Why You Should Never Give Out Your Music For Free

You should not give your music out for freeGiving 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.
People listening to your musicIf 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:

  1. You should be selling it. And,
  2. 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.

21 thoughts on “Why You Should Never Give Out Your Music For Free”

  1. Great advice for people who are serious about their music career.

  2. Thanks Pasha, glad you found it useful. Don’t forget to share it with others. 🙂

  3. Interesting article, most of the music artist in this present generation needs to read this.
    Things have changed in the music business

  4. Agreed. If all artists were acting in the same way regarding their music distribution, we’d have a lot more control. Unfortunately though, the chances of that happening are very slim… Let’s let as many people as possible know though!

  5. Great advice. It’s food for fight. 😉

  6. This is an interesting article but I’m not sure I agree with it all. In today’s world artists need to think differently and if that means giving some content away for free to monetise other content and revenue streams then there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Look at the freemium gaming market – 7 of the top 10 social games are all freemium and Zynga is now worth more than Electronic Arts! Artists should think about releasing their content in different ‘windows’ like a film of TV show – people will pay for exclusive or premium content. Artists must also look beyond recorded music and explore new and more creative revenue streams. I have started to write about this on my blog Disruptive Music – please read and share your thoughts.

  7. You make a good point Shep, and one that I do agree with. The methods that I suggest still aren’t charging people for their music, but they are getting something in return. An email address, a share.

    In a way it puts up a small barrier for people, but a good one. A lot of people that download free music may listen to it once and never again. They just done it because it was there at the time, not because they have an interest in you. People that are willing to share your songs or give up their email address are more likely to become a proper fan, and not take your music for granted.

    People can still hear your music for free via Youtube videos and limited streams on your site, but if they want the full download they should have to either pay or compensate you in some other way. That’s only fair considering you put the time, money and effort into making a song they could enjoy?

  8. Here’s my experience: I’ve given away music for free in exchange for email, that way I can build a list, but what were the reactions from the people I sent it to?

    Well at first, they were all ears, and actually requested it after hearing it on my youtube channel, but after I sent it, things got quiet. REAL quiet. Never heard from most of them again, and in my opinion it is because the performer/audience dynamic was violated.

    People worship musicians, and you very well can’t worship someone who’s another average everyday person like you, so you must maintain a barrier between you and your listeners. You can always stop by and comment on their channels, blogs, etc. but anything beyond professional and OCCASIONAL contact would be like that annoying guy who blogs about everything he does, all day long. Just my opinion, but I hope it helps.

  9. Jhonny, I couldn’t agree more with the ‘barrier’ you should be putting between yourself and your fans. I think in some ways you should stay interactive with them (Talking on the FB page and tweets etc, as long as it doesn’t take up all your time) but doing too much can ruin the way they see you. Like you said, people often ‘worship’ musicians. Giving them full access can upset the fan / musician balanace, and hinder your music career.

    I’d say keep a good relationship with fans, but make sure what people see most of from you is the good music.

    Just out of curiosity, what were you sending the people on your list? It is a strategy that does work, but sometimes it takes a few edits to you find a style of autoresponder that your fans want to hear about. I’ve got a case study of a good mailing list coming soon, so sign up and stay subscribed to be informed about when that comes out 😉

  10. I agree and disagree with much of this article.

    First of all, the author’s definition of “free” is good. I don’t believe in giving away music completely freely. As Jhonny said, I think giving an album in exchange for an email address is a great way to go. Besides, great bookings would be a very tangible “return” for free art, I think.

    The author says, giving out your music for free “Doesn’t Make People Want To Listen To You Any More”. I agree. It’s the quality of your music that makes people want to listen to it, regardless of cost. If your record sucks, then charging more for it won’t do you any good. On the other hand, if your record rocks, then people will listen whether free or fee. If your free music won over a fencepost fan who would not have purchased your music otherwise, then that person is 100% more likely to purchase any future music you create.

    The author says, giving out your music for free will make “People Come to Expect It”. Maybe, maybe not. That’s complete presumption. Having one free album available for download doesn’t automatically make everyone expect you to give all your other albums away for free. Let’s say you’re releasing your 3rd album for purchase. Why not make your debut (1st) album a free download at the same time? It would likely generate extra buzz and draw fresh attention to your whole body of art.

    The author says, if you give your music away for free “You Will Have a Lower Perceived Value”. Not if your free music is amazing. Just google Josh Garrels.

    The author says, if you give your music away for free “You Will Lose Money”. Agree, IF you give ALL your music away for free. How about making it a freebie once it “breaks even”? Or if you have newer material available for purchase as I said above?

    The author says, if you give your music away for free “You Will Lose Motivation”. That depends on (1) what your motives for making music are, and (2) if your music sucks.

    So, we all know that giving away everything one creates would be stupid, obviously. But free music is free music. And like millions of others are saying today, so too I say.. why not?

  11. Hi Evan, great comment! Just for the record, the author’s name is Shaun. I’m him.., hi. 🙂

    I just wanted to make one thing clear: Nothing in this article is set in stone. As with everything in life, there are always exceptions to the rule. Having said that, the points I make in this article are ones that I have seen to be true the majority of the time. Of course there are going to be people who do well by giving out 100% free music and their fans buying all of their albums later, but the majority of the time it doesn’t work like this.

    The way I see it, if you have people buying your music, there will be people who will be able to get it for free anyway. There are people who buy every new CD out there solely for ripping it and putting it up for download on their site. Because of this, shared with the fact that people can view your videos for free / hear your songs for free if you get them on radio etc, you don’t need to give anything out for nothing at all.

    Buy asking people to re-tweet / sign up to your mailing list to get your ‘free’ song, you are filtering out the serial downloaders (Read: People that don’t ever pay for music). On top of that, you’re getting the people who are more genuinely interested in you on your list.

    By all means give you music out for free if you feel the need to, but from what I’ve seen making it a mutually beneficial process works best.

  12. While this article may apply and be useful to people who want to be successful in gaining money with their music, the “Who do you make your music for”-part greatly bugs me. It seems to me that you’re promoting the notion that it’s either making money with your music, or sing for yourself under the shower, which is a very superficial view on music in my opinion. I know there are a lot of artists who don’t want to gain money with their work, but still want to reach people and convey a message. Just saying! 😛

  13. Hi xuniap. I’m not implying that at all, it’s important to make music that you’re happy making and you enjoy. Having said that, if you want to make money from your music and gain more exposure, there are ways to go about giving it out for ‘free’. As in you should exchange it for contact details, social shares, and the like. If people like your music, why wouldn’t they want to help you out when they can? That way you’ll get your music out there more, and people will get to hear you more. It’s win win. Anyone that doesn’t want to make money from their music, that’s fine too. 🙂

  14. If you create a YouTube channel, monetize it and put ads over it. Simple. That’s free music to your listeners and some money in your pocket.

  15. The amount you get from ads over Youtube is very low though Sam, and won’t make you any decent money unless you get a LOAD of views every day. Unfortunately, most independent musicians aren’t in that situation. And if they did get that many views, it would more profitable to monetize those video views in another way.

    There’s nothing wrong with putting up Youtube videos, when I said not to give out free music, it was more in terms of song downloads. Thank you for your comment though.

  16. Interesting article and comments on the business side of the independent music industry. I just saw a report that album sales in the UK were down by 10% in 2012! We may want to concentrate our marketing strategies on moving singles.
    Billy D

  17. Shaun, I can’t tell you how enlightening this article was for me. I have a dilemma that I would value your opinion on however: Sometime between the span of late March/early May, l, I am planning to release 2 EP’s, one titled ‘Black X’, the other ‘Y White’. I was thinking of releasing both of them at the same time, yet only charging for one of them, that way I could see essentially the difference (if any) in amount of download/buys for the paid EP alongside the free EP. This way, I would know how to calculate my fan base and it would give me a clearer view of what to do going forward. I am confident in both EP’s appeal, as I am hoping/assuming that upon listening to the free EP first (as I’m sure most people will do) they will in turn be willing to purchase the ‘fee’ EP afterwards. Do you think this is a good idea? I would appreciate your feedback as well as anyone elses.

  18. Hi Ludwig. I do actually think that’s a good idea, using a free CD as a feeder to a paid one.

    What I would do though is put less tracks on the free EP, and more on the paid one. So for example, if you had 3-4 good tracks on the free one (You don’t want to give them too much, just enough to whet their appetite) then put 6-8 on the paid one.

    Be sure to let people know they can buy the paid EP on your free album cover, on the CD print, on the actual CD (Audio) and on your website etc. Give clickable links on your website, and easy to remember links when you talk it on your CD.

    I’d love to hear how this goes, keep me updated.

  19. Hello Shaun 🙂 Greeting’s from Portugal . First i wanna THANK YOU for sharing your wisdom and insight’s and second i want to ask you why is it so hard to reach the persons that look for the type of music i produce (downtempo,ambient,easy listening,chillout,jazzy,instrumental,triphop,beat’s,etc…) ? How can i reach my public? I mean if i knew how to let them all know would they buy it ? Is this where music advertisement and marketing comes in ? Or it’s just a question of luck ? I know that my music has quality but damm it’s been hard to reach people . I had also listenned to many talented artist’s that have the same ” problem” . Could you give me an insight on these questions PLEASE ? Thank’s in advance .

  20. Hi Bruno. It can be hard to get your music out there, and it does take both of those things you mentioned (A lot of marketing and some luck). A good idea is to reach the people who like your type of music by going to the established platforms in your genre. It may take a while, but get them to play it and that’ll give you the best chance of success. Good luck.

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