Music Marketing

An In-Depth Case Study on the Pretty Lights + BitTorrent Partnership

(UPDATED) Guest post by Michael Fiebach (@mfiebach), founder of Fame House, who coordinated a unique partnership between indie artist Pretty Lights and BitTorrent to release a customized media bundle. 

Screen shot 2012-01-18 at 9.30.55 PMWhen Pretty Lights reached out to me to work with him, I got so excited because I knew I would have the ability to be creative from a marketing and business perspective. PL gives ALL of his music away for free, and answers to exactly 0 people (no label) about how / when / or why to release his music. What was the first thought that popped into my head for potential collaborations for spreading his music beyond his already massive & die-hard fan base? Bit Torrent.

The Campaign

Here's a question: What digital media download service has access to hundreds of millions of people, who are extremely engaged in the content available through that network? That would be Bit Torrent (and U Torrent, which is essentially the same thing, just a separate approach from a branding perspective). If PL is giving away music for free already; and essentially ONLY utilizes his site to do so, why not break down the barriers of access? 

  • Put every track he has available on SoundCloud as a free stream – want the download? OK, to go to the website.
  • Put every track available on a Mobile Roadie application (iPhone version available now, Android coming soon) for free streaming anywhere and everywhere – want the download? OK, go to his website.
  • Make a download bundle of his 3 popular EPs (“Glowing in The Darkest Night,” “Making Up A Changing Mind,” and “Spilling Over Every Side”) + his newest single “I Know The Truth,” and a video from his Bonnaroo Show, then distribute those assets to 4 million people in 2 monthsincrease email sign ups by 60,000+ people, increase web traffic by 700%, and Facebook Likes by 30,000+?  
  • BitTorrent… check.

And now the power of PL’s music-for-free model has just increased by A LOT. 

The PL Bit Torrent Bundle was, and still is (as of this writing), featured on the Bit Torrent website:


The bundle was additionally an opt-in inclusion for anyone who downloaded the Bit Torrent software:


The Results

Millions of downloads in a short time period = top of Pirate Bay’s overall downloads section, and Audio section for over a month (as of this writing, it’s actually still up there):


I picked up the phone and called Red Light Management (manager for PL) as soon as I saw that the BitTorrent bundle had hit #1 on Pirate Bay. Think of Pirate Bay as the underground / music pirate’s version of the Billboard Top 100. In fact, I would say the Pirate Bay’s Top 100 might be the BEST indication of what digital content is reaching the masses on the Internet, because it includes the metrics for the millions of people “illegally” downloading content; and those top downloaded items are fairly similar to the top audio, TV, and movie downloads on iTunes and other “legal” paid services. 

UPDATE: As of 1/22/12, The Pretty Lights / BitTorrent media bundle has surpassed 6 million downloads worldwide.

 Randy Reed, PL’s manager, put it perfectly:

“Here we are celebrating hitting #1 on Pirate Bay, while major labels would be kicking, cursing, and sending take-down notices.”

The Reaction

Hitting #1 on Pirate Bay lead to reactions such as:

…and then ushered in more downloads.


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The Metrics

Effect of BitTorrent Promotion on PL web traffic:


Then the promotion went down for a bit…

Then BitTorrent loved PL so much, they re-ignited it:


PL is HUGE in the US, but we are definitely working on spreading his name to other countries, and this promotion certainly helped. 

Last month and a half, traffic to

Screen shot 2012-01-19 at 7.31.13 PM
…compare to the previous month and a half period:

Screen shot 2012-01-19 at 7.32.44 PM
Traffic from sources overseas also saw massive spikes, as BitTorrent has a large user-base in Europe.

Soundcloud plays (each spike represents when the promotion went live, twice):

Screen shot 2012-01-18 at 10.16.55 PM

 …and YouTube

Screen shot 2012-01-18 at 10.18.03 PMNextBigSound Big Picture Data:

Screen shot 2012-01-18 at 10.19.15 PM
Some Press

Screen shot 2012-01-18 at 10.20.42 PM

Screen shot 2012-01-18 at 10.20.50 PM 


My co-worker, and frequent Hypebot contributor Hisham Dahud, put it well when he said Pretty Lights’ business model is “embracing the chaos” of the current state of the music industry. And the ever-apparent, and frequently asked question is “well, how does he make money if he gives all of his music away for free?” 

Take a look at this video and see if you can answer for yourself how Pretty Lights is one of the biggest and fastest growing acts in the electronic dance music scene, and how he monetizes his business while giving all of his music away for free:

And then check out this video and see if you can guess how he creates multiple revenue streams:

 …and finally check out his webstore.

If you haven’t answered the question yet, you’re stupid… just kidding. 

Big buzz in a specific geographic region (Denver) among college kids, pursuant to great live shows and free music… leads to free great music to larger and larger audiences as time goes on… leads to more shows in more places = massive distribution of a FREE valuable product = increasing interest = $ for shows = $ for merch, then at a certain level = $ from brands. 

Bob Lefsetz said it perfectly:

"Just because you give away your main product for free does not mean you can't make money. We live in an attention economy, your biggest chore is getting people to listen, not to pay for your music."

Selling music?  Who cares anymore?

– Michael Fiebach (@mfiebach), Founder of Fame House LLC

Working with Randy Reed and Adam Foley of Red Light Management

MORE: Pretty Lights & BitTorrent Release Free Media Bundle

Disclosure: In addition to writing for Hypebot, Hisham Dahud is also employed by Fame House.

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  1. I enjoyed this a lot. A couple of comments.
    1. I think it would be interesting to get some perspective on the 60,000 email sign ups and 30k facebook likes from 4.2 million downloads. 90k fans off a 4.2 million audience. How does that equate with fan conversion from other promotional avenues radio play etc.? Are you keeping track of the new sign ups throughout the year to see how many purchase a ticket or from Pretty Lights, or are you hoping for more of a network effect.
    2. I think it needs to be made clear that this type of promotion can only work when all of the artist’s business interests are under one roof. If one company(most likely a label) makes a business arrangement to facilitate the creation and monetization of an artists content (or in the case of publishers give advance against future revenue) and the artist then gives that content away to bolster revenue in other areas, then that is a disingenuous business practice. Pretty lights controls everything and I’m assuming has not taken advances to create his music, and that is the reason he can do this.

  2. 1. You’re right that some of this positive traffic also came from other sources, but the huge spikes represent the fact that this promotion brought in a lot of new traffic, as represented by the graphics above. I think Facebook could have been better, the increase in Likes was above average though, and this promotion definitely contributed. The website and Souncloud spikes as well as the huge spike in email sign ups were definitely pursuant to this promotion.
    2. I mention in the first paragraph that PL has no label.
    – @mfiebach

  3. 1. You’re right that some of this positive traffic also came from other sources, but the huge spikes represent the fact that this promotion brought in a lot of new traffic, as represented by the graphics above. I think Facebook could have been better, the increase in Likes was above average though, and this promotion definitely contributed. The website and Souncloud spikes as well as the huge spike in email sign ups were definitely pursuant to this promotion.
    2. I mention in the first paragraph that PL has no label.

  4. Thanks for the reply
    1. I never said that the traffic came from other sources, at least I didn’t mean to. I meant you had an audience of 4.2 million which is comparable to a mid level song on the alternative radio chart. How do you think the conversion of fans from the bit torrent promotion compares to the conversion of fans from a similar audience at radio or a synch. Do you consider 90k new fans good for month and a half long promotion and 4.2 million audience? What kind of fan conversion rate were you expecting when you engaged in the promotion.
    I think you created a great partnership, and I’m not trying to say it could have been better or that something else drove it. I’m trying to get to analyze the real return of your campaign and see what can be expected for other artists if they attempt something similar.

  5. well…well. this is because selling (making $ from) music is not his business model. This type of music is throw away…who wants to own it? It’s all about the show and making $ there….so yes…in this case music is a free promotional tool to fill seats.
    but this is not 99% of the other artists.

  6. @ODB — I think a lot of people would disagree with your comment about owning this music. he has a lot of die hard fans that listen to him religiously, and definitely want to own everything he puts out. You are correct that his business model is all about monetizing through his live show, synch, endorsements and other outlets.

  7. @Frank — Thanks very much. Good points about radio. I think this conversion was WAY better than radio would be.. Do you think, out of 4.2 million radio listeners, 60,000+ would go sign up for an email news letter, and 20,000+ per day would hit a website? Probably not. As for ticket purchasing, and other revenue generating outlets, direct correlation is hard to tell so far, but I can tell you that 4 million people having PL music in the library isn’t going to hurt, and neither is the vast amount of new email subscribers.

  8. Question: Included in his free downloads are remixes of songs by other artists (Pink Floyd, Steve Miller, Kanye West, etc.). As the downloads are free, are royalties being paid to these artists? And if not, is that fair?

  9. @mfiebach: Thank you for this great piece, and thank you to Bob Lefsetz for alerting me to it.
    You illustrate a very good point: in the digital world of perfect competition, the price of a digital good is equal to its cost of marginal production (i.e. the cost of creating marketable copies of the prototype).
    Since the marginal cost of production for digital products is zero, their price will also be zero, unless artificial barriers are built up. Since it is too difficult to police these artificial barriers, the burden of proof must be reversed: anyone sharing must be considered a criminal until that individual can proof that they are legitimate sharers. In other words, only the end of sharing can destroy the inescapable economic of the digital era. That’s what SOPA attempted: the end of sharing, back to a controlled environment where you have to beg gatekeepers to be able to get it. And the gatekeepers deciding what is permitted to be shared with the masses.
    Does anybody really want to go back to that world??
    Remember, in that world, artists did also not get any money from their recorded music. They got into debt from the labels (advance) to pay for the production costs themselves (!) and giving up all their rights (!!), to be paid back from tiny royalties (!!!). Few every did. Only superstars WITH longevity who could re-negotiate their contracts AND continue to write hits EVER got paid anything from recorded music!
    The fact is that there is no music business anymore for recording-only artists. If you would like to do that, you can do it as a hobby. You could hardly do that before in the analog world, but now, in the digital world, it’s a pipe dream. Just like you will not be able to make a living as a typesetter or an iceman, if that is your goal. However, as a hobby, no problem.
    As for the rest, as illustrated here, promo your product on the web. The world is yours!

  10. How common is it in the EDM scene for this to happen though? Typically an artist would create more of an at-will arrangement with a label and then sell things as they’re made. The label gets control only for the tracks made for that contract. If you want to do this, you can easily do so as long as you make sure your licenses are all in line.

  11. The value of a label to an artist is that the label take on jobs that the artist would rather delegate to someone else while he focuses on creation. Over the history of the record business, that partnership has been skewed by greed on the part of the labels. Artists have been getting short-changed by them for years. A REAL partnership with an entity (label or not) that works for the artist can be of some value. The wonder of the Internet is that the label has been made ephemeral and the artist is back in control of his own destiny.

  12. I think it shines some light on the state of music composition. Yes people are interested in owning the music, but how much of that is because they saw him live, under, uh… the influence. Pretty Lights is a phenom but his tracks are barely good enough to keep the show going, IMO. There are lots of other producers in the same field: NastyNasty, NiT GRiT, Opiou, Freddy Todd, et al.

  13. Great for artists that can create their music solely on their computer. Low overhead and complete control. What will the impact be for musical genres that rely on a large ensemble (10-15) of proficient, educated and talented musicians that have to deliver well-rehearsed, high-caliber, sophisticated music? Slow death as we are seeing. Not to mention all the years of training to beat each other out in a cut-throat manner just to be a part of such an ensemble. What are the chances of a musical act getting started in America today if one the guys (or gals) in the band doesn’t record at home or makes videos…basically zip. Today the “band” has morphed into an extended team of skilled technicians who can record, video and market online. Do it all or perish. The days of reading sheet music are in the same category as young kids writing in cursive: they are numbered.

  14. Great piece of information here. I think it gives those who insist on getting paid for every single piece of music they create some understanding that it’s a win, win of it’s done right. Also, it’s important to note that his music is GOOD free music not ok…but really good music and it sounds like a professional recording should.
    Not mentioned as other forms of income are his roster of artist on his Label that will also make $$ for him in this system. I don’t know if you could do it on all genres of music but, it validates a lot of what most of us who root for the Independent scene think. FREE can win !

  15. A DJ, a light show and Led Zeppelin, mashed up/remixed and given away for free, so no need to pay messrs Page and Plant.I wonder if they can appreciate the irony of having been paid largely for re-working the material of the blues greats they emulated.
    And what of the professional songwriter, former backbone of our industry, who can’t even sing for his supper in this brave new world? At some point, the time will come to pay that particular piper.
    The marginal cost of production is not and has never been zero; don’t forget the opportunity cost of learning music and software, not to mention how to push the play button on the lighting console.Even the cost of distribution is not zero, and it’s going up.
    Those artificial barriers? They’ll be back, at least for those music lovers who want a better experience than piracy can provide.

  16. Sorry, but remixing other artists then “giving away” that music… that wasn’t yours to give in the first place… is closer to piracy that legitimacy.

  17. Overviper, the real value of a label is MOST IMPORTANTLY to FRONT THE MONEY for a project, as well as coordinate it.
    So while this system works for someone like PL, who can produce his music entirely on his own with limited equipment, I simply cannot understand how this model would apply to bands who require heavy production investments (multiple live instruments, production facilities, etc.). That initial investment needs to come from somewhere, and with labels suffering, less and less talented artists are able to get the money necessary to create quality songs and develop over time.

  18. There is nothing wrong about giving stuff away for free but don’t you (all the piracy proponents) think that being forced to give your stuff away for free is unfair? We should have a situation where both business models – the free versus paid – compete against each other on a fair market. If one model is superior most artists will switch to this model. But legalising piracy FORCES every artist to follow one model which is not cool.
    Live music is entertainment, it’s 80% show 20% music, it’s party and a social event. But I also like music that is intimate done by introvert artists that are not show men. Music you put on your headphone and dive into a twilight zone. This kind of music will die if nobody pays for it because live it doesn’t really work.
    Also, as some said above, imagine we have a super strict copyright where every artist is forced to come up with something new. No sampling allowed (or very expensive)! Wouldn’t that be more interesting? The charts are filled-up with covers and remixes – boring. Sure there are some good ones but I think we need more incentives to foster real creativity and not this ‘we chop up some famous riffs put a beat beneath it rely on kids who don’t know the originals and think we are super creative’-attitude. I am a DJ and I know if I play a mash-up/remix of a hook everybody knows, people go crazy – Yay, no boring. It’s the easy way out. It’s delivering what the crowd wants. It’s being a music whore who wants the cheap fame. It’s much more challenging to come up with new stuff and make people exciting about it.

  19. Similar to Puff Daddy from the 90’s, if something is sampled (such as the hook, or the chorus from a song), then royalties do not need to be paid.

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