Giving music away free is not a smart strategy. After all, free music is everywhere and doesn't pay the bills. But embracing free music as a stepping stone to more fans willing - even wanting - to give you money, can be a powerful strategy.
By Dave Kusek of New Artist Model
Technology. It’s provided a lot of really cool opportunities for musicians. I mean, now you can create incredible quality music with your laptop, you can release that music to the world with the click of a button, and you can connect with a global fanbase from your home.
But – and this is the big but – for a lot of musicians all that opportunity hasn’t necessarily made their lives any more secure revenue-wise.
I’m sure you know the story… Free music is everywhere so it feels like no one is willing to actually pay any more. Even music instruction is available for free online on sites like YouTube now so even side income from lessons seems to be dwindling.
As a result, the average musician – whether it’s your career or passion project alongside your day job – seems to always run into the same brick wall: “How do I compete with FREE?”
What if I told you that you don’t have to compete with free music? That you should embrace “free” into your approach for promoting your music?
No, I’m not saying renounce money and go live in a cave with an acoustic guitar. I’m saying USE free as a stepping stone – a point of entry for new and potential fans to come into your camp and get turned on to your music and a small piece of your overall approach. Let’s take a look.
A lot of musicians will look at the idea of giving away free music and think they are just throwing away potential income. But it can actually have the opposite effect. It can help you create fans who will buy more music, merch, and tickets – if you use it correctly.
Think about how you discover new music. Let’s say your friend recommends a really cool new band. Are you going to go out and buy their album right away? Probably not. You’re going to get on YouTube or SoundCloud and listen to a few songs and make your decision from there.
So once someone has heard a song on your YouTube, what’s the next no-brainer step they can take? They can download it for free by trading their email address. It’s a little bit more of an investment on their part because they’re giving you access to their inbox, but it’s still a relatively painless step.
And now you’re getting permission to contact them again – and that’s key. That contact will open up the door for you to send them more cool stuff they can buy. So we’re opening up the potential for them to be repeat buyers.
Not sure what to send your fans when they join your email list? Download these 10 free email templates: 10 Attention-Getting Email Templates for Musicians
One Size Does Not Fit All Fans
And now to dispel the common myth: Fans DO want to spend money. They want to support you – it’s up to you to one, give them the opportunity to, and two, figure out what they want to buy.
Giving stuff away for free can also help you piece together the puzzle to figure out what fans really want to buy.
Here’s the thing. As musicians, we tend to group everyone into one category – fans. And that category includes everyone from people who literally just found your music to hardcore fans who have been following you and supporting you for years.
But all of those fans have different interests and want to buy different things. Some fans might like collecting merch, other fans may be musicians themselves and would be totally into lessons and instructional videos, and some may want signed stuff and exclusives. So if you just give them a chance to buy a $10 album, you’re missing out.
Get to Know Fans’ Interests
Here’s where free stuff comes in. Seeing which fans opt into which free offer can give you hints at what they’re interested in.
So someone who wanted one free song may be interested in buying the full album. A person who entered a contest for a chance to win a big merch bundle may be interested in buying a new merch design you come out with. A fan who opts in to get a gear list for your pedal board may want to buy a bonus version of your album with the Pro Tools files for remixing OR PDFs of the tabs and sheet music. And a fan who comes to your live Q&A streams on YouTube may be into meet and greet packages at upcoming gigs.
In most email programs like MailChimp you can mark these interests automatically by segmenting your list into “groups” and adding hidden form fields on your opt-in forms.
So try to go beyond just offering free music. Think about the things you can sell and figure out what you could offer for free to sort your fanbase by interest. This is where free stuff gets to be really powerful in your overall approach.
Build a Ladder
Once you get some free offers in place you can start building a ladder – something that will work your fans up towards bigger purchases and move them into the realm of superfans. Start piecing together your free offers so you’re constantly giving your fans free stuff and simultaneously figuring out more and more about them and what they want.
This approach is taken out of the New Artist Model Essential Music Business Course. As you can see, the strategy is designed especially for indie musicians to work in today’s modern music environment – not the industry of 10 years ago. If you want more up-to-date and practical indie musician success strategies, check out the full online course. Or sign up to get 4 lessons for free.