Pretty Lights Gave His Music Away & Now Has A Grammy Nomination. Should You Do The Same?

Pretty-lights-color-map-of-the-sunPretty Lights took a different approach with "A Color Map Of The Sun." Instead of sampling old records he hired a group of musicians and created music from which to sample. His efforts resulted in a Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronica Album. Yet, like his previous albums, "A Color Map Of The Sun" is still available for free download. Recently a number of talkative music industry types including myself shared their opinion on whether or not the path of Pretty Lights represents the way forward for indie musicians and whether or not we'd do the same thing if we were starting out in music.

Pretty Lights has long given his music away for free as he's built an audience for his live performances. This approach allowed him to be an early adopter of BitTorrent's marketing experiments with musicians.

With "A Color Map Of The Sun" Pretty Lights changed not only his creative approach but offered physical product for the first time. Yet he still made the album and a follow-up remix release available for free on his website.

While I've argued that such an approach is not for everyone, I do think it can work for some artists. In Pretty Lights' case he's built an army of fans and now has a Grammy nomination.

What this means for new artists today was the topic of discussion at Dotted Music in a post developed by Yannick Servant.

"Has Pretty Lights Shown Indie Musicians The Way?"

Donovans (Producer)

"When I look at the scene I’m a part of, I feel the “Pretty Lights” way is pretty much the norm…It’s a way of making your first step into the scene you’re shooting for, creating a sort of proto-fanbase composed of those individuals constantly on the lookout for new artists. Micro trendsetters, who will amplify your work through word of mouth. And this first fanbase is built by giving them interesting and fresh new content through non-mercantile exchanges."

Loren Weisman (The Artists GT Success in the Music Business)

"Apply individually – Do not copy completely…These elements need to be applied with the consideration of where an artist is at as well as being able to track for themselves what is working and what isn’t."

Christopher Knab (Music Is Your Business)

"When an artist, like Pretty Lights, breaks thru using truly alternative methods, then they start getting attention for what they’ve accomplished, and before you know it they are the talk of all the social media networks, magazines, blogs, etc. and suddenly unimaginative ‘copycat’ acts are blindly following in their footsteps!"

"Will what Pretty Lights is doing work for you? Probably not, because you are trying to take a shortcut to success, instead of doing your own pain-staking research on who YOUR fans are, (like he did) and how you might reach them."

Jon Ostrow (Cyber PR)

"I think this is a brilliant way to give your fans a unique experience and let them really become involved with your marketing machine and would absolutely do something similar if I was an artist starting out in the music industry today."

Lifelike (Producer)

"I meet a lot of emerging artists these days, and I see them all struggle, with tiny payouts from live gigs and intense competition between DJs…there are just too many players in the game…If doing it the Pretty Lights way got people to find out about me, even if it meant giving away my music for free, then why not, anything’s worth a try."

Clyde Smith (Hypebot)

"Long term I’d be most likely to use a mix of free, pay with a social action, set your own price and fixed price offerings."

James Moore (Independent Music Promotions)

"Many artists today have it backwards, recording an EP and becoming upset that no one is paying 99 cents for their tracks. Get popular. Invest in yourself. The money comes later."

The Takeaway: One size does not fit all. Base your tactics on your music, your business needs, your context, your fans. But, whatever else you do, you will have to find a way to break through the noise and making music freely available is one way to support that process.

For more on this topic, you can check out not only Yannick Servant's post but a handful of responses that were so incredible[y lengthy] that they continued separately by Neil Gillis (who focused on the role of music publisher), Loren Weisman and myself.


Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (Twitter/Facebook) is building a writing hub at Flux Research. To suggest topics about music tech, DIY music biz or music marketing for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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1 Comment

  1. I think the takeaway is spot on:
    Each project that a musician enters into will require its own unique marketing strategy. The majority of tactics that worked for other musicians won’t be the tactics that will work for you, whether it’s due to the fact that they’re outdated, were used in a different scene, or are now overused.
    You just have to keep producing, and keep finding your own way.

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