Free music is free advertising. You, as the music creator and/or promoter, need not pay a single cent to get your music into the ears of consumers. This is assuming, of course, that you’re aware of how to distribute and market your music online with social media and web 2.0 tools and you believe in the power of the mailing list.
If you think that you can simply make a few profiles on popular social networks, throw your music up on your pages, and fans will flock to you overnight-then you are sadly mistaken. However if you have come to the realization that the only fool-proof method for artists to grow their following in the 21st century is to cultivate genuine relationships with their fan base, then you’re well on your way to building a sustainable music career.
Think of free songs as product samples: the music-buying public samples your product at no cost. For those who don’t care for your music (no matter what the reason) they can easily sever their relationship with you and your product right then and there. No harm done.
For the people who like your product, they can easily dig deeper and sample some more of your music to get a better feel for your identity and what your brand represents. From there they can decide whether their values align with yours and if they would like to continue their relationship with you. If you and a potential fan are birds of a feather (so to speak) then chances are they will be ready to forge a deeper bond with you and take your relationship to the next level.
Free music increases the potential for engagement with audiences because anyone can participate. Free eliminates risk and lowers the barrier to entry for consumers. If I may use a food-related metaphor, your songs are the appetizers that will lure audiences to dine with you for a full meal—free mixtapes/EPs/CDs/whatever. A full meal provides your audience with a clearer picture of your overall vision and your artistic identity. If people really enjoy your meal(s) then they will seek yet another option (or options) for consuming the deliciousness that you offer. These additional options for engagement with you include live music, merchandise, premium products, and any unique experiences that you can offer your hungry, eager fan base.
In short, free songs lure consumers to sample your free mixtapes, and free mixtapes are the bait to lure fans to spend money on live music, merchandise, deluxe edition mixtapes, and premium-priced music products and experiences. At every stage in this chain your product must gratify whatever desires your audience is seeking to fulfill, otherwise they may be inclined to discontinue their relationship with you.
It All Starts With Great Songs
What’s important to take away from this is that everything in the music business starts with the song. Nothing on earth can replace great songs. When a song taps into something that puts songwriters/musicians/performers on a level playing field with audiences, when a song facilitates the unity and interconnectedness of a large and diverse group of people—that’s where the magic happens.
If you don’t write songs that bridge a connection between you and your audience, you’re not going to have an audience.
But if you write music that-one song at a time-brings your audience closer to you as a human being, there are endless possibilities for monetizing that relationship with your audience.
Your music is a representation of your ideas. Thanks to the beauty of Creative Commons licensing, ideas are distributed freely with proper attribution to the author/creator. The web makes it easy for great ideas to go viral—fast.
My question to you is why would you make it more difficult for fans of your work to spread your ideas? Why not give them what they want-free music-and let them market the music for you? I guarantee that word of mouth marketing is more powerful than any form of marketing you could do (or buy) yourself.
Stop complaining that the consumers you want to sell music to don’t want to buy. A lot of them actually do want to buy, but only on their terms. These people are empowered consumers and if you treat them like the traditional record business has been doing-not giving a damn about their feelings, wants, and needs; trying to force them to buy music-audiences will shun you and leave you broke, bitter, and fan-less. Avoid that miserable fate by serving consumers free music on a platter with all the bells and whistles you can dream up to make your product stand out from the competition.
Listen to fans when they tell you what they like and what they don’t like. Ask them what music-related products or services they want to buy and how much they’d be willing to pay for them. Then deliver on those products and services and make them more awesome, worthwhile, and fulfilling than your audience could have ever imagined. Give your customers extreme value with every purchase they make with you.
Case In Point
Large corporations blow millions of dollars on advertising, usually without definite knowledge of how that spending will directly convert into buyers and revenue. Companies buy advertising because they expect it to get their brand and their product in front of consumers. The advertisers hope that those consumers who see their ads will buy what the company is selling. Eventually.
If companies are willing to spend millions of dollars on advertising just for the potential that it could bring them business, why on earth would you not embrace giving away free music to advertise your talents as an artist?
Be real about how music commerce works in the 21st century and be willing to experiment with business models. And always, always, always give the customers what they want. If you’re not willing to do that then your customers are perfectly capable of going elsewhere to get what they want (and they will).
Call me loony. Call me overly optimistic. Call me a pirate who’s decreasing the value of music. Call me whatever if it helps you sleep better at night. But the fact is-as contradictory or paradoxical as it sounds-free music is smart business.
Dexter Bryant Jr. [d.BRYJ] is a Dance Rock producer and singer/songwriter. His primary areas of study are music business 2.0, music marketing, digital marketing, new media, and music publishing. Dexter helps companies expand their brand presence online and he’s currently the Digital Marketing Director of Dynasty Music Entertainment and DbryJ Music Media Group. Learn more @ http://hitmusicacademy.wordpress.com/