Reverse Piracy: Pirate Your Own Music

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Face it. Music sales are being bastardized by “pirated” free downloads and the free will of consumers. Sure, the legal digital music market is growing but it won’t pick up the slack for declining CD sales because singles rule the market.

Analyzing the purchasing habits of the music-buying public, it is quite clear that they are much more interested in spending money on singles than on albums. Even if you were to distribute your songs and albums online through iTunes and other popular e-tailers hoping to sell some music, it’s still inevitable that people will find and download free digital copies of your music. Whether you like it or not.

This is a war you can’t win so don’t shoot yourself in the foot by trying to fight it. If you’re gung-ho and you think you can win, I urge you to consider how well the major labels have fared in the ten years following the great Napster debacle. Cooperate with the inevitable and you’ll be a lot better off, I promise you.

Free vs. Paid downloads
Believe it or not, free and paid downloads can co-exist. To make it work you must have an appetite for innovation and a fearless entrepreneurial spirit. Why not revolutionize music e-commerce by placing a “Buy” button side-by-side with a “Download” button for your entire catalog of music on your website? Yes—every single song and every single album.

The majority of you won’t try this because you’re afraid that you’ll lose sales. That is a legitimate concern, certainly, but imagine the good will you’ll build with your audience by doing this. Good will establishes a positive relationship with you and your market. Those relationships develop into sales when properly nurtured.

Give the Customers What They Want
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes.

When a song or artist has captured someone’s interest enough that he or she seriously considers a purchase from that artist, many of us will download the music for free before we buy it. This allows us to become intimately familiar with that piece of music so we can be absolutely sure that buying it will be worthwhile. However, as you all know, downloading one simple song can sometimes be a more frustrating process than need be–navigating through treacherous, spam-infested illegal download sites and P2P software for just a few minutes of free music to put on your iPod.

Eliminate this pain point for your customers and you will endear yourself to them. Let your fans have the option of downloading for free or purchasing downloads from you and make it easy for people to download your music for free right from the same online destination they can buy it from–your website.

Create Value For Your Customers
First, your free downloads should include all the vital ID3 tags and your CD artwork. This effectively puts your free downloads leagues above a large percentage of “pirated” music available online since many music files on the Web have incorrect song information or none at all.

Next, package your paid downloads with extra goodies and premium digital content to increase the perceived value of your product, thereby giving people an incentive to own the paid versions of your downloads. The premium content and goodies you include are limited only by your imagination—be creative! (click here for ideas)

If you want to innovate even further then you could have your “Download” buttons link to direct downloads from your website AND link to downloads of your music from popular P2P networks and bit torrent portals. This provides additional options for your picky and demanding customers to get your music. Adding this nifty feature makes life easier for the individuals in your fan base who download all their music from one main P2P network. This feature also has the added benefit of increasing the likelihood that your music will be listened to since it will be downloaded to the same central directory on the downloader’s computer as the rest of their music collection.

One Last Piece of Wisdom
Not providing a free download option isn’t going to stop people from downloading your music for free, so what have you got to lose? At least if they download from your website (instead of elsewhere) you can collect their email address and add them to your mailing list. Now that’s something to think about.

Beat “pirates” to the punch by pirating your music yourself.

Dexter Bryant Jr [d.BRYJ] writes and produces dance rock and electro crunk music. His primary areas of study are music business 2.0, music marketing, digital marketing, new media, and music publishing. Dexter helps organizations expand their brand presence online and he is currently the Digital Marketing Director of Dynasty Music Entertainment and d.BRYJ Music Media Group. Learn more @

10 thoughts on “Reverse Piracy: Pirate Your Own Music

  1. We musicians are facing some tough issues, true. I remember when ‘singles’ were the big thing. Think ’45’s
    some thoughts of mine are that things change. If one studies the history of music makers; things have been much worse. The cheese always gets moved. The people that take the music do it because they can. welcome to now. Do not worry, just be the one who comes up with a better mouse trap, and you will have more cheese than you can handle. I love live performance, and that’s where the $ is, even if it is a much tougher road to drive down. It was that way in ’60’s too. This may be a time when things cycle back around and fame and fortune are built ‘on the road’.

  2. I think it is a good idea to “pirate” your own music. In my experience I have found that over 90% of my income each year comes from playing live shows and less than 10% from online sales. So my big push right now is to get more gigs.

    The more gigs I get the more money I make. Maybe this leads to online sales, maybe it doesn’t. But in my case, I’d rather be out playing the gigs, working on music, and working on bookings instead of trying to get more online sales.

  3. You people are idiots. Instead of catching the pirates and putting them out of business you are putting both yourself and the pirates out of business. What does that accomplish? Did anyone here forget to read the “I have rights” book? This is a horrible article and should be taken down for providing absolutely stupid advice. Then again you idiots are probably enablers. What are you thinking by telling people this insane b.s.? Would a car dealership give away free econo-cars in hopes of people coming back to buy nicer ones? Hell no. If you make music then it is your product and your income. If you are good at something never give it away for free. There is nothing wrong with making money while providing good entertainment or a good service as long as you do not break laws. You diptards make it sound like giving your music away for free will stop the pirates. Ever think that there are plenty of people that do not know you are giving it away for free while the pirates sell it? The answer is to stop the illegal activities but you tardstains just don’t get it because you are so passive. I suggest you take this aweful advice down so that other musicians don’t see how ignorant you are.

  4. Great article! The comments I’ve read so far have some valid points but I just wanted to add 1 thing on the goodies.

    In stead of making the goodies an extra track, or a higher quality file, Why not make it something tangible? Such as a sticker, keychain, bottle opener, etc. ? This would elevate the music so it’s more than just a folder full of files and everyone likes getting stuff in the mail.

    The only downside would be shipping but if it’s something that is small enough to fit in a mailbox then it would work for everyone, even if they live in a city apartment and it wouldn’t cost very much. A sticker would be one of the cheapest things to send.

    Even if it’s not a tangible thing, you can maybe include a discount on concert tickets or some kind of discount. Or if you have a sponsor then maybe you can email them a coupon for buying the album. Let’s say the sponsor is Coca Cola, just for example. Then after your fan pays for and downloads your album from your site, then they will receive an email or something with a coupon for something like 15% off their next purchase of a coca cola product.

    Thanks for this great article Dexter, I look forward to your upcoming articles.

  5. Jen and Vince you both make excellent points. All of the strategies you suggested can increase sales by giving people reasons to buy.

    I choose to pirate my music because my goal is to have all my songs and mixtapes widely available and circulating online. While I do believe that I might lose potential customers by giving away everything free, I’m confident that my gains will offset my losses. At this stage of my career exposure is more important to my idea of success than money. If I achieve a high enough level of exposure then business opportunities will present themselves (even if most of my listeners aren’t buyers).

    When it comes to selling my music I focus on corporate customers and B2B music buyers. The paychecks from these deals can be substantial (enough to keep my business afloat for another 3-6 months). In addition, the companies licensing my music have the ability to increase my exposure much more than a single consumer ever could (no matter how huge of a fan they are).

    Thank you for reading and contributing your thoughts Jen and Vince.
    Cheers to your success 🙂


  6. Yea Jen, I’m with you 100%. I think MOST people would not go back and purchase it if they were offered a high quality MP3 for free. Another alternative is to offer 1 or 2 “bonus tracks” for free as a thank you for paying for a download or two. We will be doing this on our next release, which will be out on March 26.

  7. In my personal experience, I may download something for free, with the most genuine intention of buying it later … but then later I get lazy, or busy, or financially tight, and I never come through (BTW, I have never “pirated” music illegally – I am talking about free downloads such as those mentioned above.)

    Beating the “Pirates” at their game by whoring your music about and degrading it’s monetary value is not a stellar marketing technique, in my opinion. I think the only thing it accomplishes is that it gives honest people who would otherwise have bought your music an excuse to say, “Oh. This is free. They must not need the money.”

    Here’s what I recommend as an alternative (or a compliment) to the marketing technique described in the article above:

    1) Make the free download a poor quality MP3, so that it doesn’t sound terrible, but it doesn’t sound great either. Give them a reason (besides extra goodies – which by the way, you can usually find a way to steal too) to upgrade to your higher quality music.

    2) Stream your music online so that people don’t have to download it to know whether or not they like it (hint: this also drives up your webstats like mad).

    3) Offer pre-purchase samples / clips that are longer then just 10-20 seconds. Give the listener a whole minute, and (if possible) select the coolest part of the song to feature.

    Love in Music,

    Jennifer Grassman
    Recording Artist
    DiscMakers Customer for Life (o;

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