Give your music away: You have nothing to loose but your obscurity

Free Hugs
The image sometimes, a hug is all what we need by kalandrakas is used under a Creative Commons License

Why don’t you give away your music for free? This is one of the sticking points in independent artist music marketing. People are scared to give access to their work for free but it can be an important tool in gathering the attention you need to make a living from your work in the longer term.

Andrew Dubber put it as well as it can be when he said, “[Giving free access to your music is a] business strategy – not [a] business model.” Of course you’re not going to make money from this but you might make money because of it. He gives the example of his excellent e-book The 20 Things You Must Know About Music Online. It has always been free but it has made him money by getting him gigs speaking, consulting and writing.

There are lots of reasons that musicians don’t want to do this and they all come down to fear,

  • Fear that their work will be devalued
  • Fear that they will be ripped off
  • Fear that the music they give away is the only good work they will ever create

It is true that as Andrew Dubber says giving your music away isn’t a business model. You aren’t going to make money from it but what are you loosing? As an up and coming independent artist how much money are you making from downloads and CD sales? If you are making any congratulations and if you’re making enough to support yourself please tell me, and everyone else, how you did it.

If you’re not making much money from media sales what do you have to loose by giving people free access to your music? I would suggest not much, but you do have a lot to gain. In order for anyone to value your work they have to know about it and lowering the threshold of access is a great place to start.

When looking for new music to listen to the choice is bewildering. There are lots of bands out there I might want to listen to. Choosing you needs to be easy. Yes, a 30 second preview helps, but I’m not going to fall in love with 30 seconds, I’m not going to listen to it several times until I can’t get it out of my head and I’m almost certainly not going to tell my friends about it.

This passing on of the good news is powerful in the internet age. If I listen to your tracks you get visibility through platforms like Last.fm, Blip.fm and MOG (other music sharing platforms are available and your milage may vary). I might even talk to people directly about how much I like your music, but I’m not going to do that unless I can listen too it. Yes, it’s free but granting easy access to your work gives it a life in the minds of the people that will hear it.

This leads on to the next point, will you get ripped off? The answer is you might, but how much will this hurt you? If you’re giving the tracks away for free you’re not loosing any money if some unscrupulous slime-ball tries to sell your music or pass it off as theirs. If you use a Creative Commons licence you have strong grounds to stop any such violation. Free does not mean you are giving up your rights to what you made at all. It’s your copyright to do what you want with. Free downloads don’t change that at all.

What if the track you give away is the best one you will ever write. Well, great! That would be wonderful. If you give away something brilliant you will get more benefit from it. Music has no value at all if no-one hears it, none, but as part of a business strategy a great track licensed for free download can have huge value.

The key to building a career, in any field, is to perform well over an extended period of time. If you only have one great song in you write it and then find something else to do. I understand how creative people fall in love with their latest work, but when it is a good as you can make it let it bring you benefit by letting other folks hear it. What good does it do you to be feted as a genius by yourself, your mum and your cat.

Now for the part no-one likes to hear, giving people access to your music is just the start. To turn this into a business model you have to use your music to gain attention and then convert that attention into fans. Fans in the sense of people who will pay for high-quality downloads or physical media and most importantly people who will spread the word about your awesomeness. There are thousands of musicians out there telling me how great they are but there are only a few that my friends whose opinions I value tell me are great. Those bands I will listen to and even if I don’t like their music on first listen I will listen again.

How do you do this? Start by reading The 20 Things You Must Know About Music Online by Dubber and How to Call Attention to Your Music by Derek Sivers. Get out there and tell people about your music. Find some fans and build a relationship with them. If you can do this you will find many benefits and your music will have a life that can spread like a beneficial virus (Seth Godin’s book is worth reading too).

Attention is a precious and fragile commodity. It is worth helping people to like you. Make it easy to find your work. Make it easy to listen to your music over and over again. When you’re a big star and playing stadium gigs is boring you. That’s the time to make a prat of yourself spouting off on the home taping is killing music riff. Until you’re there I think being listened to is preferable.

The image sometimes, a hug is all what we need by kalandrakas is used under a Creative Commons License

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Ruben Kenig

I used to play punk, then jazz. Somehow I went to music school to study composition. I wrote music and made sound design for theatre and studied film music. In the interstitial spaces of this I made websites as a content manager and project manager. I sometimes publish articles at rubken.net.