(UPDATED) If you follow the arguments surrounding file-sharing close enough you'd assume that file-sharers are the kind of moral lacking scum of the Earth that would consider pushing their own grandma into moving traffic or, that on the weekends, they shoplift from Best Buy and are slowly working up the confidence to start robbing banks. Of course, we all know that's simply not true. Most fans that file-share are like you and I. With the slight exception that they don't even have an idea that folks like us have invested thousands of words debating, contesting, and trying to make sense of how we feel about the notion that music fans think music, the most beloved and precious thing that we have, should be free and not be paid for.
How dare they even attempt to justify not paying musicians for their music?
Songs that move us, transport us, and make us quiver with notes and words and feelings about things that we are incapable of expressing ourselves. Well, here's a look at four of the reason why fans file-share your music that you can change:
1. Unaware of Other Options
Despite our best efforts to promote the alternative music consumption system and the beautiful sites that the web has brought us, I'd argue that most people have no idea about most of them. Now, try to say this three times fast: Project Playlist, Pandora, Last.fm, HypeMachine, Grooveshark, Microsoft Zune Pass, Spotify, Rdio, iLike, TheSixtyOne, Rhapsody, MOG, Napster, Slacker Radio, WeAreHunted, and on and on again. These are all great ways to legally listen to music online and stream songs for free. But do enough fans know about them?
I seem to recall a study from last year that said most Europeans had no idea Spotify even existed, yet there was talks of stricter and harsher punishments for file-sharing. The hard thing is that humans are very habitual creatures. If a fan downloaded BitComet while they were in high school and found themselves in possession of a Demonoid account, they likely haven't bothered with legal options. It works, always has what they want, and has fast results.
Simple solution: If fans are file-sharing your music and have no idea they can stream it on Grooveshark. Then, tell them that can. On the contrary, if fans are downloading your music and it can't be streamed easily; it's your fault.
Andrew Dubber has been hammering this into people's heads for years now; it's worth repeating. Fans want to hear the music that you have before they are going to buy it. Since they may be unaware of the other options to stream your music through—that, or you've sadly decided not to upload your music to them—they are going to download your album and listen to it.
Not solely because they want to own it or would've otherwise bought it.
No, they really just want to hear the songs and make sure they aren't rubbish. Only in the past would fans buy music without hearing it; they'd listen to a single or two on the radio and decide to buy the album.
Today, they want to hear every single song—maybe even live with them for awhile—only then will they consider buying the album.
Simple solution: Make it damn easy for fans to stream your music and download a few songs. If they want to hear your music; it means they are in the process of discovering if they like it. Not that they are going to buy it.
3. Don't Know You Or Trust You
Most artists these days don't have the benefit of mass marketing. The complete and utter saturation of the radio, retail, and TV. Due to years of commercial radio and MTV, most fans are fairly familiar with a number of acts. Thus, just because they've heard of them before and have a history with their music, there's a thin veil of trust; its small, but it's enough. Even the vaguest recollection of their story puts major label artists ahead of you. Fans trust Nickelback's capacity to make singles with the same faith that they trust PopTarts still taste like cardboard.
They know what they're getting themselves into—even though they know they should've gotten Toaster Strudels instead; they still got PopTarts. Why?
It's a brand they trust to taste the same every time, just like Nickelback. If your last album wasn't up to par or you changed your sound; it's time to rebuilt trust.
Simple solution : Gradually build the trust of your fans overtime and make compelling music. If they are going to buy your music, they have to get to know you and learn to trust your music, otherwise, they're just file-share it.
4. Too Many Clicks Or Your Offer Sucked
Hit music enthusiast and author Jay Frank nailed this one. "Every additional click to the process likely decreases the number of potential people who may hear your music," he writes. "Make sure music is only one click away in as many places as possible. The fewer clicks, the more potential fans."
You have to take into consideration both current and potential fans, the experience they have when buying your music, and make sure that the process is seamless and takes as few clicks as possible. It may very well be that you can't make your album have less clicks than BitTorrent. But you have to be close. Also, what are you selling that they can't download?
Take one glance at the tiered incentives on Kickstarter or Pledge Music and you start to see that there are plenty of neat motivators to tie into your record. If they wanted to hear your music and couldn't, they already have your music.
So what are you offering that they can't download? The game changed. Fans need more incentives to buy now. Flogging music by itself isn't always enough.
Simple solution : Some fans may only want your music and have nothing to do with you—that can't be changed. But it's up to you, not them, to make buying your music as few clicks as possible and it has to be better than free.
TO BE PUBLISHED NEXT WEEK: 4 Reasons Why Fans Are File-Sharing Your Music (That You Can't Change...)