What Happens When An Artist Makes Their Music Free For One Day [CASE STUDY]

Andy OthlingGuest post by Andy Othling who makes
music as Lowercase
, is the guitarist for Future of Forestry. His blog is dedicated to helping
independent musicians build a fan base.

There’s a lot of debate about whether giving away your music for free is a good practice or not. Some say that it devalues your music and keeps people from taking you seriously. Some say it’s necessary to get people intrigued and listening.

This post isn’t meant to convince you of one of those opinions, but rather to show you the effects of an experiment I did a few weeks ago. I wanted to see what would happen if I made all my music name-your-price (with a $0 minimum) on my Bandcamp page for 24 hours.

The Setup

Here’s how it worked: I scheduled an email to go out to my mailing list at 1am on October 4th telling everyone that all music was name-your-price with $0 minimum and asked them to tell everyone they knew about it. I also scheduled some Twitter and Facebook updates for the same time asking people to spread the word about it for the next 24 hours. After that, I had tweets scheduled for every 2-4 hours and Facebook updates scheduled every 4-6 hours over the 24 hour period reminding them of the promotion.

The Results

Obviously one result of this is that lots more people got my music for free. They entered $0 and got everything they wanted. But some other interesting things happened.

Lots of downloads means Bandcamp popularity

Since there were so many more people downloading my music (for free or not), my albums got bumped up on many Bandcamp lists. The image below shows the best-selling ambient albums for that day/week:

As you can see, all six of my albums are at the top of that section. Awesome! Also good to see Karl Verkade there!

Being higher on lists means more new visitors

Because my music moved up on some of Bandcamp’s lists, it became more visible to others who were perusing the lists that day. Below are some screenshots from Bandcamp’s stats page for this day:

So over 100 people checked out my music as a result of the Bandcamp home page and another 50 did because of the lists like the one I mentioned above. These are people who weren’t previously connected with my music.

People actually did spread the word

I was pretty unabashed in asking people to spread the news about the “free” music for this 24 hour period. Because of this, someone took it upon themselves to post on Reddit about it. This brought in more new listeners, as evidenced by the below screenshot:

Once again, 202 new listeners just from asking people to spread the news!

People still paid for the music

Now you’re probably wondering about how this panned out in terms of money. I was anticipating a drop in revenue, because that’s usually what you expect when you start giving things away for free. But what happened was that in a single day I made more than 2x what I normally do on music sales in an ENTIRE MONTH. Yes, you read that right. More in a day than in two months of regular sales.

I don’t quite know how to explain this, but I think a lot of it is based on reciprocal generosity. People seemed to really appreciate that I did this and responded by paying more than they normally would. I was blown away by people who decided to give more for an album than it would have cost them the day before.

The most important part: connections

More money is great, but in my opinion it’s not the biggest success of this experiment.

There you can see that in one day, I added almost 450 email addresses to my mailing list. That’s 450 more direct connections that I can make in the future, and 450 more people who can spread the news when I do something like this again. This is way more exciting to me than money.


So what happened here?

  • Lots of people got my music for free
  • I made an unexpected chunk of change
  • I gained lots of new listeners and connections for future releases

To me it seems like everyone involved came out happy. There were really no costs to me for doing this experiment, rather the gains were huge. And my listeners were not taken advantage of. One final statistic and maybe a slight cost to me is that my paid download percentage went down from an average of 22% to 8%. But given everything else that happened this doesn’t bother me at all.

So what does this mean for you as an artist? That’s a little harder to say, as so much depends on what you have in place and the fact that everyone’s situation is different. Hopefully one thing this does is show you the value of experimentation. You’ve got to try some things to see what your fanbase will respond to. You’ve got to learn about them just like they’ve learned about you.

Question: Have you experimented with making your music free or name-your-price? How did it work out for you?

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  1. Andy,
    Thanks for sharing the results of this experiment and congratulations on your success with it.
    One thing we’ve found here at Nimbit that has been highly effective is the practice of following up with people who received free music a short time later with an offer to buy something.
    Follow up has proven so critical to an artist’s success, that we built automatic follow up with fans into Nimbit’s new Promo tool.
    Are you planning on following up with these fans? And if you do, could you share with us how that follow up campaign goes?
    Best regards,
    Carl Jacobson
    Nimbit, Inc
    PS If anyone is interested in learing about our promo tool, you can read about it here: http://www.nimbit.com/nimbit-unveils-first-roundtrip-promotion-tool-for-musicians-on-facebook-twitter/

  2. Hey Andy,
    Thanks so much for being open and transparent with your experiences here.
    What you described above is what we do on a regular basis at http://www.noisetrade.com.
    It’s our goal to help artists find a new fans, and we’ve found that there’s a large audience of music thirsty fans (we have over 725,000 in our community, and it’s growing each day) out there willing to offer up a bit of info. (we collect an email address and postal code) in exchange for the change to try new music.
    I see you play guitar in Future of Forestry, who we featured with great success earlier this summer. I also see that you noted using NoiseTrade for Lowercase Noises as well, with lesser results. While a lot of our artists work to drive traffic to their NoiseTrade pages via social media, we also offer a series of curated features to shine a light on artists that we like and feel our community will also enjoy, which offers a wider reach via our email newsletter and the fans that visit our homepage.
    While we’ve been able to play the matchmaker role for a lot of artists ranging from up and comers such as Matthew Mayfield and Last Bison to more established artists like The Lumineers and Dr. Dog, we also echo Carl’s comment below in that the power in making this connection with a new potential fan is in how you nurture it afterwards.
    We’ve found that if you have a strong plan in place, and allow yourself time to gather this data, do an initial outreach (angled more towards just an introduction), then you’ll have plenty of opportunity now that a connection is made to direct them towards a clear call to action (be it a pre-sale for a new album or upcoming tour).
    We’ve also found that from the artists we’ve pulled recently after they’ve run a campaign with us, their retention rate is above the average (with most unsubscribe rates falling in the 1%-3% range) and the percentage of new contacts often falls in the range of between 85%-95% of their overall giveaways.
    All this to say, no matter what mechanism you choose to give your music away with, there’s a viable argument that the effects can be overwhelmingly more positive than most would expect.
    These days, it’s all about finding new outlets to leave an impression and develop a lasting relationship with a fan, so if you value that sort of relationship, it’s worth considering these experiments such as the one you just undertook.
    Thanks again for sharing and please do keep us posted on your continued results.
    Christopher Moon
    Artist Relations

  3. As a new artist and unknown artist aiming to get out there , if you have not got a aspect of free music available your dreaming.
    I find the hardest part is getting people to know about it , lets be honest ” internet fans ” are not really fans, if you have 2000 likes or whatever, less than 10% are genuine fans that will have a look at your website and Download your music.
    If your a fan of Ryan Adams and ol Outlaw country click here

  4. This is stupid. It’s one experiment, one day for one act who probably have an established following, mailing list etc?? Why don’t you go away and experiment for a month or 6 with the same data – it’s called data analysis and then report your findings. If you’re still top of Bandcamp and making a fortune, by all means shout from the rooftops about it.
    I’ve read the Blog post. So, what you’re saying is that if everyone gives their music away free they will rise to the top of Bandcamp lists? Bull. If everyone does it then it simply isn’t possible – demand, supply and the old rules of an economy. Another thing, if you care about musicians and their ability to make money, then you shouldn’t be encouraging them to give their music away for free or experimenting with it and publishing it. You should be experimenting other means where they can make money like live gigs, selling merch. at their gigs etc.
    How will we ever come away from the pathetic industry we have now with the freemium model that exists if people like you who claims to champion musicians and their rights, are promoting the very thing that’s destroying music.
    Thanks for your time.

  5. I think it may help readers like Patrick above and myself understand the effectiveness of your experiment if you provided some background info on your existing fan base. How big were your Facebook and Twitter followings? How big was your existing email list?
    And Patrick, I think you missed the point that it was a 24 hour sale. Like a Groupon for a single artist. No one is advocating for free music 24/7.

  6. Giving your music away for 24 hours in order to sell more units in the future is way different than the “freemium” model. It’s a business strategy. It’s also an EVENT. Don’t be so bitter. I share your views in general about free music, but this isn’t a bad idea.
    Side note: Why is Hypebot allowing the comments section be taken over by companies shamelessly plugging their services? Definitely beginning to feel like 2009 Myspace on here. Not a good look.

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