14 Reasons to Give Away Your Music for Free

Free: it’s not the ‘F’ word anymore.

In fact, there are now more than a dozen strategic reasons for artists to consider giving away music for free.

1. Data.

It’s an easy way to collect analytics on fans, at least on copies you deliver.

2. Quality Control.

If your fans are going to pirate anyway, beating the leak at least beats out lo-fi copies.  In the case of VEVO, early releases have effectively supplanted grainy, sketchy video uploads on YouTube.

3. Leaks = Buzz.

A leaked track can create buzz in a noisy, over-saturated media space, especially if it’s a real accident (or feels like an accident.)

4. Market Research

Free is a free way to test-market tracks among core audiences, and get fans engaged in the creative process.

5. It Can Obliterate Obscurity.

Just ask Danger Mouse.

6. It’s a Great Way to Say ‘F-U’ to Your Label (and Get Dropped).

Just ask Death Grips.

7. It Can Power Branding Deals.

For example, packaging a free download into a broader branding or advertising arrangement.  In that scenario, the artist gets paid no matter what.

8. It Can Drive Paid Purchasing.

Free often coincides with paid purchasing of the exact same content.

9. It Can Drive Premium Purchases.

Awareness can lead to higher-end buying, whether vinyl, premium bundles, concert tickets, or exclusive digital versions.

10. It Enables Content Crowdsourcing.

If free can solicit feedback from fans (see #4), it can also get them actively involved in the creation of new content.  This can be achieved through stems, remix-friendly environments, or any other ‘work in progress’ approach.

11. It Can Build Brilliant Packages.

Just ask Prince about the endless possibilities.  The artist was ahead of his time when he packaged an entire album into a concert ticket, and more recently, Prince has been layering free albums into newspapers bundles.  All of these ideas were seriously groundbreaking, and made serious money.

12. It Stimulates Physical.

A vinyl purchase has value.  A vinyl purchase with a download code has greater value.

13. It promotes virality.

Just ask PSY, who worked to break down every barrier on spoof videos and derivative works.

14. It Rewards Fan Loyalty.

That is, for buying an album (with a free bonus track), attending a concert, or being part of a fan club.

“It’s not about giving it away, it’s about what you’re giving back or getting back.”

Bernie Cho, DFSB Kollective.

11 Responses

  1. RouteNote

    You can also add your free music to RouteNote and get your music onto Spotify and other streaming services for FREE

  2. James

    I can’t think of any contemporary artist that doesn’t give away *some* music free. Perhaps a more pertinent question might be: how much is the right amount?

    • FarePlay

      James, the real question is not how much, but who decides. Free can be a powerful marketing tool, but that choice must reside with the artist.

  3. Visitor

    Nah, all that’s rubbish.

    Give away your music if it’s worthless. Sell it if it’s valuable.

    • Just another voice in the air

      Not really.

      If you’re an original composer of an instrumental/acoustic band, then maybe. If you have digital instrumentation or work with heavy sampling/remixing, this is how you do it.

      • Visitor

        Giving away short bits & pieces is a good idea.

        We are, after all, selling drugs.

        But giving entire songs away is just plain silly. Unless they’re worthless, of course…

        • Just another voice in the air

          Your opinion is just that, an opinion. However, there are artists out there that thrive off of free content distribution.

          Try a dude that goes by Pretty Lights. His entire catalog is available on his site and over a 5 year stretch has gone from a late night dj to a major headliner, commanding a $40,000 gurantee or more.

          To say that his music sucks is fine but again, is only a singular opinion. Clearly his music and branding is endearing enough to warrant him some serious cash from his loyal fanbase.

          Think about it. Free content has no correlation with “worthless”.

  4. akunamatata

    We couldn’t agree more with the premise of your title, Paul – only we’d change it to: “14 Reasons to Give Away Your Music and MUSIC VIDEOS for Free.”

    HDAudioPlus created 16 gorgeous MTV-style music videos in-house as demos for our 320.48KHz “audiophile mp3” codec . We named the channel “The Greatest Show In The Universe”http://vimeo.com/channels/nobodydoesitbetter.

    These aren’t the standard YouTube variety shot with a cellphone in somebody’s basement. They’re true collector’s items with audio to die for in 320.48KHz “audiophile mp3”.

    Judging by the sheer number of embeds and links running into the hundreds of thousands all over the planet, it’s safe to say our little experiment sure got our name out there.

    Now all that’s missing is for the record labels to wake up to the fact that fans of Luis Miguel for example, have been clicking like mad, for months on our video to “buy” the respective albums – with nothing on the other end!

    He-LOW… Awesome audio in video sells. Just because we’re giving away the show for free doesn’t mean the labels have to!

    Paula Wertheim
    Executive Director- HDAudioPlus/Baroque 247

  5. Carl [Nimbit]

    Paul, great list of reasons.

    I’d like to add one important suggestion: If you’re going to give away music, make sure you follow up with the fans who accessed the download.

    It can be as simple as “Thank you” or you can use this as an attempt to monetize, for example “hey we’re playing a gig in your area” or “would you like to buy our album”

    This proves very effective, and we added auto-matic follow up to our promo tool, precisely for that reason

  6. David B

    Oh no, not Prince again!

    Prince has never, so far as I know, ‘given an album away’. He released his album 20Ten as an enclosure with various newspapers. Although no official figures have been published, he was undoubtedly paid a large fee by the newspapers concerned. In the UK, where it was bundled with the Daily Mirror, one of the largest-selling tabloids, it was rumored that he was paid half a million pounds. That is not ‘giving it away’. Neither did the newspapers ‘give it away’. They charged customers the usual cover price, and gained an increase in circulation. Whether the increase was sufficient to cover the cost of paying Prince is not known, but newspapers (in the UK at least) quite often include promotional items like CDs, DVDs, and paperback books, so presumably it makes commercial sense for them. The point is that the items are not ‘given away’: they are bundled into a paid-for package. This is fundamentally different from literally giving something away, in the hope of getting a return in some other way.


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