There has been a lot of discussion and opinions shared about the impact of an artist giving away their music for free.
Benefits - great way to get your name out there, build a fans base and potentially get people to come out to your show, maybe even sell some merch. That’s the dream anyways…
Draw back – you RARELY see the return on your investment. I don’t care how you argue it, giving away your music for free is a loss leader. You can argue that it’s more important to build the fan base that will potentially pay to come see you play live or buy a t-shirt at your show, but in the end when you give away your music, you are devaluing your music. I personally feel that when you give away your music, you devalue music as a whole.
Let me give you an example. Facebook. Facebook is free, but if they started charging a fee for it tomorrow, would you still use it? Even if you said “Yes, I’d pay for facebook” how long would you continue to pay for it once you realize that no one else is on facebook anymore because it is no longer free.
Another example…free samples at Costco. How often after trying something at one of those booths do you turn around and buy whatever they are sampling. Or let me ask you this...do you remember what you tried the last time you were at Costco. How big of an impact did that free sample have on you?
Now at the same time, every once and a while when you try a free sample at Costco, you or someone else does end up buying the product. I know I have. Just like when someone download’s your track for free, they may turn around an buy your whole album or decide to go to a show, maybe buy a t-shirt. I know I have.
Building an audience by giving away music is a gamble. If you are going to give away your music for free, be smart about it. Give away a track or two…not your whole album. Do it for a limited time, not an ongoing free give away. The longer it’s free, the less valuable it will become. Know WHY you’re giving it away and what the goal is. Make people earn it. Don’t give it to them…make them ask for it.
I could keep this going, back and forth about the benefits and drawbacks of giving your music away for free, but in the end I think the argument that will always win is that good music is good music. Doesn’t matter if it is free or not, people want to listen to good music, music that appeals to them and if they have to pay for it, they will.
Recently, Forbes magazine published a list of the “Best Free Albums of 2011” which I found interesting for two reasons. The first, Forbes is a recognized business oriented magazine and they’re even weighing in on the benefits and draw backs to giving away your music for free. The second, somewhat proofing one of my points as to why you shouldn’t give away your music for free…I don’t recognize the name of any of the artists on this list…
Please feel free to argue, agree or post your own thoughts on this subject.