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Music Business

Should you give away your music for free?

As an artist starting out, you might be curious and ask yourself, should you give away your music? And the answer to this question isn’t quite black and white as some might argue.  In this episode, we’ll be touching on the pros and cons on giving your music away. Then, I’ll end with 4 practical steps on how you can effectively give away music, while also generating revenue.

First, the pros on giving away your music.

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1.) Gain exposure.

If you’ve been listening to this podcast, you know that there are a number of ways to garner exposure. By any means, giving away your music isn’t the holy grail of garnering attention. But giving away your music is similar to the idea of sampling music in the Apple Music Store. Before people buy anything from you, they want to sample it.

When Napster was making waves in the digital music scene, there were artists on both polarities: support and not support. The ones that supported Napster argued that they actually got new and more exposure from fans that they otherwise would not have reached.

In fact, researchers have noted that because of platforms like Napster and streaming services like Spotify, music tastes are expanding more than in years prior because of their access to music. It seemed that limited resources made consumers conservative with their music purchases, and as  result their musical tastes.

In other words, fans that may not have listened to your music before, may likely listen to your music now that it’s easier to access. And this potential listener can also potentially turn into a bonafide super fan.

2.) This exposure and freebie music allows your fans freedom to support you in other ways.

Chance the Rapper is an incredible example of an artist that gives away all their music for free. From his free music, he’s cultivated a loyal following of fans that support him by basically functioning as his street team.

3.) It helps you stand out just a little bit more.

There are a lot of price tags that can keep people away. But not knowing anything about a product or person can also keep people away. With how easy it is to create music these days, there are SO many new musicians and songs coming out. A fan can’t possibly purchase everything, so those snippets on iTunes and Soundcloud help them make purchasing decisions. If you’re just starting out, releasing a full free single is an excellent way to earn a new, potential fans trust. This gives them a taste of who you are as an artist.

Now, the cons.

It’s not all glitter and gold when it comes to free music. There are actual cons and costs to giving away your free music. Have you heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch?” In short, it’s an economic theory that argues that everything has some kind of cost to it.

This is certainly true for your “free” music.

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1.) You miss out on production recoupment.

Typically, singles and album sales are what help recoup the cost of production. So, if you’re giving away your music, you’ll need to come up with a good plan to recoup the cost of the album as well as other marketing activities that you’ll do thereafter to promote your album.

2.) If you have a sizable following, and you give away your music, you miss out on substantial sales.

For a newer artist with less than 1,000 super fans, this wouldn’t be as applicable because you’re garnering exposure that you otherwise wouldn’t have. For an artist that has an existing following and a sizable following, you may already have the demand where fans are willing to pay for singles and albums.

3.) Your music isn’t truly free.

I covered this in my first point when I mentioned recoupment. Again, “there is no such thing as a free lunch” and there is certainly no such thing as free music. There are costs in time and money, whether it’s coming out of your pocket or something else. This means that when you give away your music for free with no game plan to get anything back, you’re missing out on a lot.

With that being said, there ARE actual ways to be efficient and strategic when you’re giving your music away for free.

So, here are 4 practical steps to maximize giving your music away.

Should you give away your music for free?

1.) In lieu of monetary value, you can get something else in exchange.

One of the ways you can continue growing your following is by growing your social media accounts or e-mail list. This way, you can actually keep in contact with your fans with new music and tours. To make sure that your loyal fans stay connected with you, offering free music (it could even just be a single) in exchange for a follow or e-mail is huge and pays off well in the long-term. Treat all your music as something that holds monetary value, because it does. So, if you give your music away, what will you ask for in exchange that gives back value to you? A great example is an e-mail for a single. This way you can keep in touch with those new fans.

2.) Use the freebie as promotion and marketing.

Give meaningful function and some type of “currency” to your freebie as it relates to your overall marketing strategy. For example, you can give it social currency. In other words, if you’re goal one month is to grow your Facebook following, ask for a “like” in exchange for a freebie.

If you want to bring attention to something else you’re doing, like merch sales, you can offer a free exclusive single when someone purchases a tee.

3.) If you’re starting out, released a single, but don’t want to release a full free album, leverage snippets on social media.

People hardly ever buy anything without listening to something first. So, snippets are super helpful when making a purchasing decision. You can offer snippets on Soundcloud, sneak peaks on Instagram or mini-live sessions of singles before the actual release. Get creative with how you draw attention to a release, but most importantly make sure you’re providing soundbites to let them in on what they could enjoy.

4.) Create a pay what you want campaign.

NoiseTrade is a platform that allows you to share and distribute your music to fans for free. Usually, when you download a free song, you’ll need to put in a zip code and email. And for all artist downloads, you have the option to tip. For many popular artists, they walk away with substantial revenue.

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