The Value Of Giving Away Your Music For Free

Giving-awayBy Farah Joan Fard from the Sonicbids Blog.

If you saw the headline of this article and the words "giving away" sent chills down your spine, I hear your fear. We're all well aware of how often artists are asked to work for free, and I know how seriously you take your music career.

With so many conflicted reports that have come out recently – from this past December’s article in Spin regarding Spotify’s payouts, to a slightly disgruntled Grammy-nominated artist revealing his royalty statements – it would appear that the only way artists can survive is if they scrape together every penny they can possibly make off their music. (Be on the lookout, because the digital age is promoting change).


However, the dilemma is always going to be that as a new artist, you need a way of getting your music heard and attracting new fans in the first place. So rather than shutting out potential ears, pay-what-you-want or free singles allow people to explore your music at a no/low cost risk, and can actually end up earning you more money in the long run than if you had specified a price tag. Interestingly enough, other markets have taken note of this and have delved into this model as well, as detailed in this Freakonomics study.

So let's explore why giving away your tracks can be priceless:

1. It's a taste test for your audience's ears

Television pilots, trailers, food samples, trial size cosmetics… lots of industries bank on giving consumers a sneak peek. Music isn't that different. After all, countless musicians become well known once people hear their song on a television show and Google it to find the source. Giving your audience a taste of your sound will lead them to your other work!

2. You're giving music bloggers access to your music via their audience

Often enough, a PR rep will send me a download link of a single or album in hopes of a review. I have to be honest, though… it's so much easier if I'm sent a link where the track is streaming already. Not only does it save me the step of unzipping a file or going to Dropbox, but I can link to it or embed it in my review post, share it on social media and more. Easy accessibility is key here.

3. The domino effect of free is invaluable

How many videos or tracks can you think of that have gone viral and required a purchase? Exactly.

Many artists promote their free tracks as a contest or as a way to build their fanbase and community. For example, Tweet for a Track allows users to snag your song in return for promoting your music. Some bands will give away a track when a new fan subscribes to their email list. Others allow fans to download a free single when theypre-order their new album, like The Gaslight Anthem recently did.

The weight of building this following reimburses you, so to speak, by gaining followers to help you get gigs and boosting your visibility to industry execs like music supervisors.

4. Free isn't forever

A free download or stream doesn’t have to be permanent. Lots of high profile artists allow fans to listen to their new single or album for a limited time, like Fiona Apple and Daft Punk did. When there's an expiration date, it creates a sense of urgency that will make your audience more inclined to listen immediately – and if they like it, they'll do the promotion for you by spreading the word.

Some musicians offer a "pay what you’d like" deal for downloading an album. When asked about this model at the last Rethink Music Conference I attended, Amanda Palmer compared it to when she was a street performer and could expect to make a certain amount each day. In a nutshell: With a price tag, people feel more inclined to illegally download.

On this kind of "honor system," people feel the need to give something – which in many cases, could be more than what you would have charged.

There are many opportunities to make money with your music, from licensing to playing shows to merch sales to music publishing income. In fact, there are over 40 types of revenue musicians can make! As long as you remain up-to-date on the on the different types of revenue streams that are available to you, not setting a price tag on your tracks every now and then can help you build your fanbase and your bank account.

Farah Joan Fard is a writer, drummer and media professional with experience in music journalism, licensing, performance, producing and audio engineering. You can follow her work at @LaParadiddle.

[Photo of The Gaslight Anthem. one of many bands who have offered a free single to those who pre-order their new album, by Drew Gurian.]


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  1. Giving away music for free, may well be a marketing tool, but having it taken away for free without your permission is certainly not, it is plain old theft, and intermediaries that are making your music available for free without your permission make money of it!

  2. it depends what you define as “giving away.” the lines get a little blurred in a time when there is so much music streaming going on, although there’s no arguing that selling a cd or download is far more profitable than someone streaming your music. my advice is to give away a downloadable track or two for promotional purposes, but not the entire ep or album. i’ve noticed on spotify that many new releases will let you stream a track or two from a new album, but that’s all until X number of weeks have passed and your sales have bottomed out. it’s a good policy if your band is already well-known, but with a newer artist i’d probably allow more streaming than that because the immediate goal is to establish their name with the public.

  3. Stupid idea, but if you can spread it everywhere, it might be real communism. For instance, I could come to car dealer and take a car promising I will once come to rally or other type of the show so he can earn some money from selling beer there. Lets distribute movies free, why to fight people that try to record a movie in the cinema. We could also get some electricity free. Or better, lets make a trend to come to the restaurant to eat for free, we could tell so many friends that your pub serves great meals, could not not we? Great. I really don’t understand the way of today’s thinking. Everything for free. Stop it people, or we’ll cry a lot within few years.
    Music is an art (or I hope it is yet) and should stay that way. You can feel true emotions of the real musician, share them with him, be amazed of his way of thinking etc. This cannot happen with any of those “pop” or other TV stars cooked overnight somewhere in marketing department. Those pop (hip-hop or other) stars are just products making money. The way you suggest is the last steps to kill any pure emotions in the music. It would become pure business, because and of course, there are many “musicians” that better sell themselves then play any instrument or that are kind of “exceptional”. So stop this way of thinking. This is damned direction…

  4. I belonged to a website called MyFamily that allowed a free limited version, and a more extensive version with more storage for a fee. They are going out of business and shutting their website down. Why? Because the vast majority of subscribers never moved over to the paying group! They had lots of “fans”, but not enough paying fans. When they tried to introduce a few ads to generate some revenue, customers rebelled. Why? When people get stuff for free, why would they pay for it? Streaming services are great, but they need to become or remain paying services at some early point after the recommended sample taste. People do not value what they don’t pay for. After years of this “publicity” becoming the norm in the music business, we are to the point where many people believe that offering music for free is just fine and can lead to actual money(like this blog). They have become conditioned to believing music should be free, and getting to the payment part is a distant destination for artists. I’m pretty sure that the music industry executives are not working for free! Artists have always been taken advantage of by the business side, and this is nothing new. But what is new is the scale and speed at which this can be done in the electronic world.

  5. This is a tired, Freehadist Mind Set, that has been around for over a decade. The proliferation of “legitimate” free music, mostly sub-standard material, has cast a dark shadow over working musicians, half of which we’ve lost over the past ten years.
    This isn’t new thinking, the revolution’s over, actually it never was a revolution. It was a con.

  6. I give away my music for free on my site. It’s the best way to get your message across. The fact is that most people can get their music for free anyways if they want to.
    Marketing is all bout giving people what they want. Giving your music away for free is a great way to build an audience if you’ve got a good landing page set up to capture a users email in exchange.
    But also remember that some people are not that tech savvy. Often times a free download is a more complicated exchange than just buying the song on itunes or streaming it on spotify.
    As musicians we need to find a way to deliver our music in the easiest way possible while allowing our super fans to engage and support us through other channels. (merchanise, crowdfunding, live shows etc)

  7. I give away my music for free on my official website as well. It is indeed the best and most powerful marketing tool.
    Unfortunately, some artists do not understand that people can and will download anything that can be downloaded for free. I usually read ridiculous statements posted by artists like “let’s go to restaurants to eat for free as well” or “let’s go to a car company to get free cars.” All those are really ridiculous statements simply because food and cars cannot (yet) be downloaded for free.
    Some day, everything will be available for free. Music (and movies) is only the beginning. There is something called ‘human evolution,’ and it is very exciting.

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