‘Make money by giving your music away for free.’ Now there’s a notion in need of some major analysis. It’s the kind of statement which at first sounds preposterous, but then you remember that musicians today are forced down a road in which traditional money making avenues (buying music? Who does that anymore?) have been almost completely obliterated. So perhaps the mantra ‘give and ye shall receive’ should actually become your new favourite marketing strategy.
If you are indeed a musician who’s been swayed into thinking that uploading all of your music onto a platform which offers you no financial recompense in return, because you believe it’s the only way to go about luring in a potential fan base, I would ask you to reconsider this decision. In fact, I’d go as far as to say you’re actually doing more harm than good to you and your music’s chances of ever being taken notice of in any meaningful way.
So ok, I get it, even the biggest bands on the planet don’t make the same amount of money as they once did from traditional music sales. Some opt-in to giving out the odd freebie now and then, and all but a limited few have their entire back catalogue’s available across the plethora of streaming services which currently operate, and which offer a pittance in return for each play of a song.
But what these musicians have which you probably don’t is a (large) dedicated fan base. People who may not want to pay to hear their favourite artist’s music, but who will still stream their songs online incessantly and , more crucially, part with their cash to buy merchandise and live tickets. If you’re a musician at the beginning of your career chances are you don’t have any of those things yet. That’s why now is the perfect time to think about how you might attempt to overcome some of these hurdles.
That’s not to say that giving away songs as freebies is always an inherently bad idea. But there are smart and stupid ways to go about it. If you make a habit out of giving everything at the start of your career away for nothing, chances are you’ll still be doing it when you’re a seasoned pro on the live scene. Why? Because what you’re actually saying, to anyone who is listening, is that what you’re creating has no value. So why should it in the future?
Allowing people the opportunity to hear a taster of your music for free online is a really positive way to showcase your sound, but it isn’t something you should make a habit out of.
There’s also no doubt that having your music available on streaming platforms opens your music up to the possibility of a worldwide audience, but there’s no guarantee that anyone will listen at all. And even if they do, remember that the royalties are pretty meagre in return. You need to weigh up the pros and cons of whether streaming your music at this stage in your career is a good move or not. No doubt, these are tricky issues. There are no absolute right or wrong answers. What’s good for one musician might be entirely pointless for another, but there are some ways you can go about marketing your music so you’re giving yourself the greatest possible chance of getting at least some financial return:
1) Set up an email subscription list. Ask the people who attend your shows if they’d like to sign up in return for access to an exclusive track. Once they’ve done that you can keep them up-to-date with your latest gigs and releases and also let them know about any songs you may have available to buy.
2) When you release new music offer perks or behind the scenes exclusives alongside it. This is a really good way to build a bond between you and your potential fans. Perks can be anything ranging from an exclusive t-shirt design, to alternate mixes of the songs.
3) Set up a ‘name your price’ feature when your releases come out, rather than dictating what fans should pay. Even though this can backfire, some people will always look for a freebie, you might find that many more people will at least put something in the kitty.
4) Make your music available to stream online for a limited time only, making clear that once this period is up that the only way to have access to those tunes will be by purchasing them.
5) If you’re convinced that putting your music up on sites like Spotify will be beneficial in the long-term, perhaps think about staggering your release dates so there’s a grace period between the paid for physical/downloadable version, and the songs going up online.
What should be said though, it that before any of these strategies are going to work you need to put time into playing your songs live, engaging with your audience and building up your contacts. Unfortunately, nothing is guaranteed. But by simply uploading everything you produce and making it free, you’re doing a disservice to your talents and skills, and hurting your prospects of making any kind of money out of your talent at all.