Giving out you music for free is a waste of time.
Yes I know, this goes against everything you’ve been taught so far. We all know how hard it is to sell your music to new fans, so the obvious step seems to be giving out loads of freebies until people are ready to buy your music right? Ummm, wrong!
The thing is, giving your music out for free can actually be doing more harm then good. By doing this, musicians are reinforcing the view that music should be free for listeners. In actual fact, musicians have as much right to make money by benefiting other people’s lives as anyone else does. Would someone makes board games just to give them out for free? Would a cleaner clean a hotel if they weren’t getting paid? Would a bus driver allow free passengers just because they enjoy driving? No, no, and NO!
In this article, I will show you exactly why giving your music out for free is a bad idea. I will also show you what you should be doing instead, and help you get your music distribution tactics back on track.
Note: If you find this article useful and want to stop other musicians making these common mistakes, please share it around as much as possible.
What I Define As ‘Free’
Before I go any further, I’d like to define what I mean when I say ‘free’.
Giving your music out for free is giving your songs out without you gaining anything tangible in return.
Yes you may get a few more people learning about you and becoming fans, but these results can be few and fan between. On top of that, a lot of these new fans will forget about you as time goes on. As they download more and more free music, your song will probably get lost somewhere on their hard drive.
What You Need To Remember
When you make your music, you need to ask yourself: Who do you really make it for? A lot of people claim they make music just for the love of it. If that’s the case, you don’t need to be reading this article. Independent Music Advice is a website aiming to help you learn the business side of the music industry, and therefore gain more fans and money. If you’re making music just for you, carry on singing in your bedroom.
If however it’s your aim to gain fans and make money, you need to remember one thing: People will only become a fan of you and your music if it benefits their lives. In other words, you’re offering them a service.
Now ask yourself this: Why are you paying to make other people happy? It costs you time and money to make music, so if you’re giving all this music out for free, you aren’t really getting anything from the deal. The people who download your music however are getting exactly what they want. Does this seem fair to you? Because it doesn’t to me…
Giving people an unlimited amount of your music for free is a big problem, and something that needs to stop.
The Problem With Giving Out Too Much Free Music
OK, so now why is giving out your music at no cost a bad thing? Well:
- It Doesn’t Make People Want To Listen To You Any More.
Just because you give out your audio as a free download, it doesn’t mean that you will get a lot of people downloading it. Even if you hand someone out a free CD, there’s no guarantee that person will go on to listen to it. Many times people have given me free CDs at events and shows. Do I go on to listen to all of them? No. And I know a lot of people are the same.
It takes more then just giving someone your music for them to listen, you have to give them a reason to want to listen. If you don’t do that, your CD will end up at the bottom of a pile and never get played.
Now the interesting thing; If you can give people a reason to want to listen to your music, you won’t have to give your music out for free! You will be able to ask for something in exchange, and they will be willing as they already have it in their mind they want to hear your music. This largely makes giving your music out for free obsolete.
- People Start To Expect It.
If you always give your music out for free, people will come to expect it. So when you start to make more of a name and you decide you want to start charging for your music, you will have a hard time selling it. After all, the majority of your fan base is made up of people who are in it for the freebies. As soon as they see they have to start paying now, many of your fans will disappear. They already have a load of your music, so what’s pushing them to get any more?
While you may get some that stay and don’t mind paying for your music, you will look back and realise you spent a lot of time and effort making people happy who didn’t benefit your career in any way. Not a good feeling at all.
- Your Music Will Have A Lower Perceived Value.
Perceived value is what people think your product is worth. If something is widely available for free, people will naturally feel like it’s not worth as much as it’s easy to obtain. This is how a lot of people think about music right now.
If however something is harder to obtain or it’s a higher price, people naturally think it’s of a better quality. Because of this, it’s sometimes possible to raise the price of your product and make more sales then if you set a lower price point.
You of course don’t want to charge so much that it’s not worth buying your music, but giving it all away for free will definitely make people perceive your music to have less value.
- You’ll Lose Money.
Making good quality music isn’t free. You have to pay to use the recording studio, for the cost of pressing up products, for marketing and promotion expenses, and for anything else that needs to be done. If you do all of this only to give your music out for free, you are losing out on money. And where does that money come from? My guess is your own pocket.
You shouldn’t be paying to make other people happy, it should be a two way thing. You should benefit from people hearing your music, and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for something in exchange for your songs.
- You Will Lose Motivation.
If you keep spending money on creating music that people don’t end up downloading, you will eventually lose motivation. If you lose motivation, what’s to keep you making music any more?
We get into music for the love of it, but there are things along that way that have many a musician giving up on the industry. If you don’t want to become one of these people, you will need to start seeing some tangible results. Giving out your music free of charge doesn’t often give tangible results, so isn’t really worth you doing.
What You Should Be Doing Instead
So, now we know you shouldn’t be giving your music out for free, what should you be doing instead? Well:
- You should be selling it. And,
- You should have some songs available to download as part of an exchange process.
The selling your music part it pretty obvious. You should have your music on a shop page of your website where people can buy it in exchange for money.
The exchange process on the other hand is something quite different.
Instead of letting people download your music for nothing in return, you should only allow people to download some of your songs if they help you out in some way. This could be them giving you their contact details, or by them promoting your music in some way. This is a win win situation for everyone. They get to download your music and learn about you, and you get to keep in contact with them or have them promote you to all their friends.
We call the songs we use in this exchange process ‘promotional songs’, and cover this strategy in a lot more detail here. In that article we look at how to give out your promotional songs (And the best way to maximise their effect), the single to promotional songs ratio, how to encourage more people to download your promotional songs, how you can use your promotional songs to encourage people to buy your paid releases, and much more.
Should You Give Your Music Away For Free Conclusion
Giving your music out for free is a huge mistake, and one that many musicians unfortunately make. When you know how however, it’s possible to let people hear a few of your songs without paying any money, but also benefit from the deal yourself. It also gives your music a higher perceived value, and makes you appear to be a cut above the rest.
Don’t give out all of your music for free and expect to get loads of fans overnight, most people will still largely overlook your music as there’s so much free songs floating around anyway. By putting a small barrier in the way of obtaining your music, you may get a few less downloads, but anyone that does download will be more of a quality fan.
If this article has been an eye opener to you (And I hope it has), please share it round on your favourite sites. Thanks as always for your support, and I hope to see your views in the comments.