and is a great alternative option to give those uninterested in joining another mailing list. However, the effectiveness of this method is entirely dependent on three things:

• The persons involvement and reputation on Twitter
• The time of the tweet
• YOUR involvement and reputation on Twitter

Exchanging a tweet for DL can be very helpful IF all of the above criteria are met, otherwise the tweet will likely be a wasted promotional effort. While this method is much more IF-based than a mailing list, it can be a great way to building up your own presence on Twitter.

Here are a few services that can help you set up “tweet for a download” functionality:

Tweet For A Track: A free and easy service that allows you to not only customize the tweet that will be sent out and can track how many downloads have taken place, but requires the downloader to input an email address as well. Win-Win!

Pay With A Tweet: Similar to Tweet For A Track although it does not require an email address. This service does, however, give you a widget to embed in other places.

NOTE: If you do offer this as an option, make sure that the tweet includes your own Twitter tag.

Exchange FB Share for DL

This also has the potential to be an effective form of social currency, since most of the word is on Facebook and is typically (though not always) connected with friends who share common interests.

Again, the pitfall with this option is that not only does Facebook’s news feed work in real-time, but now uses an algorithm to determine which wall posts appear in other peoples’ feeds. Unfortunately this means your wall may get lost in translation with out ever getting seen.

Cash Music: This non-profit organization has created open-source applications for both Facebook and twitter that allow you to offer free music downloads in exchange for telling others about the music. Ironically, Cash Music has made it a requirement that you also share a tweet or wall post on Facebook in order to download the code for the app.

The idea of accepting social currency as payment for your music will give you more opportunity than ever before to grow your brand throughout different avenues of social media. While the mailing list is the ideal option, it is important to offer a few different ways to allow people to pay with social currency, as not everyone will be interested in joining your mailing list.

This article appeared as a guest blog on Tight Mix Blog on July 1, 2010.

Jon is the co-founder of MicControl, a music blogging network based on a music social networking platform.For guest blogging opportunities or for simply reaching out, Jon can be found on twitter and facebook.

Now that you’re thinking in terms of social currency and not money, what is the best way to ‘sell’ your content? Leave your answer in the form of a comment below.

Reader Comments (62)

Very helpfull idea thanks!!! I am definately going to change some stuff on my site because of this post!!!! :)

July 7 | Unregistered CommenterCalmplex

I understand this is quite a controversial topic - especially with the 'tweet for a DL' idea being seen by many as spam. But the idea is to be using social media properly, with a legitimate network of friends, fans and followers. People who respect your opinion and are willing to take your advice, not just see you as a number. That being said, I do understand that most people (for one reason or another) don't use social media this way and CAN be seen as spam.

Please feel free to post up any comments that can lead to discussion. After all, this article was meant to be a jumping off point to find better ways to exchange music for some form of social currency, rather than simply giving it away. It may be that exchanging a tweet for a track is a poor way of doing it, but if you do feel that way, I challenge you to offer up other ways of making this exchange more mutually beneficial.

Jon Ostrow

July 7 | Unregistered CommenterJon Ostrow

This post arrived with perfect timing, as I am mulling promo ideas. Love the notion of "social currency" and plan to investigate it further. Will also try some of the specific services you mention.

By the way, major shoutout to Bandcamp. They are THE BEST. Here's my page for anyone who wants to check it out!

And here are five codes to download my album FREE. First come, first served!
To redeem you code go to:


If you like the music, please visit my blog to read more about how it was made!


Thanks for posting this here, Jon! Excellent points, as always. For what its worth, I love the "pay with a tweet" idea. Regardless of what all these haters say, haha.

Tweet/FBshare for DL are cool but I don't think these different sites/methods should be treated the same. That is, if you want more than casual fans.

In my opinion, the top-tier fans are the ones on your mailing list. So they should be able to get rewards that no one else can. Next would be Facebook because it allows discussions on anything you share. The rewards for FB should be less than the mailing list but more than Twitter. At the very bottom would be Twitter. Sorry, but I just don't see value in getting a tweet. It takes no effort at all on the user's part.

Wasn't there a Topspin report that said 30% of your sales come from your mailing list? Weren't FB and Twitter in the low single digits? Then why give a person the same thing a mailing list member would get for a tweet or facebook share? The mailing list is where most of your attention and all of your best rewards/incentives should be. By signing up, they basically told you "advertise to me!"

July 7 | Unregistered CommenterRob Phas

@rob I completely agree with you, and as I mention, the email address is by far the most effective form of social currency to receive in exchange for a track. HOWEVER, there are many people out there who are unwilling to give you their email address for privacy reasons or just simply don't want to belong to just another mailing list - it is in those cases that you MUST give people another option or two to be able to download your music and help spread the word.

July 7 | Unregistered CommenterJon Ostrow

Why is it someone would only want your music if they can get it for free? Having found their way to a site featuring you and your music, taken the trouble to listen and then finding they like it, why wouldn't they pay a dollar and get one of your tracks?

If they don't have Paypal or a credit card? Because they don't like it enough to pay? Why would you want to stay in touch with a 'fan' who can't be assed to drum up a dollar for a piece of your music? What on earth can you gain?

Looking at this from the opposite direction to Jon: an email list of listeners too casual to pay? Pointless. A load of Twitter connections for people who won't pay? Pointless. I can see a point to getting loads of people to a site that you run to cash in on the ads etc But that's you running an effective website, not making and distributing music. Yes, give a way a track, give it away to people who are interested, or as a present for finding you. But your whole album? Why? When you're so far down the food chain you're grateful someone even noticed you, why deny yourself a few pence?

Honestly, I've been reading the give-away briefs by quite a few people for well over a year now and none of them have told me at what point giving away your music makes you money.

Yes, there is a 'radio' aspect to people sharing your music, yes the blogs give you exposure, yes it's great PR when loads of people talk about how much they love your music. But you can have all that and still charge!

Just because, eventually, if you get successful, your music will be available for free, somewhere anyway doesn't mean you have to preempt this and lose out. Charge! Now! Come on, respect yourselves!

July 7 | Registered CommenterTim London

It's like any other kind of promotional material, give a away a free t-shirt or tote bag at a convention, and people go "Wow, cool, something free. Maybe these guys aren't so bad after all," and it might lead to a sale, either immediately or down the road. Or might not.

Musicians - Definitely don't give away your entire album though, that's just crazy talk. Unless of course you just do it for a hobby and don't care about the money.

@Chris, you stole the words right out of my mouth. There is absolutely nothing wrong with giving a sample of a product away - though I get that tracks have been commercialized and are now as valuable as an entire album, but if your are an emerging artist, the first goal is actually getting people to take notice of your music, breaking through the static. THEN you can decide if you want to force everyone to pay for your music. But the simple fact, is that recorded music in general is becoming more and more devalued - it is now easier than ever for people to get your music for free, so if all you do it enforce a strict 'you must pay' policy, people will likely pass or opt for the free, illegal download. HOWEVER, if you use this free track to help build upon your mailing list, you can then leverage this larger mailing list to increase your ticket sales at live performances, which in reality is where the real money is these days anyway!

July 7 | Unregistered CommenterJon Ostrow

Does anybody know a good & free little thing to put in to an html based website for adding people to your mailing list? I've had problems with every one I've tried since switching servers a while ago.

Anyway, I really like the idea of the "Pay with a Tweet" for something like a label sampler or live album.

Personally I think Twitter is maybe not superior right now to Facebook, but will be in six months time. A lot of folks have their Twitter feed in to their Facebook, MySpace, Linked In, & blog (I do) & since I've started getting emails trying to sell me Facebook spamming software I think that site might be a bit on its way down.

Of course I still think collecting actual mailing addresses & sending out actual postcards once a year is a good idea if not terribly cost effective. I know I'm way more likely to read a postcard than an email & if it looks cool enough it transforms into a permanent ad on someone's fridge.

I realize the subject line was flamebait meant to provoke and I realize that what you are talking about is that infinitesimal sliver of human experience pompously called The Music Business (as if it had any actual identity, or value) but before I tuned you out completely I just had to burst in to explain to your petty urban-centric minds that humanity has been making and sharing music on this planet for well over 80,000 (eighty thousand) years before you and your lawyers and unions and empressarios sought to weild monopoly over it, and if you get your head out of your clubs you may notice (but likely not) that even today a good 99.999999% of the music essential to human existence on his planet is music that exists outside of your pretty little commercial box.

There. I said it, and I'm glad. I'll leave you to your puffed egos now.

July 8 | Unregistered CommentermrG

Jon, one of the reasons why music is becoming more devalued is because people like you are recommending it be given away! Of course I understand that the occasional freebie is good PR (as I said above already) but the idea that charging for music at an early stage is bad for your career is just wrong.

Interweb users are 'music rich' and 'time poor'. Once someone has bothered to find you, the extra tiny hump of paying for a track is a small one to get over if they like your sound. They're not going to enjoy your music any more for it being free, or, I should say, if they do, that's a pretty perverse attitude that I don't think is pervasive. And if it is then we really are all fucked.

The 'real money' is at live performances, merchandise, licensing, radio, TV and film royalties, personal appearances, internet royalties AND sales of recorded music. It's just bad information based on supposition to say that building an email list s more important than selling your music. There's no reason why you can't do both.

And mrG - thanks for tuning in from the countryside. Hope you enjoyed seeing your name on your steam machine.

July 8 | Registered CommenterTim London

The question is how to gain the maximum value from the distribution of your music. It would be lovely if all musicians could be well paid for their work. One of the major obstacles with this in the interweb days is the profusion of bands out there to choose from. Perhaps it is the level of supply that is contributing to the perception of the value of music.

Publicity through recommendation and attention through subscription will have some level of measurable value. If you can garner enough of either it will be possible to derive a conversion ratio from the contact detail or shared link. You, as the musician, can then decide if this strategy works for you. I would guess the conversion will be low, but if your input is high enough perhaps it's a good strategy for you.

To make it work you need to sell the value of the tweet or mailing list signup. I can see that this can seem like small beer but from the visitor/customer's POV they need some sweet talking to close the deal. What will they get from being on your mailing list? Tell them how funny/brilliant/stuffed with cool offers your newsletter is, or let them know how valuable the tweet is to you.

I remember reading on NMS, "Free music is a business strategy not a business model," (or something close to that). Strategies are things to have a go with and their performance needs to be measured so that their success can be evaluated.

July 8 | Unregistered CommenterRuben Kenig

'their performance needs to be measured so that their success can be evaluated'

Exactly. Track and compare the success of different sets of artists, some who give their music away and others who allow 'radio' freebies (IE: for blogs and viral) or tasters but sell everything else.

Then show the world the difference in success and make me eat my hats. Come on, gurus!

In the meanwhile, I'll take my heaven on earth with actual pennies and recommend every other music maker to make money making music.

July 8 | Registered CommenterTim London

Sometimes you might want to give away music with no 'friction' whatsoever, no signup, tweeting, etc required. Most people are probably better off trying to get known at first rather than trying to charge.

I've done tweet for track and facebook share here if you'd like to see it in action. The folks at cashmusic provided the code that I installed and configured and I also did a screencast tutorial.

July 8 | Unregistered CommenterWill

I had a look Will. You seem to be teaching how to play guitar (unless your band is called Online Guitar Coaching) which is very different from selling music.

Like a few others who post on MT, you give a taste of a tutorial then promise more for money (but at least you're presumably teaching something tangible). You can't apply this kind of marketing to music selling to the same extent.

If you give away your best track... you've just given away your best track! It's like a jeweler giving away a diamond the size of an egg in order to sell more 5 pound chav chains!

I'm not saying don't let anyone hear it, I am saying once people have heard it or about it and they want it... let them buy it! For a dollar. Or 79 pence. Then you can buy yourself a Mars bar. Or a Hershey.

July 8 | Registered CommenterTim London

@tim, isn't that the point? That '79 pence' that you mention (haha :-) ) is worthless, its a short-term value that may help an artist for a day, but ultimately wont help them build their brand or get something bigger out of the exchange. BUT, if you give the artist the means to build up their presence through a mailing list, their twitter account, their facebook fan page, or anywhere else that anyone can think of (please do! - Id love to hear some other ways people have thought of), it will help them grow in a long-term sense, allowing the demand to build. This article is not about whether or not it is right for an artist to give their music away, as it already assumes that people are giving their music away. This is simply a stepping stone to give artists to think about how one-sided that sort of transaction is. Realistically, giving your music away will not help you, that is unless you already have a legitimate following with loyal fans. In that case, charging a simply 79 cents IS more beneficial, but why not try to leverage more out of that exchange. Think about the options: money or long-term engagement with fans?

July 8 | Unregistered CommenterJon Ostrow

I see it as an advertising cost. I record 12 tracks, i give one away free as a taster, i hope that some people will be interested to come back and hear some other stuff and the buy some more.

July 8 | Unregistered Commenterblinddrew

Jon, I can see we'll never quite talk the same language. You state that the article (by which I take it to mean you) assume your readers are already giving away their music. And I'm saying you don't need to, to get the same results.

It seems logical to me that if someone likes your music enough to give you money then you can assume they like it (and you, maybe a little bit) and there's absolutely nothing stopping you having a long term engagement with them. In fact, it's more likely because they have already shown a commitment to your art.

If you've got to talk someone into buying your music, even if they've already heard it, all you can offer them is things OTHER than your music.

It's still your music, whether they've enjoyed your witty blog posts and tweets, your links to interesting 80s body popper vids on youtube or even an online, in depth conversation with you about your pets.

The process you propose isn't proven or logical. That 79 pence times ten is a meal, times a hundred is a days' wages or more. You can have both engagement and money.

@ blindandrew that's it, that makes sense. Giving away ALL your work in the hope that you might get an email list doesn't.

July 8 | Registered CommenterTim London

@tim, I actually do agree with you that artists should not be giving music away, and that they should be trying to get people to pay for it. However, there are many who do give their music away, completely for free. This article is trying to combat the widespread idea that giving your music away can be used for something more beneficial if it has been planned as such. Though, I guess from your point of view, a lesser of two evils is still evil :-) And I get that, but I truly believe that a mailing list, a well developed, well executed mailing list is more beneficial and helpful to your overall career than making sure you receive money for every single track that people own that you have made.

July 8 | Unregistered CommenterJon Ostrow

I used to charge $10 for my CDs. I'd take 20 CDs to each show and sell 2-3 a night.

On my last tour I started to give CDs away with the caveat that "if you'd like to give me $1, $5, $50 for them by all means do so." I even went as far as actually handing my CD to anyone that looked like they were into the music. I got rid of every CD that I brought with me on tour and averaged $14 per CD.

Recap: I asked for nothing, made more money and got more CDs out into the world. Win/win/win.

If your music is good and you find your audience, they will pay. If you trust them and allow them to make the decision about what your music is worth, you'll often be surprised by the result. Apparently my music is worth more to my fans than i thought it was.

I would never have known this if I hadn't given it away.

I've written about the "pay-what-you-want" model extensively. You can read some of it here:


If I sell 10 tracks for 1$ each and "Indie band du jour" gives away 1,000 tracks for tweets, I end up with $10 and they have....???? Nothing!!!

One question, if your art is worth nothing, as in worthless, then why are you making it?

If thats you, get out of the way of someone worthwhile, you are a waste of internet bandwidth and hard drive space if your art is worthless.

True fans beg for your attention, not the other fucking way around. I'm not trashing the author, but if you are in a worthless band making worthless art, then follow his advice.


July 8 | Unregistered CommenterCrowfeatheR

@crowfeather - sorry but i completely disagree with you. Your not looking at the bigger picture. Yes you may have 1000 dollars, but on the flipside, you have have gained 1000 tweets about their brand. These 1000 tweets give the artist something real and tangible to use to leverage more of a presence on twitter - how do you plan to do that with your $1000? You may be able to buy some studio time or a nice TV, but your still left with the same presence you had before. Chump change is not the way to building up your brand and the demand around your brand. However, if you are able to create this demand for your brand, you will be able to make more money then you ever could have in the past because you have successfully converted listeners to fans, and fans to loyalists of your brand, willing to purchase anything that you dangle in front of their face.

July 8 | Unregistered CommenterJon Ostrow

Funny how arguments like this really get to show how argumentative one can be... it's slightly addictive.

Jon, the example of myspace has been used many times. I'm investing time tapping away here, but I'm also having (a strange kind of ) fun. Tweeting can be fun. It's not listening to music. It doesn't mean you will listen to music, it just means you enjoy tweeting, just like myspace friends are just people who want lots of myspace friends to play mafia wars with.

1000 tweets guarantees you... 1000 tweets. yes, there's the odd example of a singer selling her old socks on tweetbay to get some extra cash. And Jason Beiber (?) can wreck a mall with a crack flashmob of teenies with the mere flick of a tweet. It's hardly dependable, though, is it? You could even say it's false information - you think you're more popular than you are.

Now, get me a Saturday Night Live, or a Jonathon Ross or cross the board programming in Iowa - that's a profile. Get me a front page, get me MTV and 2 million hits on youtube. That's profile. 1000 tweets is nice but it won't sell my music. Even graffiti is better. Flyers on a friday night. Button badges. An airplane with a banner. A fight with a B list actor in a nightclub. These create profile. 1000 FB fans only gets me... 1000 FB fans. Actually, no, I don't believe that. Of course you can do a lot with lists of people who say they like you. But a list of people who have proved they like you is so much better.

And the sooner you start making a list like that the sooner you start making money.

July 8 | Registered CommenterTim London

@ Tim "If you give away your best track... you've just given away your best track!"
This reminds me of a quote from Michael Gira (Swans) years ago. He said something like, "If you listen to your album & there's one song that stands out as way better than the others, you need to throw away all but one song." Maybe a little over the top, but I do think part of the problem with why music is free is because there is such a lack of people putting out their best & caring about their brand/band.

Another thing interesting about a lot of these marketing plans is how long is the band going to stay together & what are their goals? If your band is only going to exist for a few months, you obviously want the money before it's over whether you get the money from selling songs or getting people to tweet about the night's show. (Which gives me the idea of tweeting for discounts/free passes for shows - I'll give people my cut of the door for them tweeting about it, maybe someone else will show up with that $1.)

Personally I think the idea of most individual consumers wanting to pay for music is fading & everyone should grab as much cash as they can while they can. But I've been wrong before.

One question, if your art is worth nothing, as in worthless, then why are you making it?

Because I can?

And no one can stop me?

July 8 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

Hmm Jon, sleight of hand comes to mind when I read your post but I do understand your point of view.

Sadly I totally disagree with you. Artists MUST give their music away for free BUT it should be a genuine gift or in a format that enables them to enjoy an experience. This gift MUST be paid for by either the artist, a stakeholder or advertisements. Monetise your music is the name of the game and you can do it either blatantly or with sublety.

Blatantly is via ads at the point of delivery (the TV model).
Or you can use product placement, affiliate marketing endorsements etc.

Personally I DON'T give away mp3s unless it is for a charity record. I would rather make it available on a stream and then they can buy the download for the full portable treatment. This is a win win situation. You can monetise it and make money on both sides of the fence.

By the way you should still ask fans to spread the word but not blatantly rather offer a prize or something.

July 9 | Unregistered CommenterKehinde

Let me just drop one more pearl of wisdom on this subject.

Exposure and brand recognition are only worth the money they make you in the long run. Setting you market value at $0 ensures complete long term failure and a waste of time energy and recourses. Only when you have established a true market value by SELLING material, only then will people feel that they have gotten something of value for free. Otherwise it is just something worthless, in which case so are you. Perception is reality, if your art is perceived as worthless schwag to be given away in a desperate attempt to get someone to please please like you then that becomes your reality. Desperate and worthless, now doesn't that sound like 99.9% of the music industry right now? hmmm?

July 9 | Unregistered CommenterCrowfeatheR


"Exposure and brand recognition are only worth the money they make you in the long run."

Exactly! That's why the free model works. You are giving someone a chance to hear your music with no barriers to discovery so that you can turn that person into a fan that *wants* to pay you for your music.

Try to open your mind to another way of thinking. Nobody is placing zero value on their work. That's not the point of the free or "pay-what-you-want" model. The point, as I see it, is twofold:

1. To get our music heard. I heard someone say once that the enemy of art is obscurity. If no one knows us, know one will buy our music. Plain and simple. People give music away to build awareness, which is crucial for any artist.

2. To let the individual decide what its worth to them. This is the one that's been the most surprising to me. As I mentioned above, on my last tour I gave my CDs away for free and asked people to pay if they wanted, in whatever amount they wanted. I averaged $14 per CD. Without asking for a dime. Was I devaluing my music? No, I was letting the people who wanted it put a value on it. And they actually valued it at a higher rate than the $10 I would've asked for had I put the price on it.

Content is free. There's no getting around that anymore. Why fight it? I choose to find ways to use that to my advantage.

The entire picture has changed. The people who will be successful are the ones who accept that and find ways to make it work. People like Steve Lawson, Amanda Palmer, Zoe Keating, etc. are making six-figure incomes using some form of the free model.


The worth that people place on music has very, very, very little to do with price.

July 9 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

@scottandrew - worth/price: Yes, the Byrds, free, on a summer's day in 1975, from a tranny radio/£5 album, US copy (with a lacquered sleeve) from a second shop in Bristol later that year. Currently: priceless.

@Jason Parker: if you have a computer, you can hear before you buy. If you like what you hear a dollar aint much. Content isn't free; some content is. And even if it's money-free, it's not time-free. Paying a little more for the convenience of not having to trawl around in the bittorrentosphere is obviously worth it for millions of people.

@CrowfeatheR: absolutely, moneywise, why would my daughter ever pay for something if she thinks it should be free, if she expects it to be free because it always is?

July 9 | Registered CommenterTim London

And another thing (good lord!)

I heard yesterday about one of the larger UK bands just about scraping a profit via a drinks company sponsorship at a sold out headliner festival. That means, they sold all the expensive tickets, the money went on production and they depended on a sponsorship deal to buy some bacon to bring back to their rockstar cottages to feed their rockstar families. Were they asked to re-invent an old jingle for said company to play as an encore... and to wear T shirts on stage with the company's logo? How long before that happens?

Is it true that Lady Ga Ga LOST money on her previous tour? And that she had to do another, quickly, to make up the cash flow?

The point(s) being: money comes from every stream, so why limit the revenue from the most (possibly) lucrative? You've recorded the music, it sounds great - it costs peanuts... PEANUTS to distribute it around the world. So, sell it, because you can't even depend on being the highest grossing artist to make money live!

July 9 | Registered CommenterTim London

I am the WestCoast Consultant. You are all right this new music business is all of the above...You do it all these days to generate that dollar... Give away a track sell sum downloads send sum cd's to cd baby, and not to mention the super old school way sell a cd out the trunk.... Marketing and advertising want hurt either... Check me out

Tim - it's all content whether it's videos teaching people guitar or music. Musicians like to think it's special because it brings out emotions, but so do books, movies, learning an instrument, etc. And the common denominator these days is it's all digital so the cost of reproduction is essentially zero. So we're (along with newspapers) all trying to figure out what to do about this scenario.

Regardless of anyone's opinions here, if you are a musician or someone who wants to sell things online, forget the theorists and speculators, get out there and try things, see what works and do more of that.

July 10 | Unregistered CommenterWill

Will, I think musicians think music's special cos they're music makers.

Digital might be a common denominator but the differences between how we enjoy different 'content' are huge. Books tend to get re-read only occasionally. Films the same. TV might get repeated but it needs to be watched as well as heard and sometimes just watched. Favourite music, however, gets listened to again and again and has far more utility than visual content.

There's a strong history of try before you buy with music so it really suits the interwebnet. This is because the process works. We just have to take advantage of it without fretting about the future.

This week I've received links to around 5 album's worth of free material via unasked-for emails. I haven't downloaded any of it, simply because I didn't like it. If it had struck a chord I would have laid out the 10 dollars to buy it.

You're right, though, when you say get out there and try things. It's really fundamental. That's what I've been doing and what I've found is 'one size does not fit all'. Different genres suit different approaches. And, even if we learn from the way different content is sold, each set of content will need a different approach.

Who knows, we might end up with a 'free music' genre (probably a generic electro house hybrid without much singing, judging by what I get sent through and half of what I find on blogs nowadays...)

July 10 | Registered CommenterTim London

you can't even depend on being the highest grossing artist to make money live!

the Lady Gaga tour lost money because she overspends wildly on sets, costumes and flashy stuff, not because there's no money in touring and merch. Any artist at any level who operates at a high overhead will be in the red.

Most "real" businesses tend to operate in the red or at break-even, sometimes for years, before they see real profits.

July 10 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

Of course, if Lady GG had cut just one costume and one dancer from her show she might have broken even.

She didn't, probably because the production level was felt necessary (artistically or to create a show with a draw). And a similar situation can arise at any level, from arena to the van breaking down on the way to Sammy's Bar in Bumchester.

To say that live is where the money is, is as spurious as saying CDs are dead or it's the end of the internet. With all the faith in the world, no artist has a guaranteed career longer than their current schedule, so I recommend you make the most of what you've got.

All the activities around revenue streams feed each other, with the added bonus that, at the moment, for very little outlay, you can distribute your recorded music around the world and make money. But only if you charge.

July 11 | Registered CommenterTim London

MrG wrote: "I realize the subject line was flamebait meant to provoke and I realize that what you are talking about is that infinitesimal sliver of human experience pompously called The Music Business (as if it had any actual identity, or value) but before I tuned you out completely I just had to burst in to explain to your petty urban-centric minds that humanity has been making and sharing music on this planet for well over 80,000 (eighty thousand) years before you and your lawyers and unions and empressarios sought to weild monopoly over it, and if you get your head out of your clubs you may notice (but likely not) that even today a good 99.999999% of the music essential to human existence on his planet is music that exists outside of your pretty little commercial box.

There. I said it, and I'm glad. I'll leave you to your puffed egos now."

I love how this bitter zealot uses the internet to promote an activity that is 80,000 years old. This argument is often used as a general attack on anyone involved with selling music. Our "lawyers and unions?" WTF?
I see this attitude as a big problem in music today; the complete generalization of the entire industry as being mean-spirited.
WE ARE NOT ALL PART OF THE BIG 3 MEDIA GIANTS and when you sh*t all over anyone trying to fund their next record, you may be denying yourself another good record by one of your favorite bands

thanks for this article, btw. great read!

July 12 | Unregistered CommenterGoodRead

On the Lady Gaga thing:
Isn't she signed to a 360 deal anyway? Meaning her personal income is uneffected by loosing money on the live show. & for that matter losing money on the live show might be some grand scheme of the label to generate more ringtone sales....

I still haven't clapped eyes on one of these fabled 360 deal contracts yet.

I've heard that they all differ from each other as much as the old fashioned (180?) deals did. But fair point Brian - you can bet when someone loses a lot of money in one area their tax bill might be affected in another.

July 13 | Registered CommenterTim London

@ Tim
If a label wants to screw with you they surely can move the money around in weird ways. The local rep "takes you out to dinner" on your own expense account in the end. & you see indie labels getting close to needing to pay the band & so suddenly they drop another grand on promotion (because they could spend $1000 on promo or give $1000 to the band). I don't know. Running my own label I know that I look at my numbers at the beginning of the third quarter & if I'm making more than I thought for the year I purchase ads because it's like they're 1/3 off because I'd have to pay the tax man more money other wise. Screwy stuff.

I can't say that I disagree with you here, but I really don't think you get the point of using social media to promote yourself as an artist. While I'm not necessarily against the "pay to play" method you are describing, there are much better and more effective ways to make social media responses go viral. Think about it from the standpoint of someone who doesn't know you exist. Your fans want to download your music for free, and they will generally have no problem sharing a tweet or a Facebook Like in return. But what are people going to do when they see that response if they've never heard of you before? Viral content should have value. You don't want to have your fans posting self-serving tweets that are very difficult to word in a way that doesn't sound like or look like a commercial. I feel like the people reading that tweet or seeing a Like or a reply in their news feed on Facebook would feel patronized, especially if they see a bunch of their followers posting the same content with the same wording within a short period of time.

I firmly believe that viral content over social media should be engaging, purposeful and intended for building relationships. If an artist can strike a conversation with ten or more fans at once on Twitter or Facebook, onlookers will be curious as to what is so great and important that multiple people are having a real conversation about it. If someone sees an artist engaging with a fan in a positive way, it's going to resonate with them a lot more than seeing a person tweeting about downloading a song. Even if you successfully connect with a new fan that way, they are still going to have to go to the same "pay to play" site, and go through the same process as the person they heard about it from, and they may not be as excited when they find out the whole thing was scripted and automated from the get go. It's not a bad idea, it's just something that would be very difficult to implement correctly, and could easily produce unintended results.

The idea of asking someone to sign up for your mailing list in return for downloading a free song isn't exactly groundbreaking either, and that is the way most artists are distributing free music these days. Personally, I don't do it. On my band's web site I have a section for signing up for the mailing list, and another section for free downloads. The music is given to the artists without strings attached and it's up to the fan if they want to stay in contact. This way our fans don't feel pushed into getting spammed. The only other thing I use to collect emails for my mailing list is by getting them from our fans on Facebook. The difference is that, unlike my web site, Facebook fans have the opportunity to show publicly that they like and support us, and I have access to their email addresses. It can be annoying to get a lot of messages and event invitations on Facebook from artists, but most people know that if they Respond to your online content in the form of a Like or a Tweet, it's likely they will be contacted in some form or another by the artist eventually. I don't think one method is better than the other, I just think it's more innovative to find out ways to make money off of your music while giving it away with no strings attached.

It is entirely possible to give your music away for free and still make money. Trent Reznor once made $750,000 off of a record that was available for free download on his website. This is an example of someone who already had a large fan-base to begin with, but it also goes to show that the best way to make money off of your music is to provide value with your product. Trent Reznor made $750,000 on a free album by putting together a product that was collectible, unique and in limited supply. He provided value to his fans, and they responded positively to that value. Trent Reznor also properly engages his fans. If you're interested in hearing more about his methods, I'd highly recommend watching the Trent Reznor Case Study on Youtube.

Diverse thinking is what this industry really needs right now. I have a personal philosophy that an artist should do whatever it takes to expose as many people to their music as possible without strings attached, no matter what the cost. Then the challenge becomes monotizing on the exposure that you get. There are many methods for achieving this and artists will continue to brainstorm new ways as the recording industry continues this drastic transition. I am not trying to say that you are wrong, or that these methods are not effective for some artists. My only criticism is that you are putting creativity in a box by discouraging artists from giving away their music for free.

July 14 | Unregistered CommenterDJ Meph

@ Tim

Your daughter would pay for a CrowfeatheR song because she wants it and it is $2 not free. She'd pay $2 because the 100 free songs she got in her email sucked because those bands ran out of operating capital and can't afford to record in a real studio for more than 20 minutes. If the free soda tastes like carbonated ass bilge, She'd prefer to buy the Coke or Pepsi.

Now if you're saying artist should compete with Piracy by providing free content, that is just like giving free cars to car thieves.

If you do your homework on CrowfeatheR you will actually realize, NONE of my material is for sale ANYWHERE. When all the pirates are shut down I'll release material and daughters will buy it up. Until then I'll keep my stuff on the shelf behind the glass and release cover songs for people to steal. My material waits for better times, when all the free wheeling ass clowns have put themselves out of business and all the Pirate websites have been destroyed. The future of the music industry is exclusivity, not saturation.

Now, don't you have some music to give away?

July 14 | Unregistered CommenterCrowfeatheR

Crowfeather, I'm not sure if that comment was sarcastic or serious, but I just wanted to point out that you have music on your Myspace page that people can listen to for free, and it's not terribly difficult to snatch that music off of the site if you have the will. Be prepared to hold on to your music for a long time, because the ability to "steal" music is only going to get easier, and prosecuting these "thieves" is only going to get harder. It seems to me like you are stuck on the old, obsolete business plan that record companies used when they used to make easy money off of record sales. The truth is that when it comes to different types of media, whether music or movies, Piracy has always been a huge factor. The price of vinyl records came down dramatically when cassette tapes made it easy to copy them. A movie on VHS used to cost $100 or more until the movie industry got wise to the fact that people were just buying one tape and making 10 copies of it and splitting the cost. In the same way, the music industry has had to respond to digital piracy by making music available to purchase on the internet at a lower cost than a CD. The price of CDs have come down as well. There are so many alternative methods for making money as an artist these days. Why not become a part of the solution by laying your own bricks, and innovating your own new way to make money as an artist? Stop thinking about it in terms of people "stealing" your music and think that the economy is rough, cost of living is high, and fans are on tighter budgets. They want to hear your music, but they may only want to spend their money on an artist that's going to provide them with added value, like a great concert, or a limited edition LP that they can hold on to for a while. If people paid for all of the music that they wanted to listen to we'd all have to take out loans and go bankrupt. I, for one, don't want to bankrupt my fans. When a transaction happens between us, I want them to feel like they got their money's worth out of the deal. To each his own, but don't act surprised if your flawed business plan doesn't work out the way you hoped.

July 14 | Unregistered CommenterDJ Meph

CrowfeatheR, I'm guessing you didn't read my posts, maybe only dropped in on the bit with your name attached? My argument through this thread as been NOT to give away your music for free, and I was agreeing with your point, but any sense you made has been blown away by that last post.

Note to self: must make comments shorter.

July 14 | Registered CommenterTim London

Some musician here to pay for music today ?

Why I will pay for a track if I can listen it for free ?
Why I will input my CC number for 0,99 ?
Why I will tweet for a mp3 if I know that no all my friends have the same musical preference ?
I don't see reason to make a 'big stock' of mp3 on my hd once I have all music of the world for listen online , for free . I don't pay 0,99 for your mp3 but I pay 15,00 with pleasure on your live show .

what I want is to visit your website , feel your vibe , read what you write , listen your full tracks . I don't want to know about numbers online , checkout etc , I want just music to enjoy . So please put me on the mood . So please put us on the mood . All we need is love ...
For those that are worried about to be 'stolen' : it's more easy to copy an online music that you think . Obviously I doun't agree with that and I understand your worry . So don't waste your time 'protecting' your material nor put your 'stuff on the shelf behind the glass waiting for better times' because you will seen like giving just bones for us . And please : don't put 30 seconds samples of your material ! This is the worst you can do . I'll not return to your website if you do this . Upload ! Upload full tracks to all us listen before you die . Upload for the future .
Social currency don't feed you nor your family . This is a hard time not only for musicians . Is a time of decantation on the web : people want all for free . Period . Don't you ? On the web your real value is your reputation . Just this word .

So make a great work offline also , on the stage , on the face to face , because the real money is out there . The web is for exposure and promotion .

Good luck for you all .

July 15 | Unregistered CommenterListener


I've read some of your posts, I see my name and you asked a question so I answered it. I feel like I'm surrounded by idiots and thieves, sorry for assuming you were one of them.

@ DJ Meth

Ok, Since music is easy to steal, I should just give it away? I think next time I park my car with something valuable in it, I'll just leave the windows down, because after all if someone wanted to steal it they could just break the windows so why not make it easier. Hell, I'll just put the item on the sidewalk... Silly. Yes, I know people are "ripping" my music off myspace and youtube with hacker software, some are even sampling and remixing it, the fuckers, but I made it as hard as I can while still putting up full tracks.

I think I've made my point and hope anyone reading this thread trolling will join me in protecting the market value of our art.

July 15 | Unregistered CommenterCrowfeatheR

@Crowfeather "Ok, Since music is easy to steal, I should just give it away?" Yes, exactly! The people who are stealing your music are your fans, not some criminal who doesn't know who the hell you are, breaking into and stealing your car. Find other ways to add value to your music. Trent Reznor did it, and he made 3/4 of a million on an album that was available for free download on his web site. The game is changing. It doesn't cost as much to produce an album. There are more markets for music now, and more artists competing for an audience. If you are unable to adapt to these changes you simply won't make it.

July 15 | Unregistered CommenterDJ Meph

@DJMeph - if these people are your fans surely they won't begrudge you a dollar a track for your tunes?

If they're taking your music anyway then it's academic. But the reason why this argument is valid is because people still pay for music. They do. That's what iTunes does, it charges and people are willing to pay. Not all music, maybe not half or even a third who have a PC, but enough for many, many people to make a living.

When the last online music store shuts, then it will be time to accept that ALL recorded music is free by its nature. Until then, why not make a buck? You earned it.

July 15 | Registered CommenterTim London

Trent Reznor... Radiohead... STOP TAKING THESES ARTISTS AS EXAMPLES FOR US INDIE ARTISTS. They have been built ON THE OLD SYSTEM selling CDs!!!

dammit I'm tired of saying this

July 15 | Unregistered CommenterFebreze

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