Given everything that the music industry's been through, it's understandable that the word "free" can often evoke a negative reaction when dropped in music business circles. That said, however, judiciously applied giveaways can yield decidedly positive results in the long run.
Guest post by Ben from Subreel
To some musicians, “free” is a curse word. It’s understandable, an industry that has been turned on its head by piracy is bound to try and cling to the value in its products. However, it is vital to adapt, and free giveaways have proved to be an effective tool for Musicians and Bands to grow their fanbase. You have to play the long game, and although you may be sacrificing income in the short term, it may help you to build a fanbase and make a living out of your music in the future.
Not all giveaways are created equal. Once you’ve accepted that giving things away it is easy to burn off some CDs and hand them out at gigs, but it is easy to look amateurish. The value of music has been changed by not only piracy but the fact that a musician or rapper can get their hands on a decent microphone and record to a decent standard at home. The perceived value of a homemade CD is next to nothing, and unless you’ve made a lasting impression on someone, the CD is likely to get thrown in the bin or lost in the glovebox of a car somewhere. You need to be willing to put something in up front and provide value for nothing.
So, how are you going to stand out in a world where everyone is trying to steal your audience’s attention? Your giveaways need to be professional and preferably unique and quirky. Consider the difference between being sent a link to a 90s looking website to download some MP3s with no artwork, or being sent to a professional website or even bandcamp page with a clean cut EP with artwork and a professional description. Even online giveaways need to grab attention. If you want someone to download your latest EP, even for free, you need it to look appealing.
Some of the cleverest ways I have seen free giveaways are used to add value to other products. Many musicians’ income streams have switched from music sales to merch sales and live performance. Free giveaways can be tied in with ticket sales and merchandise as a way to reward your fans and make it more likely that they spend money on your site. A T-Shirt or gig tickets can be a more attractive prospect if it comes with a free download, or even other free products like stickers or even a CD. These things cost very little to produce but can serve to reward loyalty and make your fans more likely to spend money on your products.
The reality is that buying music in the “traditional” way is dying. Rap duo Run the Jewels grew immensely in popularity by giving their first albums away totally free on their website. They went from relative obscurity to winning awards for their live shows within a couple of years. Had there been the barrier of a $10 price tag on their albums, would they have grown so quickly? Would they be enjoying the success of playing Glastonbury? When quizzed on giveaways, Run the Jewels said “To give them the record initiates and offers a certain type of trust. And if you like the record, you'll come out, and you'll rock the record. And that'll be enough for you to want the next record. And now, they bought merch, they gave us a year of great shows, and then they asked, when is the next record?”. I hesitate to put such corporate terminology on the model, but the word ‘freemium’ springs to mind. Give some away for free and monetize at a later date.
I see upcoming musicians trying to sell their CDs for $10 a go all the time. If there is demand for it, there’s nothing wrong with it, but the truth is that putting this barrier in the way of people hearing your music can be detrimental. Musicians don’t become musicians because they love marketing, but it is important to know a little bit about this area.
At the start of your musical career it is important to get as many ears to hear you as possible, and executing free giveaways can create more success over time.