Free Music as an Online Music Promotion Strategy

by Matt @ Kurb on May 12, 2009

Just recently on the hypebot blog they reposted a seth godin blog on understanding the point at which the “free music” model ceases to serve the purpose of adding value that can be monetized later down the track.

So I just thought I’d like to talk about the purpose of free music and business model strategies based around a free offer.

The fact that the free model is being scrutinized in the first place indicates the reality of the shifting commercial value of such products – specifically recordings of music.

As I’ve said before, this doesn’t mean that music has no value, that’s ridiculous. It means the recordings are losing their value and the commercial viability of the value that fans, user, consumers derive must be realised now in a whole new way.

Giving away the music free helps to build the artists exposure and brand to the point where it is a viable business enterprise.

One of the most important and simple concepts that Andrew Dubber puts up on NMS is that in order to get people to like the music, they must first hear it. That’s why free is a strategy to create access, to create engagement, because if you’re throwing up walls, creating “friction” as they call it, you’re making it hard to create the kind of fan access where it’s easy for your ideas to get out there and spread virally, authentically by word of mouth. No marketing campaign can beat it.

For a band that is trying to breakthrough I honestly don’t see the point in charging for your music excepting where it is driven by an existing fan demand. Sure you run 100 physical copies of your latest CD, because you know your fans would appreciate it, having one of such a few.

Sure – package up a comprehensive and exhaustive content product that you charge a premium for when you know the fanbase demand exists, but not just  to make $5 per cd. That’s only like $500. That’s not much, you’ll need all of that just to pay my fee so you’d better start thinking about the bigger picture.

You’re not going to make decent money until you’ve worked like a dog to build a bubbling fanbase that can be worked, but how are you going to get the ball rolling and building fans if you don’t give people access to what you’re doing so they can go deep into it, get their head into it, and become crazy about what it is you’re doing?

If you’re on one of our online music promotion packages and you’re paying for us to bring targeted traffic to your platform where you are able to manage interactions with fans efficiently, it’s not going to be a special experience for your fanbase if you’re not allowing them develop their interest in you by actually experiencing your content.

If you’re not allowing these people who are already engaged enough to visit your website and sign up for emails to actually enjoy, endorse and share your content then you’re not giving them much value to get excited and rave about and you’re not allowing the opportunity for them to create value for you by spreading your music and your brand so you can get more serious numbers on your side.

Because – and this is my broad point – if you’ve only got 100 fans, that’s not enough to be serious, you need to be thinking big, thinking long term, if you’re thinking about a career as a musician, you need to be thinking years, years of giving away your music until you reach that critical mass, that point when all the building and work you’ve done to build up your fanbase takes on a life of it’s own, and you are ready to become a professional musician who’s fanbase is prepared to support what they do financially.

I believe if you’re real, and you actually front up about it, fans will grow with you – to the point where you can say there are 1000 people who know and appreciate what you do enough to want to contribute to ensuring you can continue to do it.

Until your music grows beyond that, beyond your personal struggle into something a comunity or tribe loves, then I think for the sake of your brand – which is now the real money earner, not the songs – that you should give your music away free.

And if you want complete online music marketing and management, our prices start from US$500 for 3 months. I deal building fans and making money – websites, traffic, google, advertising, email management, social media, all that stuff –  not the publicity part where you try and get other people to tell lots of other people about your music.


SETH GODIN: If you want to know who’s a newbie on a film set, just watch what happens at lunch. Major films have huge buffets laid out for cast and crew, and the newcomers can’t resist. It’s FREE! Over time, of course, the old-timers come to the conclusion that it’s just lunch, and the crew gets a bit more jaded and learns some self-restraint as well.

The first time a previously expensive good or service is made free, we’re drawn to it precisely because of the freeness. The fifth time or tenth time, not so much.

Free online has two distinct elements, then…

Breakthrough free, like the first free ebook or the first free email service, and sample-this free, which decreases the cost of trial and lowers boundaries of the spread of an idea.

But they shouldn’t be confused. As the market for free gets more crowded, we’ll see more and more people promoting their free products, stuff that people used to have pay for. A complete shift from ‘you will pay’ to ‘it is free’ to  ‘I will pay for ads to alert you it’s free’ to ultimately, ‘I will pay you to try it’.

Free by itself is no longer enough to guarantee much of anything. (Here’s Kate’s take, which I just discovered.)

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