Should You Give Your Music Away?
The Great Debate.

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No one’s arguing that the changes in the music industry haven’t tipped the scales in favor of the independents. Not only can you forge a path to success without the help of a label, you can choose from a variety of means to achieve it. But that leaves a number of questions on the table, including whether or not you ought to give your music away for free.

As an indie, CD and download sales can be a huge part of the equation in regard to your income. But building a rapport with new and existing fans and widening your reach by means of song giveaways is an easy and obvious way to get people to listen – and isn’t that ultimately what you’re trying to do?

For the indie artist, the scales seem to be tipping toward “yes!” on the question of free tracks. But before you go headlong into a giveaway frenzy, it’s worth listening to voices from both sides of the fence. And it’s always best to have a larger plan in mind. What follows are excerpts from a couple of books and blog posts that address some aspects of this debate. And we’re eager to see what comments come in from you, our intrepid readers. (I couldn’t help but insert a few of my own comments below).

(Do it!) Your Music Is Your Marketing
Excerpted from Music 3.0, Making Music in the Internet Age, by Bobby Owsinski.

The major marketing tool for an artist today is your music. It’s no longer the major product that the artist has to sell (although it still is a product), so it has to be used differently and thought of differently as a result.

Perhaps recorded music was never the product we were led to believe it was. With a vinyl record or CD, the container that holds the music is the product. While the songwriter always made money when a song was played on the radio, the artist never did, and the artist made only a small percentage of CD and vinyl sales (10-15% of wholesale, on average). [Keep in mind, he’s talking about the major/indie-label model here, not the indie/CD Baby model where you’re keeping all the proceeds from your gig sales and 60% or more of your retail sales.]

In fact, the artist made the most money on concert tickets and merchandise while touring. There was a cost involved in the manufacturing of the container that transported the music (physical material costs, artwork, and so on) that had to be recouped, as well as the production costs of the music. But if you look at music in terms of the advertising world, you see music in a different light.

If you’re selling a soap product, for instance, the production cost for a commercial to broadcast on television or the radio is trivial. It’s the total ad buy (the agency purchasing the radio or television time for the sponsor) where most of the money is spent. Even then, it’s considered part of the marketing budget of the product, which might be about 3% of total sales.

If you consider the music-production costs as part of the marketing budget in the same way as a national product, it takes on a whole new meaning. [That’s a mighty big leap, IMO.]. Since the music is considered the major marketing tool for an artist, it should be considered a free product, a giveaway, an enticement. Give it away on your website, place it on the Torrents for P2P, let your fans freely distribute it. It’s all okay. Since most millennials already feel that music should be free and have lived in a culture where that’s mostly so, don’t fight it. Go with the flow! Just as it was during the past 60 years, the real money in the music business is made elsewhere anyway. [Again, not necessarily for the indie artist.]

Further, just because you’re giving it away doesn’t mean that you can’t charge for it, either at the same time or at sometime in the future. There are numerous cases in which sales have actually decreased for an artist’s iTunes tracks when the free tracks have been eliminated.

One such musician is Corey Smith. After six years, Corey has built his gross revenue to about $4.2 million, and free music has been the basic building block of his tribe. You can buy his tracks on iTunes (he’s sold more than 400,000 so far), but when his management experimented by taking the free tracks down from his website, his iTunes sales went down as well! The free music Corey offers allows potential fans to try him out. If they email and ask for a song that’s not available for free, he just emails it back to them. He’s tending his tribe!

Another example of reaping the rewards for giving it away for free is the techno and electronica artist Moby, whose “Shot in the Back of the Head” became the best-selling iTunes track after he gave it away for free on his website for two months! Of course, you can charge for your music with enhanced products like box sets, compilations, special editions, and other value-added offerings. But the initial releases for an artist on any level (except for the already-established star) must be free to build a buzz.

(Don’t Do It!) The Value of Music
Excerpted from The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing by Randall D. Wixen.

Music is a unique commodity with the ability to touch the soul or evoke an emotion or feeling. In a film, it might take minutes of dialogue or visual exposition to create a mood or tell a story, while music can instantly convey a mood and give cues to the director’s vision. Likewise, some sports – figure skating, for instance – would not be possible without music. Restaurants and stores set the ambiance for you by playing background music.

Yet in the music publishing industry, no day goes by without someone who recognizes the value of music nonetheless belittling its value, complaining about its cost, and trying to pay less than a fair fee. It is important that writers and publishers stand tall and recognize and respect the value of their own property. If they themselves fail to recognize the worth of their product, how can others be expected to see its worth and pay a reasonable price for it? [Mr. Wixen is speaking mostly about publishing with a focus on recognizable content in this section, but there are a lot of relevant points as they relate to you as artist devaluing your music.]

The media is full of articles about “file sharing” and how it hurts the music industry. What a nice euphemism, file sharing! Sharing is good, right? We are taught to share from the time we are little. But why does the media not do stories about the theft of intellectual property or copyright infringement? “File sharing” sounds so much more innocuous than “willful copyright infringement,” which, by the way, is a felony. If I steal your car, is that “ride sharing?” By spinning articles and headlines in this manner, the media contributes to the devaluation of songs and artists.

This is not a simple problem, with only one cause and one solution. While piracy and copyright theft each play an important role in this phenomenon, and while overpricing makes theft feel more justifiable, writers and publishers who lack enough self-respect to value their songs appropriately contribute to the problem.

“This Is a Low-Budget Production.” Almost every license request a music publisher receives includes somewhere in it, “This is a low-budget film, TV show, ad campaign, etc.” No one ever sends license requests that start off with, “This is a big-budget film, with two stars who are each getting $20 million and a director who won the Academy Award last year. We would like to use the ‘cherry’ of your catalog and pay you a really nice fee for doing so.” Budgets are low because people set them low. If there is no money in the music budget of a TV show, it is because the money they put into catering and hairdressing and makeup artists dwarfs the money allocated for music. Don’t stand for it! [Except of course, that if you turn down the opportunity, another act will step up and take it in a heartbeat.]

If you tried the same tactics in real life that are used in licensing music, you’d be laughed at. If you went into a Bentley dealership and said, “Gee, I sure like that $375,000 Azure, but I only have $30,000 to spend on a car, so do you think you could accept that?” you’d be shown the door along with some shoe leather. The idea that music has no intrinsic value leads to the proposal that “you should price your product according to our budget.” Don’t do it – especially if the song being inquired after is a standard, was a major hit, or has a lyrical or other connotation that is truly special. The situation may be different, though, if someone is inquiring about a generic punk song and the artist and song could be easily interchanged with many others. [Aha! That warrants a lot more consideration. Not to mention that none of your songs are generic, right?]

“It Will Be Good Exposure.” Once they get done telling you how low they’ve set their budget and how you have to conform to what they’ve predetermined, they will pull out the old “good exposure” argument. While the licensers themselves are only working for real dollars and maybe profit participation, they would like you to please take your compensation in the form of good exposure.

Vaudeville entertainer Sophie Tucker, so the story goes, was once offered a gig at far less than her normal fee. The reason she should do it, the argument went, was that it would be good exposure. “Exposure?” she is said to have replied. “Isn’t that what you die from?”

The worst cases of “licensing by exposure” lately seem to be in the realm of video-game music licensing. With games selling for $30 a pop and shipping 4-5 million units, you’d think they’d be able to spare more than $5,000 as a flat fee to license a song. Let’s do some made-up math.

Let’s see, that’s around $150 million in gross over-the-counter revenue, and maybe half filters back to the game developer. And paying $5,000 for each of 50 songs would be $250,000. And double that fee to clear the master recordings, so we’re up to $500,000 out of the $75 million. It doesn’t seem fair, does it, when music is so integral to the game? Why not at least pay a royalty instead of a flat fee? We’re just now starting to see meaningful royalties on video games in lieu of flat one-time buyouts.

Unfortunately, some potential users will not be willing or able to pay a fair fee. But for the long-term health of the music, it is important not to devalue the song by licensing it for whatever a user offers. Bentley would go out of business if its dealers negotiated car sales that way, and so will you.

(Do IT!) Free Music = Free Advertising = Smart Business
Excepted from blog posts by Dexter Bryant, Jr

Free music is free advertising. 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.

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. [Sounds good, but restaurants charge for appetizers, too!]

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. [This all speaks to having a larger plan in mind.]

Give the Customers What They Want. 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.

Story Links:

Get 25% off and free shipping when you buy Bobby Owsinski’s book Music 3.0, Making Music in the Internet Age from Just use the code DM9 when checking out!

Get 25% off and free shipping when you buy Randall D. Wixen’s book, The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing from Just use the code DM9 when checking out!

Echoes readers get 25% off and free shipping for selected titles from Hal Leonard Books purchased at Click here to see a list of all eligible titles, and use code DM9 at check out.

Check out Dexter Bryant Jr.’s Echoes blog posts.

Learn more about Corey Smith from CD Baby’s podcast episode #76:

96 thoughts on “Should You Give Your Music Away?
The Great Debate.

  1. I have no problem giving away my songs to the people that support me through ticket, CD and merch sales but when it comes to being used as background music or something else where there is a budget for everything but the music, well thats just some straight up bull shit.

    I stream, give away and sell. I do like the donation / contribution idea some have suggested. I believe Radio Head started that and that’s what I’ll do with my next release. Also, prior to the release I am going to run a fund drive where people can be producer, co-producer and executive producer for X amount of $ in exchange for getting their name on the CD. We’ll see how that goes.

    Music for life baby!

    Share the music,
    dc / cT

  2. Hi,I created nine songs with the idea to hopefully profit from them on and all i recieved was a tiny listenership on each song all year 2010-2011. I had to end my Ubetoo contract at the end of December 2011 because of sheer disappointment and no sales whatsoever. I have promoted the hell out of myself to no avail. I copyright protected all of my songs through Library Of Congress/Electronic Copyright Office online before uploading for sale but man i feel so sad and depressed. Being a struggling artist sucks. I ended up giving away alot of my songs/album to 40 plus people over the past year and all i recieved was “Gee Thanks or i will let you know what i think. I will listen to it tonight.” and than i never hear from them again by email.

     Too much energy and money has been invested in the music creation software i have,the hours and hours of creative listening to get the techno harmonies on my own album just right and than shelling out the bucks to promote online and than to get nowhere with it.

    I am not wanting to have a band,tour or be famous..just a little recognition for making great electronic music and at least be paid a decent amount of money so that i can live comfortably.

    I won’t be giving away my songs anymore.

    Thanks for hearing my input on this subject.

     Hurting and totally frustrated.

    Jonathan 🙁

    1. I feel you man…. Just keep at it and dont be discouraged… Let your hurt and frustration fuel the fire

    2. I just listened to your work!!! Your real good man… Let me know if you ever wanna remix any of my tracks!! keep at it 

    3. I totally hear you about spending so many hours, in purchased software also in my case, laboring over the little blending of sounds in each nanosecond and on different speakers to boot … thinking about that can sometimes bring up other frustrations I have with how people see computer-composers. Sigh…

      Anyway, you made me want to check out your music but I can’t. Maybe that is actually holding you back a lot. You should use a full name, stage name, or DJ name, always link when there’s a field, and your avatar should be “brandable.”

      I know that was four years ago and I don’t know what ubetoo was, but perhaps someone can learn from this so here it is. 😀

  3. With the number of people flooding the music scene it seems to me that the only way to get the time of day from people at first is to give them some stuff for free.  Many company’s do this in many different markets.  Its just good business.  Nobody other than my friends and family knew I was a musician until they were handed a free cd like five years ago.  Now I do sell some downloads and have sold thousands of cd’s.  Im not even doing any shows rite now and my website is getting record numbers of visitors just by putting the link in a million places.  Giving music away for free is just smart… thats that…it gets people to check out what you have to offer.  Then if you are any good… You will start growing a fan base.

  4. The best programs available out there today are free. “Open Source” allows for innovation, optimization, and growth. Take Google and Facebook for example. They are free and generate revenue through ad’s. Google buys everyone out and gives tem to the public for free, ie. chrome web browser and googledocs just to name a few.

    I think artists should look toward a different approach, I believe most of the money in the music industry now is made through shows and licensing rather than music sales. I read in another article not too long ago that piraters haven’t made much of an impression on sales that would hurt music artists. I don’t know how true this may be but it sounds very plausible. Giving out free music would help promote new up and coming artists and generate more competition. In the end the result would equate to better music.

  5. All this talk about “fans” .. There are no “fans” they’re all musicians, artists or band members with music to help saturate the market.. Music has no value, the equipment, engineers, and studios have no value, just add water and you too can be an artist or star with the ability too use facebook, twitter, cdbaby or some other “fansite” to connect to potential “fans” to sell thier music.. The days of professional musicians are gone, we’ll all be giving our music and everthing else away for free in a couple years

  6. My keyboard player’s son is in an internationally touring band – they’re always on the road, doing the a kind of scream-o progressive metal type stuff (don’t ask me, I play blues.) Anyway, I was surprised to learn that their CD sales stink. Their fans download all of their songs from P2P and don’t think anything of it. But they sure as hell show up at the gigs and buy LOTS of merchandise – tee shirts, bumper stickers, whatever. Enough so that the owner of the band (also one of the musicians) can pay salaries, support himself, etc. Sometimes they take a loss, sometimes they walk off with a bankroll that can choke a horse.
    So what does this tell us? Maybe that IF you’re performing enough in enough varied (ie. international) venues, don’t mind being a road rat, and have your finances worked out, having people steal your music is the new paradigm.

  7. Here the thing with me at first I didn’t want give any my music away free,all the hard work and money I put into the music I couldn’t see me giving it away like that.I watch other local artist sell their music,for about 5 to 10 dollars that was cool I like supporting new artist some don’t.They didn’t want to play for some ones music they never heard of.So,I decided to let people hear my music so,if they brought it they know what they were buying,their were sometimes I gave away my cd’s but,it only had 2 to 5 songs the cd’s that had 9to 15 songs I sold for 3 to 10 dollars,it’s all about what people can afford to pay or are willing to pay,when their are events,or when i’m in the club not performing,My way of keeping my name out there I would have the dj make a announement about music or he would play one of my songs while introduce me,this time I give the music away next time they see me they’ll buy the next cd because they already know what to expect and they will support it.their have been times it worked and when it didn’t work.

  8. I think a good way to do is buy in buld it lower’s your cost, right it off as expense on your taxes and you can buy low and sell high and mix it with donations at gigs. Usually you can suggest donations and people usually pay $10-$15 anyway if you were good on stage. Also the stream is the best way to go so you are not just feeding the greedy gimme, gimme crowd the napster created. I’m glad that bastard got put under for ripping off so many hard working musicians and songwriters. Its funny if you went into napster headquarters and walked out with one of their computers they would have you arrested. Would they forgive you if you told them oh I’m sorry my friends at college can’t afford a computer so I stole yours!? See the mess they created?

  9. We use self-pressed/low-cost CD’s the same way people use flyers. We put 40,50+ at the venue and at a couple local businesses 1-2 weeks prior to a show. These CD’s can have between 4-10 songs – some acoustic versions, some more fully-produced.

    As a way to build a base, it is simple, inexpensive, and we can easily make this up on t-shirts and other merch.

  10. It’s a popularity contest people, when you gonna get it? People spend more money on beer in one night than they do on music in one month. Your job as an indie artist is to pack a venue out with lots of PEOPLE. Where are these people going to come from? I guarantee that no one is searching for a band they’ve never heard of to ‘stream’ music from your website. In my opinion you need a physical CD in their hands. Then let them burn it, give to their friends. I am planning on releasing an EP. Then selling complete album around Christmas.

  11. I think having some songs streaming and others for download is a way to appease both sides. The songs that are streaming can available for sale on iTunes, that way after listening to it enough times they can make that decision to buy your single and the other songs you can look at as a way to get your name out there.

  12. The problem is, fans now want other things for free, not just the music

    The “trend” has now gone to far. That’s the problem

    I have heard fans say ” The Tee shirts cost money, can’t you give those away for free too”

    Now a mentality has started to grow, other things should be free – not just the music but the shirts and even the shows

    That’s not a good thing and I see that more and more

    And, what is happening is, there is to much content, so much music and it’s free. Now what, the supply and demand chain is altered

    You gave the dog a bone but now it’s not big enough. You can state that record companies gave demos away but they never consistently gave record after record away for free and for good reason

  13. This whole article is based off of a few facts, but its also based off of a few opinions. The way i feel about is you should do what you feel. Give your music away for free may help in the long wrong. Though it may destroy right now. There where once was a song called the best things in life are free and the best way to answer the question to this article is to ask the person who created that songs.

  14. I’m one that experiment with both sides,they both work considering your level in the industry. If you are trying to get your name out there,then give it. If you have a loyal following then sell it!

  15. I think giving away music is crazy but it works if your music is good and the fans dig you they will pay for what they want.

  16. We do it & we don’t. We burn a few songs to disc & put them out by the tip jar, then tell people they are available by donation, pay what you want just leave with 1. We spend $0.10 on each disc & get an average of $5 per disc donation. Sure some go away for free but they liked us enough to take it & we usually see those people again + those that donate tend to make up the difference & we have, to date, kept a profit.
    Newer material goes up on iTunes, when it gets old it goes onto a disc & it starts all over again

  17. Is your book free? I say stream full tracks on your website, but make the download something to pay for.

    1. I’m with you on this… Streaming allows your fans to listen as much as they like. No need to give away free downloads if the intent is to let your fans sample the music. The other benefit is that the stroll your website discovering other things about you.

      Get a website and stream…. Your fans will probably love this more than wasting time downloading tracks they are not interested in. The only people collecting free tracks these days are content providers… And they certainly want it FREE!
      Come get some of my FREE streamed music… Listen as much as you like…

      1. I just started but I’m doing it that way, too. It’s really easy with WordPress.

        DIY music biz bloggers aren’t discussing that though, the streaming. Spotify is popular and easy to get music onto as well, but still, the bloggers who advocate free don’t discuss how sampling music online is so easy. Why download to sample? Do we really do that anyway, anymore? There’s usually streaming, even if low quality … but on my site I have wav streaming! Fancy that, lol.

        *shrug* I hate the idea of outwardly not respecting my craft this way. But I do want lots of listens of course, especially as I put out hit-potential “bangers.” *harumph* lol.

        1. For some reason I just re-read my comment and I want to clarify, because of words that have two or more meanings … I meant “as” like “when” not as in “since.” (…especially _for when_ I put out hit-potential “bangers…” what I’ve up now is not that banger style of pop song. Just wanted to be clear. 🙂 *phew*

  18. One detail that always seems to be overlooked is the genre of music that is being played. I play a lot of jazz and I get hired to play a lot of wedding and corporate events. I’ve been solely supporting myself on these gigs for the last 10 years. I also run a small record label. The one rule that seems true of all of our sales is that the further away from the art the sale gets, the harder it is to finalize. One sales ploy my local group of musical friends have adopted is to sell the CDs by “Donation”. That gives people the option to support the art and the artist, instead of being sold something. We even go to the point of placing 2-4 CDs in front of a large group and say, “Whatever you feel you would like to DONATE or CONTRIBUTE is greatly appreciated. If you feel you can’t pay, we want you to take our music home with you. That usually results in a sale large enough to rationalize the expense. A good friend of mine was able to sell 100 CDs for an average price of $15 a disc by asking for “support” instead of a “sale”.

  19. I think the argument can easily be dismissed entirely for a simple reason:

    The value of music production has been decreased. Go to – there are 100 people that will make you a song for $5.

    Recording equipment is so cheap now that I recently sold a very expensive piece of hardware so I could buy a better interface that cost half as much.

    You can create a basic but usable recording studio these days for $1000-1500. It used to be $200,000 in the 80s, and in the 90s, maybe $20,000 to get this kind of power. Of course, a certain level of quality will go out the door. Most people don’t have treated mastering rooms, or million dollar SSL consoles, or an army of the best engineers in the world. Invariably, music will not sound as good as it has in the past, fidelity wise. If you do some Googling, you will see that there are now 10,000 “mastering” business that didn’t exist 5 years ago. That is because they are just people like you and me that have some mastering suite on their PC. But now THEY are the professionals, and who is going to pay the real pros with custom $250,000 mastering boards and $40K in outboard gear $250 an hour when they can get Duder’s Mastering Service to do an album for $75? Again, on, you can get someone to master your song for $5. If you go on forums, you will find no shortage of people that will master your album for free, or mix your album for free. There is even a movement to set up recording studios to RECORD bands for free.

    My point is, simply, is that not only is music now free, but the services we mention when justifying selling music are cheaper than ever before, if not free.

    There is great music out there (much of the chiptune music is astonishing), but let’s not fool ourselves – a lot of it is shit – poorly produced, poorly recorded, just poor. But the tidal wave of shitty, free music is a force to be reckoned with and has changed the industry.

    I was a professional musician from the age of 14. I still perform. I still record. But somewhere along the line, I got a degree, worked in the computer business, and now I am a manager at a global wealth management conglomerate. My brother, however, is still a pro musician. He tours the world with one of the biggest artists in the world, but it is barely enough to pay bills.

    Don’t expect to make money on music anymore. You can hold on to the dream, but I have made more money playing disco at weddings than I’ve ever made on original music, and my last album had 2 million plays in 3 weeks.

  20. Oh yeah, let me also add this. If you want to give your music away for special occassions just because you want to impress your family members of your creativeness, then that’s cool. But that’s a completely different scenario than you trying to pay your bills from your creativeness full-time. Especially when your bills come every month of the year, not just at Christmas time….

    Now what I do see as a good principal for giving away music for free, which is the strategy I will be using, is if you have like an EP or Full length Album that you’re releasing, then pick 1 or 2 of the best songs from that album, and have them remixed. Remix them yourself if you’re good enough, or get someone else to do it for you. Then circulate your remix online for that song, which should of course contain ALL of the contact info about who you are, what you do, and how to get in touch with you.

    But there’s no way in the world I would spend my valuable time and effort on recording an entire album just to give it away with nothing to show for. Work is work, and I expect to be paid for my work, unless I know that I’m bartering in exchange for something worth the effort.

  21. I think there are 1 or 2 things that people are not really getting. EVERYTHING costs money. There is absolutely nothing in this world that is for free, even if you give it away! In other words, the computer that you’re using to type and the monitor to read these words had to be bought by someone. You didn’t just get it, and even if you did, it cost someone to purchase it in order to give it away to you!

    The absolute same goes for music produced and recorded. You can’t “legally” just record music without some sort of computer or h/w daw. That costs money. The software used to record costs money. Studio time for a band costs money. The microphones, cables, mic stands, and etc. in a studio to record a band all costs money. The blank CD-Rs to burn your original songs costs money. The postal service for mailing your item costs money. The phone calls to let your potential clients know that you’re mailing them a CD or expecting an email costs money. There is aboslutely nothing for free no matter how want to justify free.

    If you choose to give away something, that’s your perrogative. But understand that you’re doing it at an immediate lost, with the hope of a gain in the future. But that is what you would refer to as a “gamble”, cause you’re really not sure if what you gave away is going to give you a return to break even, or make a profit.

    And here’s another thought, why is it when it comes to music, people have this mentality that it should be free? Doctors go to school for years to study their profession. And the majority of them don’t do it because they want to make a lot of money as a surgeon or pediatrician. They do it because they really love bettering people’s lives. Sound familiar? But how many of you would walk into a doctor’s office and ask them why can’t they treat you as a patient for free? you wouldn’t dare.

    But there are tons of people that have put many hours and years of schooling, practicing, and as we say “paying their dues” all for music as a profession, only to be told by people that I need to give it away. For the most part, I have to agree with someone else’s comments. Usually the ones that are saying that are those that have been illegally downloading music continually already. So their thoughts are so desensitized to stealing, that they don’t even believe they’re stealing anything anymore. However, just because you have’nt physically touched money dosen’t mean you wouldn’t be stealing it if you hacked into a bank account and transferred someone else’s checking account to yourself electronically.

    Also, we all need to come to the realization that the music industry is not comprised of just “gigging” musicians. I have gigged in bands for a couple of years to put money in my pocket, but I never had the desire to start my own band, and still don’t. But I do have the desire to compose for film/video games, and maybe even produce albums. None of that requires touring. So there’s a bigger picture than just trying to get Facebook fans to come to your live show if you’re entirely a producer or composer.

  22. Give it away I say

    Songs from our catalog have been played by hundreds of radio stations and podcasters worldwide and it didn’t cost them a penny, in return we got exposure and promotion…..sounds like a good deal to me, that’s why many of our tracks have been released under a creative commons license and are free to download. So what if you lose out on lost sales, you gain more in the long term by increasing your fan base (If you can survive that long)

    With such an overcrowded market place giving away your music is essential in my opinion. The biggest problem for emerging indie artists today is obscurity, not piracy. To find out more listen to The Antiqcool Podcast

  23. I like this article. great presentation of both side view. but I personally think it is important to give away a sample, teaser for the audience to know and get familiar to your art. software companies do it, food companies do. and it is a great marketing plan if YOU CAN AFFORD IT.
    other wise i suggest sample of you music on your website for sure.


  24. These have all been very interesting comments as well as very interesting views on giving away or not giving away music for free. I’ve never really been a fan of spending money to not make any money at all and quite a bit of this seems to be the case.

    A friend of mine stated once, “What if every product and service in the world were free? Would we all still be able to eat and provide for our households?” I thought that was a pretty good question because I don’t think many folks would give their labor to their employers for free. Many will say that’s different, but to me it’s pretty much the same. Artists, musicians and the like have lives and families to support also and I’ve always felt if they share their gift of music with me, then it’s not a bad idea to share a good thing (money) with them in return.

    To give away a portion of music to build a fan base is one thing, but to give it all away free? You might as well not have a career as a musician and just sing on the corners around your city and/or in your church choir. There will be a new product model at some point. As someone else stated we are in transition for now, but that new product model is coming.

    C. Huey – Be Well!

  25. I think that there were some great points made here however they clearly came from people who sit in an office and postulate the reality of being an indie musician out there writing, recording, and performing instead of experiencing it first-hand.

    Giving samples away, while a good strategy in some instances, tends to only illicit a sense of entitlement from the average rock band’s demographic. Show attendance is in great decline (even big bands are moving from arenas to modest clubs in a lot of cases). It is hard to get people to come to a FREE show…so where is the margin of profit there? With this strategy, you are cutting off your own nose despite your face.

    It really just sounds like they are either 1) trying to justify their own disdain for musicians and love of pirating music by forking it over on others or 2) over-analysing the whole thing.

    Very disconnected. How about this first and last author give me free copies of their respective books and see if I am motivated enough to go buy it? Are they kidding? When you get a copy of an album for free then why go and buy it?

    I really enjoyed Mr. Wixen’s “Don’t Do It'” perspective.

  26. I think that there were some great points made here however they clearly came from people who sit in an office and postulate the reality of being an indie musician out there writing, recording, and performing instead of experiencing it first-hand.

    Giving samples away, while a good strategy in some instances, tends to only illicit a sense of entitlement from the average rock band’s demographic. Show attendance is in great decline (even big bands are moving from arenas to modest clubs in a lot of cases). It is hard to get people to come to a FREE show…so where is the margin of profit there? With this strategy, you are cutting off your own nose despite your face.

    It really just sounds like they are either 1) trying to justify their own disdain for musicians and love of pirating music by forking it over on others or 2) over-analysing the whole thing.

    Very disconnected. How about this first and last author give me free copies of their respective books and see if I am motivated enough to go buy it? Are they kidding? When you get a copy of an album for free then why go and buy it?

    I really enjoyed Mr. Wixen’s “Don’t Do It'” perspective.

    Victor has some great insights.

  27. There isn’t a single answer for every situation. For some, giving their music away may be the choice, for others, it may be a ruin. If an artist has an opportunity to tour, they may be able to earn their income with t-shirts, gigs, booklets and whatnot. If, on the other hand, a musician lives in the area with no access to public transportation or the right audience for his/her music, the options above are not available to them. Youtube does an injustice for most of the music material there (just listen to the quality of the audio) and cannot be relied on as a single source of distribution. and on, and on…
    The problem I have with free music is that it does not encourage any feedback loop. Even if you get several subscribers to your fan mailing list as a result of free downloads, this does not oblige the consumer to anything. Attaching the price to the product helps to filter out listeners who are not serious about your music from those who are willing to download anything and everything (yes, I have been through Napster rush myself).
    I have never liked the fact that most digital distribution networks offer only 30-second sound samples of the songs. Such short snippets of music, no wonder, do not provide any information about the style, mood or the content of the piece. For my web site I decided to extract sound samples of my own music myself and make them as long as I wanted. Is this the same as offering a free download? No. But will anyone argue that this is insufficient for an interested music enthusiast to decide on whether they like my music or not?

  28. I think that the idea of the internet as the model for success for the independent music artist is limited. Now you have thousands of people, recording and releasing their Cds. web sites devoted to their music, links to social sites to increase their fan base, all trying to capture the listeners attention. Online music is a tool but it won’t go far without the live performance experience to build a fan base. I am talking about artists who are just starting out and are not established. I saw the Yardbirds play, an established band, they played like dynamite! at the end of the show, as the audience walked out, they had a table with their merch for sale ( t-shirts, and their Cds) and people bought them because the performance motivated them to do that. With the internet you have a huge amount of content( music) its overwhelming. Who has the time to surf through all that? The listener has to have a reason to go to the web site and I don’t think a free download is it.

  29. There is a time and place for all things like The Beatles quoted the bible in saying a time for war, a time for peace, and if they were reading this article might add a time to pay, a time for free! Musicians, myself included, tend to claim that they make music because they love it, but why is there such a reluctance to give away some of their music if it’s not about the money. Giving has always been much better than receiving, which is not saying one give everything and receive nothing, but giving more than receiving will come back around full circle. Music is definitely a business and musicians have to survive, so give with intent to draw people back to you, whats your hook? How do you keep peoples attention once you give them a sample? Costco gives food samples and if you like it then they will give you a coupon to purchase the real deal. Give people something of true value quoted from Caleb “With a physical CD, we are giving them an actual tangible gift, with online, you are giving them an electronic file, there is a difference in perceived value”. This makes great sense don’t give crap digital stuff that gets lost in the sauce of peoples digital clutter or their iPod megamix; give your fans something they will want again, something tangible that they can hold in their hand, so they can say that it looks amazing and sounds great too, then they can tell AND show all their friends; you can’t show someone an Mp3. Things are leading to a place where you have to make money off of shows or licensing, not CD’s. A CD is like a good resume, but you don’t try to sell your resume rather get a good job (for musicians great paying shows and networking). This also depends if you even do shows as an artist. I’ve had someone say to me once that people who don’t do shows won’t be around much longer, though that was their opinion not my own it does seem to be where the trend is leading. I agree with both sides of the argument, and thoroughly enjoyed this discussion.

    Peace, Love,
    Ray Speakmoore

  30. Our CEO is a Grammy voting member of the NARAS (Grammy’s) which requires a min. of 6 commercial released songs & they had 21 before joining after working full time for over 20 years in the music recording industry. Being nominated to the Board of Directors for the ACM (Academy of Country Music) four different years but was too busy working to make income to buy house in Los Angeles Co ten mins from the beach, car, boat, RV, rental income, etc. and this was a woman named Nikki Hornsby who traveled herself in 2005 to Europe on a project to prove the marketability of original INDEPENDENT MUSIC in order to shop it to other artists to record & release. She knows what giving away music is about since she worked singing at schools and various hospitals to give the music which to her was a gift she was given to share. She met thousands of people who asked her for recordings of her original music but waited years before accepting investors $ to make recordings. She turned down three very important prior offers because she wanted to learn about the business of the recording industry vs. the club music performer which really are two different jobs. When she finally accepted a businessman’s money for recording four releases she had files of how to dos for many years and went into action to prove marketability. She accomplished this with number one on a indie radio offline chart in the USA and major radio stations throughout Europe even to the number one position & all reaching Top 5 in countries she’d never been before and could not go to do the marketing then as she worked to make house payments etc. She was a song writer that had to write songs regardless if they were recorded and to date has thousands unfinished and over 300 finished & tested in live performances worldwide. Her approach to giving away the music was to be paid for the service she provided a club which made profits on her ability to maintain a following and gain a larger one. As a recording artist her job changed to doing marketing & promotion of a product (recording) that was released to gain exposure for the purpose of the investors. She had not charted in the USA on the major charts and someone challenged that which she informed them kindly as a lady would that it requires only the money and the man who claimed knowledge knew nothing of how the system works. Then she told someone employed by the LA Times who said then prove you can do it and here’s the money but not enough for the whole project. She gain the rest of the investment and did just that by following the way of the Major Labels and paying for services which had been proven accomplished from the musicians on her sessions, the studios, the manufacturers, the distributors and the radio charting promoters at the time that took the song up the Major USA Charts. Nikki Hornsby knew how the business worked and also knew that her goal set by the investors was met. The steps of the path she is on is to have her nearly 300 songs some Spanish, Irish, German, and even her a cappella song recorded and released (licensing agreements) since she always tests them on strangers and not with family or friends. There is a reason she would sing her own songs for children or even the elderly so that she could see the response which helped he understand her purpose in writing as she has for years. The song “Music Is The Only Thing” speaks about this actual fact ” Maybe it’s not a 9 to 5 but it’s something I’ve had that’s kept me dreamin it’s kept me alive……God gave me a gift just for givin’ so don’t ask me …to throw it away”, Listen to this single woman who has given music away but never sold her soul for the price some would pay to be a super star. This woman knows the value of something is in how long it lasts strong and solid as good music even from centuries past when the arts were supported by the Kings & Queens who valued that which has no borders nor language problems as it touches the hearts of many who hear the message of the music. A gift meant to be given but not thrown away.

  31. Since August 2007: our band has toured internationally (Asia, Europe, US) and done about 150 free concerts, we have given away more than 1,000,000 songs & given away over 100K full albums.

    NEGATIVES – we have not been able to cover all of our expenses, people have not valued our concerts or music as much as they would have if we charged, we make other musicians upset, still have not figured out how to do this without working other jobs

    POSITIVES – Analytics on Google and Facebook and iLike tell us we have “fans” from over 150 countries, we have about 300 open invitations to do concerts locally (Orange County) as well as nationally and internationally, we have received several thousand encouraging comments/letters through email/social networks/concerts/mail, we stand out to those we have connected with, there is MANY MORE positives we could mention.

    MOST IMPORTANT – we believe in the Message we spread through our music and have impacted so many because of our sacrifice. We write songs about issues of human struggle (slavery, depression, abortion, addiction, suicide, homosexuality, obesity, greed, cutting, pornography, worship) and we share in each song the Hope that we have found in Jesus Christ.

    We have never shared this info because we aren’t trying to attract attention…just thought it would be another view point some might appreciate.

    Best way to connect with us is through our page

  32. Maybe DIscmakers and CD Baby should give away their intellectual property too. By turning over their code to the public domain we could all have our own retail stores, portals and hosting without doing the hard work of starting it or paying for it.

    Some give away is good. We give away a 20 song sampler from our label. It’s a shared loss. But if you get it all away what we are doing is setting up a system where our art, our content is way undervalued. If we don’t value our art to the point we we expect to be compensated for it we never will be. Everyone wants us to PAY to GIVE AWAY our work. Yes for 25 bucks you can “apply” through sonicbids to get a CHANCE to be in a film where they PAY NOTHING! WOW! Sign me up.

    Good luck folks. Gonna be a long hard ride and the artists, as always get put away wet. Free content is not a sustainable concept in the real world. There are exceptions. Those exceptions LOWERs the tide for the rest of us not raise it.

  33. Any Songwriter worth his salt want’s to have his music heard. That’s the reason you write music! So that others might hear it. The temptation then to put your music out there for free can easily overwhelm rational thought. The hope that it might pay off in the form of fans and sales, only plays to our admittedly over grown egos.

    Lets be honest. most of us have the secret notion that once the “stars align”, we will be seen as the shinning diamond in the rough that we always knew we were. Unfortunately, I think we can sabotage our efforts at the same time. Like it or not we are a community, meaning that our power is in our numbers. The good news is this discussion can help motivate us to “unionize” so to speak. If we all started to value our hard work, in the same way most of us do with our other “real job”, we might see others value our work more.

    File sharing won’t last forever. With all the money and taxes generated by entertainment, don’t be surprised if you wake up tomorrow and find the internet as heavily policed as a Lil Wayne concert. So it’s important we look forward. It’s important we recognize that what we are doing has value, not only when someone else tells us it does.

    Think about this, the fan who pays for your CD will take care of it. They will let a friend borrow it and make sure they get it back. They will actually have respect for its value. Much more than the simple piece of plastic and cardboard that it is. However, The Fan who gets it the same album for free, though they enjoy the music just as much, will treat it no different than a glorified coaster. Let us encourage it for there sake, that they might actually enjoy music even more because they gave it it’s value.

  34. There is an old saying: “Free stuff is worth what you pay for it.” Arguments about a “bigger picture”, and “new economic models”, and “smart marketing” notwithstanding, there is an immutable perception among most normal humanoids that free stuff—while maybe not worthless—is worth less than stuff you have to pay for.

    Before you endorse that perception about your own musical products, consider the difference between free LISTENS and complete GIVEAWAYS. In the former case (for example, streamed samples from your website), you’re giving people the chance to determine whether they like your music enough to buy it. In the latter case, you’ve already made the choice for them; they get the music, and you don’t get the money.

    I hear, “Oh…it’s not about the money; it’s about the music!” OK…if that works for you, terrific. Meanwhile, for those of us with actual responsibilities AND a passion for our art, it’s about both.

    The question is not whether some people will take the free stuff and never buy anything. That’s easy: Yes, they will. The real question is whether I get more sales by making my music available for free listens (as distinct from complete giveaways), even though some people will rip it. For me, the answer is yes.

    Here’s the question from a different perspective: Do you want to prevent theft or sell music? For my part, my goal is to sell my music. Preventing theft doesn’t make me one dime of revenue. But if free listens get me sales I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten, then I’m succeeding. Besides, once you release your music to the public, people who don’t want to pay for it are going to find a way to steal it anyway. You don’t have to make it easier for them, but you can’t stop them.

    But moral people—by which I mean people who recognize that voluntary, value-for-value exchanges are the basis of a free society (as in freedom, not as in price = zero) and behave accordingly — they’re your real market, not the thieves. You DO have to make it easy for them to make a buying decision. A 30 to 60-second sample of any track is usually enough for most folks to make up their minds whether they want the whole thing.

    My music is my livelihood. Anyone who tries to persuade me that I “need” to give it away has another agenda. They can sell it somewhere else; I’m not buying.

  35. I’ve come in on both sides of this fence; on one hand, it’s easy to draw parallels to other industries where products are produced and sold and where the product itself drives the company, but on the other hand the music industry (in particular the performance side — bands, singer/songwriters, etc.) doesn’t always follow such a conventional approach. The major labels have been trying to maintain that paradigm for decades, and not only have they not been very successful at it but it’s probably a major contributor to the state they’re in right now.

    For our last album, we went into it thinking we were going to come up with a solid marketing plan and had every intention on selling as many as we could. Not long after its release, however, we started giving them away. Not necessarily because we decided that giving away music was what we wanted to do, but rather because it simply made logical sense given our position in the local scene — new band, looking to build a following and get our music out there to drive attendance at our shows.

    We gave away over half of the CDs we had manufactured (by Disc Makers, natch), a bunch to anyone who asked or seemed interested, and many as “bribery” to get folks to sign up for the email list. (These were given away on the spot, but I like the idea of giving them away after they come to another show, that’s something to consider for next time.)

    If we were in a better position I’m not sure that I’d advocate giving away *all* of the music, but I think I would still want to give away some of it to entice people to want to hear the rest. We’re in the middle of recording our next project and we’ve just started to discuss what the plan is once we’ve wrapped it up. At this point I could go either way… but to be clear the last thing I ever want to do is devalue music or those who make it. As a musician for the vast majority of my life it’s one of the most important parts of my existence. I love creating it, I love listening, I continually advocate for higher-quality media rather than the ongoing consumer-driven trend of convenient-but-poor-quality files.

  36. Why You Shouldn’t Hide Your Songs Under a Bush

    We’ve all heard the old stories about the artist who submitted their song to someone in the music business and never heard back. Then, at some point in the future they heard their song on the radio as a smash hit recorded by someone else and the whole thing ended up in a contentious lawsuit or simply never got resolved. These days, some artists believe that when they put their songs “out there” they run the risk of it spreading virally and millions of people will end up listening to the song but the artist never will never see a dime.

    As in every industry, the music industry has its share of unscrupulous people so I’ll never go as far as to say that this won’t ever happen again but in my opinion, the potential rewards of getting your songs heard far outweigh the risks. Here are four points that illustrate why:

    * There are now over a million songs being created and digitally distributed EACH YEAR. There is no lack of great music and smash hits out there and an industry professional would rather do legitimate business with a willing artist than to steal a song. There’s just too much hassle involved in stealing a song and in today’s digital age. It’s pretty easy for an artist to prove a song is theirs.

    *If you don’t get your song in front of the right people you have no shot. There are plenty of artists out there who understand that hiding their music is only going to lead to never getting a deal. In other words, competition is robust and if you don’t get your songs in front of the right people there are plenty of other artists who will.
    Right or wrong, most music business professionals believe that there is no song or artist that can’t be replaced. That is to say, no matter how good you are or no matter how good your song is it really doesn’t make sense for a music business professional to try to “steal” it from you. Why get embroiled in contention with an artist and damage your own reputation in the business when it’s so easy to find artists with great songs willing to do deals?

    *Mass exposure gives you a better chance of achieving fame or reaching a deal than obscurity does. That is to say, if you are lucky enough to put a song out there and to have it take off virally you will do really well. The currency of the digital age is attention. If you get people’s attention you have a better chance of converting it into income than if you languish in obscurity. Unless you are a writer of hit songs with a proven track record, a network of contacts waiting for your next creation and top artists beating down your door for your songs you need to do whatever you can to establish yourself. Having one of your songs go viral will help you establish that. – You have the music. We give you the opportunities.

  37. I agree with both sides for certain reasons, yet i feel as an artist i do it because of my passion.
    i think if your doing it for the right reason than the rest will follow and life as a artist will be more enjoyable.
    Therefore giving music out free music is only helping one spread their thoughts.
    besides i feel if someone can listing to my music and it can help them get through the day than that’s worth more then a few bucks.

  38. I don’t think there is an end to this.. I just watched the movie 2012 and that had no end either. Every case is different; each artist unique. The way I frame the value of recorded music sometimes veers in the “the mechanic ought to fix my car for free, since the mechanic downloads pirated torrents of albums, songs, etc.” It is bewildering to think that as an artist / songwriter / maker of music that every day millions of people are using what you do in almost every instance of their lives. The value of music to people goes far beyond the monetary.

    There is no solution to getting people to buy everything they listen to. Impossible and ridiculous. There is (as some comments pointed out) an ever expanding sea of mediocrity that sounds great, but contains little emotional meaning. Lots of bands couldn’t pay me to listen to their music, let alone give it away to me – but I agree that if it is done in generosity or strategically, usually means that the music at the very least, is heard by substantially more people.

    I use a music subscription service (emusic) and listen to radio stations, pandora, websites, CD’s and whatever I can. Music is already free to stream and check out by most bands, all over the internet. Who wants more mp3’s? They are fragments taken out of context, and on a big jumbled playlist, meaningless. People don’t like to pay for things that are meaningless, or don’t stand out. Ultimately, the people who would buy it anyway and probably become a serious listener will likely see the value of what the artist is creating and how it makes them, the listener, respond. These people are most likely to want to pay for what they want.

    Lastly, I think the concept of a band-singer-songwriter-musician-etc as a brand is unfortunate. Selling keychains and all that garbage is nonsense. People don’t want trinkets and junk. People want to be intrigued and interested in the story and the “universe” the artist is creating. Whatever it takes to show people the door to your garden – and allow them to open it for themselves.

  39. Ive been a full time musician since 1990. It sickens me that musicians play for peanuts at gigs or give away their music for free. In life, you usually get what you pay for…. and in the music field in regards to playing for free or giving away music for free, the results are almost always sub par, mediocre bands or songs. Just more flotsam & jetsam in the ocean of music.

  40. Great post. Giving away music depends on a lot of factors, but its already been proven to work. Corey Smith is a great example, BUT his success goes beyond giving away the music. I actually recently interviewed Corey’s manager, Marty Winsch (Mountain Ent.), to get the full story on why Corey has done so well AND we were fortunate enough to be joined by a marketing icon – marketing sensei Mark Joyner ( – as we discussed exactly how Corey and his team redefined success. Check it out at to get the scoop on what I think is one of the best independent artist success stories in a while. As I mentioned, giving music away was part of their plan, but as Marty explains, there is a lot more to the story!

    1. John Stringer’s post sounds reasonable enough, but Mr. Stringer himself is a bit short on credibility. The link he posted promises a “free” copy of an interview with Marty Winsch, but first you have to give him your e-mail address. Hmmm…OK, but then after you give it to him you get a promise that the link to the interview is in your e-mail inbox (it’s not), but what you really need to do is get this other freebie he promises, after you “pay it forward” and send him the e-mail addresses of five of your friends…and of course, you get this groovy discount on the book he’s selling, which apparently is the real purpose behind the whole thing.

      I’m immediately suspicious of someone who asks me to give away others’ e-mail addresses. In this case, there was already reason to doubt that this was on the level, because there was nothing in my inbox. So I gave 5 perfectly valid e-mail addresses (every one of them mine), just to see what would happen. What I got was five more invitations to the same scam. And sure enough, none of the freebies — or the originally promised interview — ever showed up.

      Tell me, Mr. Stringer, how much success are you having with that business model?

  41. I’m a business coach. I give free advice all the time. It leads to paying work, and actually helps weed out people I don’t wanna work with.

    I’m a web developer. I give free advice and even do a little free work once in a while. It leads to paying work. Again, helps weed out people who I’m glad I can send on their way and don’t have to fulfill a contract.

    I’m a songwriter and a musician. I give music away, and perform free. If I were paying attention and treating my music like a business, I’d *still* choose to perform free (sometimes) and give music away (sometimes) just like my other businesses, except, I’d be making some money with it, too.

    Here’s the thing: pretending that ‘free’ isn’t coming doesn’t change the fact that people expect a ‘taster’, some kind of sample of *anything*, before they spend money. You can debate forever whether it’s *right* or not, but those who understand how the economy works will succeed better than those who ignore how the economy works.

    This isn’t a moral decision (we are NOT talking about piracy, we’re talking about artists choosing to give away copies of their music), it’s a business decision. And we each have to make it for ourselves.

    But, if anybody anywhere wants to compare *any* of my songs to a Bentley, knock yourself out. I was under the impression most MP3s cost about a buck, and I hear you can get a whole CD for ten dollars US.

    1. Comparing 1 song to a “Bentley” … He was talking about “LICENSING” a song to a major film released by Universal, Sony, or Paramount…. those major film companies DO sometimes pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for ONE song – synchronization fee, master fee, and broadcast royalties.

      As far as someone making an independent film who seriously has very little money, charge them only $100 to put your song in their film, or allow them to use it for free, no problem. What the guy was saying is when a company like Universal, Sony, or Paramount is spending MILLIONS on a film, the music should NOT be free. Everyone else working to produce, act in, distribute, and advertise that film is getting PAID. so WTF would you give a song to them FREE for ??? no way in hell

  42. There is nothing I enjoy more than giving out CDs. At Christmas each year I give out a compilation disc featuring songs from multiple CDs along with a Christmas favorite or two. When I release a new CD.. I give away a single or a 4 song EP to generate interest and get feedback. I’m not sure if it is profitable.. but it does work to slowly build an audience.

  43. If I steal your car, is that “ride sharing?”
    This is a very inaccurate analogy since while grand theft auto leaves the owner car-less, file-sharing does not diminish the owner’s copy in any way (aside from decreasing it’s rarity). A more accurate analogy would be “if I make a cost-less copy of your car and drive it around is that ‘ride sharing’?” (The answer to that question would be, “What a stupid thing to ask.”)

  44. On giving free music; Jimmy Lovine says “It must be very bad that you have to give it away for free…..”. You can follow his interview at the following link ( My take: I think giving music away for free should not be the norm, but rather a piece of puzzle in music marketing to be used as deemed necessary.
    The demos that are offered for listening on the artist’s site should be sufficient for the potential fan to decide whether to purchase or not.

    I would give free tracks to an established fan base as a way of appreciation. I think that will build our relationship and encourage them to stimulate referrals. For the indie artist who does not have a supporting team, and is totally depending on their pockets, freebies can be a game of chance or a complete sacrifice inspired by whatever faith they are driven with.

  45. In regards to Corey Smith. Idont believe his sales dropped when he took the free songs off his website. Allowing people to free stream from your website is all that is necessary for fans to try you out first before they buy. Why do you need to devalue your work with the free model? If you write good music then why should You allow fans to just freely download? Free makes sense if a fan buys a tshirt or that limited vinyl and in turn is rewarded with a free song or your first E.P

  46. Here we are back to the age old debate of ART vrs. CRAFT. Craft seems to me to be about going with the flow. Art is not so much about going against the flow but not caring about the flow, or maybe perhaps riding in your own flow. Of course the the really great artists are craftspersons as well. The “you can’t battle technical progress” argument is false. If it weren’t records, you know those long dead & buried LPs, wouldn’t be making a resurgence. Why because a whole new audience is rediscovering the tactile pleasures of holding and experiencing the art, and the actual ritual of becoming one with someone else’s musical soul. Last night I read a 2 year old article in Recording Mag urging everyone to join the wave a master their CDs & downloads with only regard to ULTIMATE LOUDNESS eschewing dynamic range. Why? because everyone else is doing it, and you need to be heard. Well I for one still believe there is a market out there for people who want dynamic range and who want music that doesn’t sound like everyone else’s by craftspersons eager to walk the plank into the ocean of sameness, just because they’ve been told they can’t hold back the flow. If it weren’t for the artists who were willing to be swept away by the backwash (Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie…) EVERYTHING would sound like a clone instead of almost everything. Make your own ocean or pond. It may not make you millions, but it might make you proud, and alive!

    P.S. why do all of the former artists, managers, authors now turned career gurus never offer to give you their services for free? Why do they charge so much to tell you to give your products away for free in the name of guerilla marketing?

    1. Only a whore gives their music away for free. A working musician will charge a legitimate price and get a respectable return. A true artist will also charge a legitimate price but no will care enough to pay for it until he or she is dead and buried.A thief will steal someone’s music regardless and will turn around a argue that it is their right to do so.

      The old models are gone. The old cassette duping argument does not hold sway today in an age when people can’t make a decent living from their craft when if you look in the right places, one can find the atrocious amounts of illegal downloading of their music on illegal mp3 sites. Until this industry wakes up and guarantees copyrights to its artists by installing watermarks and copy restrictions on all audio, video and literary works, this tired old debate is useless. But no, it seems most people on this site don’t care enough about their craft and are too immature to do the right things.

      I DO NOT and NEVER WILL download anything illegally and DO NOT listen to or even buy mp3’s. I prefer my music the way it was meant to be. LISTENABLE and most importantly, ENJOYABLE and MEMORABLE. iTunes? What’s that?

    2. Mark I totally agree with you. No one gave me one piece of gear in my studio. My attorney doesn’t talk to me without charging me for the honor. I pay the bill for the lights in my studio. I pay for the harddrives on which the virtual instruments I paid for are housed. Why in the world would I give my music away for free? I even pay to have it “played” on certain websites. I think the offense of stealing music should be punished legally. I will go out and play live. But I’ve no plans to give away what has come with such a high price tag i.e. the time to learn my instruments and vocal skills, time spent practicing while my friends were outside playing…naw I don’t think I’ll be giving any music away for free. Nope not today.

  47. Okay, so I as a musician am supposed to, by Owsinski’s concept, give my “art” away. Why doesn’t he as a writer give his “art” away? Certainly he could make money on his merch; t-shirts, hats, posters, keychains etc. C’mon now! I’m sort of tired of these ****** suggesting this “music should be free” crap. NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THEM GIVES THEIR BOOK AWAY! Not even when it’s in .pdf format.

    I have found, as someone else already mentioned, that giving away my music doesn’t work. Perhaps I’m fortunate in this regard but folks seem to prefer to purchase my CDs; not even at a discount but full price. A giveaway seems to cheapen the perceived value of my music/CDs. I’m grateful for this. Besides, I don’t have merch to sell; people into my style music are not interested in buying/wearing that stuff.

    I can see a 3 or 4 song disc giveaway working for a new artist/band to “get the word out”. But once you’ve got several albums to stand on, folks put more value in and consider you a serious artist whether or not you’re a “major label” talent.

    Will I (ever) give my music away? Yes…when the moment calls for it. I’m not opposed to that. But when someone *suggests* that I should always do it, when he/she will not give away their own art, I get a bit perturbed.

  48. I’m a one hit wonder who sold 4 million copies in the 90’s. To this day I have never received one penny for all those records sold. In fact Capitol Records still sends me a bi-annual accounting showing that I owe them $367,000.00 So i got news for you we’ve been giving our music away fro free from the beginning of time. If it weren’t for the fact that I wrote a good number of the songs ( i made publishing royalties) I’d be on skid row right now. )

    I was once at a music convention chatting with a couple major label ceo’s and I asked them what royalty they generally pay baby bands. They both laughed out loud. Looked at me like I had 2 heads and said we don’t pay bands.

    Atleast nowadays you know when your giving your music away for free.

  49. I’ve found that when I gave away my CD’s at performances that I frequently got $5.00 per person in tips verses trying to sell them and getting $1.00 tips and selling maying 4 or 5 CD’s. I was money ahead by giving away the CD’s given that they only cost me .75.

  50. Andre, thanks for the info. However, I respectfully dislike your italic comebacks inserted in these articles. Prefer to read the author’s argument as is, then rebuttals/comments afterwards.

      1. Yeah, I debated whether it was beneficial or smarmy. I even asked internally if I should omit them. Oh well, it’s done now. Thanks for caring enough to comment. Andre

  51. Give out free samplers. But don’t give it all away. Don’t give out the full package.
    I worked in a produce section at a grocery store for 10 years. 9 out of 10 people that got a free sample of the juicy white grapes would go to the register with two maybe three large packages in their cart.
    But the samples have to be of top quality in all respects. It needs to be excellent. No you can not give out a free sample of a BENTLEY – but you can let the interested party take it for a test drive.
    Make sure the music is top quality in all respects. Give out a couple top notch tracks to the people that LOVE that genre of music.
    As for TV and Film – negociate! If you know that the film or TV placement / licensing deal is definitley going to give your song major exposure – then by all means – get it done and get it out there! Even if the up front fee is not large – the feather in your cap from the exposure you get does generate lots of new fans and new sales direct to you.
    We have even worked with some upcoming independent filmmakers and given tracks to them for free and have always picked up new fans from it that ended up purchasing our entire catalog. Handle every situation on a case by case level.
    Again – if they want it for free (Can’t afford it – or not in their budget ) – STILL you can negociate an agreement. Such as – Will the song be used as the main theme? Will you give us permission to use parts of the film in conjunction with a music video? Will you put that music video in the bonus extras on the DVD? Will you make sure our name gets proper credits on the packaging? Work together, get it done and get it OUT THERE!

  52. I’m always willing to try anything that might give me one more connection to potential fans. As many above have stated, I’ve tried several different tactics, on both sides of this fence. The most noticable result is this. Either give it away, or ask a good price. Peolpe like gifts. Some people (like me) want to reciprocate when given something of value. These are the folks that can help you gain your following, not just each one of them, but all of their friends too. The main thing is to offer this gift with no strings. If it’s your music, in any form, then look at it as future income, and future fans, as opposed to present sales. I HAVE seen this in action.
    The flip side is, if you sell it, sell it for a good reasonable price. I have tried several “specials” and “discounts”, with the hopes of getting more music out there, but almost in every situation, there has been little to no response. The main reason I believe is “percieved value”. If people think you are reducing your selling price, of your music, it must be because it’s probably not that good. I’ve actually sold more CD’s at gigs where the price is set higher than I normally would ask. People may always want a bargain, but when it comes to music they love it or don’t and a discounted price holds it’s own cloud over itself, so they just say “pass”.
    My 2 cents. You have to spend money to make money. You have to give to recieve. Choose when & where you want to give your music away, but when you do it, do it with gusto!

  53. I have a long history with a small label and I am lucky enough to have a strong, though niche, catalog and a one-CD-per-year release cycle. Sales have been dropping steadily for four years, in spite of continued marketing investments by the record company and their distributors. In the coming months, my self-released music will be relaunched at a pay-what-you-want price structure with a minimum donation of $1 for downloads. The reality is, my take on a CD from my record company is less than a dollar anyway, and piracy is significantly higher due to the popularity of the label. As I increasingly have to do my own marketing anyway; e.g. more blogging, newslettering, twittering and so on, I might as well cut the record company out of the picture and offer the best possible price to the kind folks that buy my music. It’s a win – win. They get a rocking great price, I get a pay raise and world peace ensues. CD releases will remain on the table for another few years, but they will be limited to smaller production runs with more thoughtful packaging at retail price that is 50% lower than my record company currently charges my fans.

    I wonder: how long will these guys be in business?

  54. Free samples have always been a part of selling, and that practice has a place in music. But, the idea is to do it in a way where you expect to gain from the giveaway.. The idea is to cultivate and reward people who have a genuine interest in your music. For example, I offered free copies of my new CD to people who signed up for my e mail list and then came to a gig. The aim here is to cultivate your fan base, and it’s a win/win deal, because the bigger the fan base, the more you get in sales. Someone’s cousin is visiting your new fan a week later, and the next thing you know, you’ve sold a CD to someone in Peoria you’ve never met. Another thing to do at a gig is to have some kind of contest and offer the CD as the prize. Be creative and fun about it. I have seen this work time after time. The crowd loves it, and then after you award the prize, people are curious about the CD, they like you for what you did and attention is called to your CD being for sale-often resulting in immediate sales. I don’t advocate offering the CD to any person who walks in the club. That does not make sense. That does de-value your product, and it is probably a waste. At a gig, if people like what you are doing , they will feel good about giving you $10 for CD.

  55. Should a computer programmer give away free code, in hopes he can sell a mouse pad or coffee cup with his picture on it?

    Should a doctor treat patients for free in hopes they’ll buy a tee shirt on the way out, from the receptionist?

    In other words, it’s utter nonsense.

    Owsinski is off the rails here, and I’d be tempted to say he’s proposing a staggeringly naive viewpoint, were it not for his apparent bona fides. Just what exactly is a songwriter’s product, if it isn’t songs?

    Please bear in mind that this “make music free” stuff is all very nice if you don’t understand that there’s an ORGANIZATION behind any successful act. There’s songwriter, artist, recording professionals, sales professionals, marketing professionals, event professionals, fulfillment professionals…a whole bunch of people. Kids gotta eat.

    What’s the real problem? “radio is dead”. The proper answer to that is not “make music free”. The problem now is to replace the function that radio used to supply. There are ways, without giving up the farm.

    I personally find Owsinski’s concept that the artist is some kind of “brand” and the music is just promotion for the “brand” to be utter nonsense. Don’t fall for this.

  56. the (don’t do it!) article seems to have a “die for the cause” sort of mentality. For those of us that don’t believe exposure is what you die from, it would be interesting to hear an article that proposed actual solutions. Not that the points it makes aren’t for the most part valid. But it’s little consolation that you’re doing you’re part to keep the music industry healthy when having no success on your own.
    I’m just saying you could make better arguments. For example: do I take someone’s album as seriously if I was given it for free? I’ve noticed a lot of albums, especially from fellow singer songwriters, I’ll listen to, decide they are great, and then never want to hear again. Basically I’m saying people need to feel like a song is important to respect it, and a price tag helps. But: Would I license my song to tv or movie for cheep? Absolutely. I want it to sell.

  57. Well 1st off, what a great topic. I’ve been battling with this subject for quite some time only to find out that free music giveaways are great, (ONLY) for the starting artist. People first off don’t know you from Adam, so by giving away a small piece of yourself (music) they can have a sense of what your trying to explain through your skill-set. Music is the only job one can have and get paid just like a famous Brain Surgeon without going to school for 14 years. But by doing so, you have to build a following that just (LOVES) what your doing. And what better way than to give out a trail version of what your all about. The idea behind this is to control your listener’s to the point where it’s like (crack) they just have to have more. And by the time your musical skill-set is embedded in there brains you’ll start to see a profit. That’s just my take on the matter.

  58. I dont think that you should give your music away Because if you give it away. Youre giving it all away..Who wants to put someone on who’s broke ..Youre in the hole making the music and digging yourself deeper running all over town giving it all away..Not smart business either..Do you get it all back in a 360..A ringtone..2.99 You tell me..If You have to give music away to get on or be successful should we change the name of what we do and music be a component..Branding of ourselves through which our music is the jingle and now its back to square one..I dont know We may as well be telepaths and sing to each other but giving away free music with the billions of songs to listen to ‘just check’ just doesnt do it for me. Ill be the last of the mohecans on this one Bill

  59. Interesting article with fair points from all sides. I’ve run the gamut from giving away EVERYthing for free, to making everything for sale… free tracks with an individual track sale… free song (if you give me your email), and on and on.

    I can’t say that I’ve hit upon a magic formula yet. I’m still fiddling with things and trying to get it right.

    Currently I give away a lot of singles and demos and unmastered – but finished – songs on my blog. I also have a separate, linked ecommerce site where I sell tracks for a buck a piece. On top of that I’ve got premium packages for sale for more dedicated fans, but those haven’t been moving too well since I’m hardly a star.

    When I finish my next album, I’m going to give away each song for free, for a week or month or some limited period of time. After that time, it’ll cost a buck like everything else. But I always give away stuff to people who get in touch and ask.

    One of these days, I’ll hit that right combo that will let me share my music AND make a living at it!

  60. I’m on the fence with this one, I had a website from Bandzoogle set up to sell my music, was costing me $15 a month, and sales were slim to non existent.
    I cancelled my Bandzoogle site and am in the process of transferring my domain to a new host at $1.99 a month, am using WordPress doing it DIY, (still learning the ins and out), a BLOG style site.(My site isn’t even up, literally just made the change this week.)

    Getting your music on ITunes, CD Baby through Tunecore, also costs money, a fixed cost whether you sell or don’t, not a percentage of sales.

    I am seriously thinking of just giving it away, to sell it online through the available outlets and my own site would cost me $70 a month plus would put a barrier between my music and possible fans.

    Radio doesn’t support Indie artists because they are all in the pocket of labels and affilliated companies.

    Sign with a Major label and you won’t see any money from the sales anyway.

    If all the musicians got together and just gave away their music, it would purge the industry of all the greedy, bloodsucking, leeches, and in the long run, be good for music.

    I guess I’m off the fence, give it away, I SAID IT! THERE.

  61. What I think artists should ask themselves is “What am I primarily selling, Entertainment or Service?” I know several people who aren’t trying to make a ton of money on CD sales, because the private gigs they are able to book with pay enough to balance those terms. In that scenario, offering music for free (or donation) is working great.

    Trying to remember how many different demands are being made on an audience helps too. To see a show, a patron might have to pay for parking, gas, drinks and food and door cover. I think it can really help to give potential fans a reason to come back. Bands I have been in have given away free “EPs” or shorter 3-5 song cds or mp3 downlads to everyone in the house. A good friend of mine has a link on the bottom of his business card good for 1 free mp3.

  62. Guess you could say I’ve done a bit of both since I started on this musical journey three years ago.

    I don’t tour or perform live, so any revenue I’d receive from music would be in sales. Yet I decided when I first started this that I’d give away what I work on myself, and only sell what the rest of the band adds effort to.

    I’ve generated about 150 songs in that short period, and I’m much more interested in reaching people and getting a message out than I am in selling music for profit and to support my family (yeah, I have a day job).

    Don’t know how much I represent the general indie population, but I know many of the indies I rub shoulders with have some of the same interests. The message (or fanreach) is more important than sales.

    If I was trying to support my family on this you can bet I’d want to see a profit in it. I get rather out of joint when people suggest that music ‘ought to be free’. It makes me ask the doctor, ‘I’ve got this head cold, could you prescribe me some antibiotics free of charge? I mean, medicine ought to be free, right?’ Or the same with whatever job they hold.

    No, music ‘oughtn’t be ‘free by demand’, but free, if you will, by generosity. If I give a song away free, it’s my choice to do so, rather than your choice to demand it as free. If you have the right to ‘demand it should be free’

    This is true for movies, books, poems, artwork, you name it- if it can be digitized and slapped on the net, somebody thinks it should be free, or treats it as such. It’s a mindset problem.

    1. “I have a day job”.

      Game, set, match. Not trying to put you down, far from it….but that short sentence says it all. It’s a hobby. Carry this to the logical conclusion, and making music ceases to be possible for all but perhaps 1/2 percent of the music career professionals currently working today. The result of that? Unending mediocrity, as far as the eye can see and the ear can hear.

      1. Sorry, it’s not a hobby if you have a day job. I’ve had to keep a day job to be able to continue to support doing my music professionally. And I have had some major commercial success as a producer and composer. But the truth of the matter is, I “refuse” to be a starving artist and be put out on the street because of music. I’ve met too many people that gave it their all and whole heart into doing music and/or film full time as a 9 to 5, and went homeless or had to move back in with their parents just to maintain day to day.

        That’s crazy, especially considering that the truth that not everyone wants to talk about is that who you know is more than half of the equation for success, not what you know or can play. I’ve met plenty of people in my area of Philly, NJ, NY, and the several years that I’ve travelled to NAMM in Anaheim that were simply successful because of who they got hooked up with. But they weren’t a phenomenal songwriter, or guitarist, or drummer, or producer, they just got hooked up with the right opportunity. Hard work does not give you success. Hard work and connections will. And you know how hard it is to get “reliable” connections for anything in the entertainment industry. That’s just reality.

        1. I think connections are a huge piece of the puzzle, and perhaps the biggest, but don’t you think it’s about making those connections? Maybe my head is still in the clouds, and Lord knows I haven’t “made it” yet. But I don’t buy “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Sure, artistically “it’s not what you know,” but I think there’s a lot to do with what you know marketing-wise. Doesn’t what you know get you out there meeting the people you need to know? The deeper I get into marketing my little band, the more the pipe dream seems possible. Something about taking the reins and not leaving it up to destiny makes me work harder. When you say hard work does not give you success, I wonder if you’re talking about the kind of hard work we’re doing…the marketing. If you’re talking about really getting good at your instrument, sure, that won’t bring you success on it’s own, because you might have an awesome product, but then you got to hit the pavement and sell it. And if that takes away from the love of it all, then you just have to learn to love that side of it. Because that’s a part of music — fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t know, but it’s part of it.

  63. Thanks for this article and for shining some light on this debate. It is a hot topic in all the circles I wander in.

    I, for one, am a firm believer in giving music away, for dozens of reasons. I’ve given away more than 3 million downloads since the first digital music revolution back in 1998. It was the best thing I’ve ever done, and I would do it all again and advise artists to do the same.

    I believe it is utterly absurd to criminalize your potential fans and listeners. The folks that actually make the time and effort to download your tracks are the most likely to become your fans.

    It is impossible to hold back technology and progress – working against it is like trying to hold back an ocean wave with your surfboard. The major labels that own all your music (and now everything else if you sign a 360 deal) have always given your music away – and they charge you for it to boot. All for promotional and marketing purposes.

    Now, if someone uses your music for commercial purposes, well, that is entirely different. This is why Larry Lessig and the Creative Commons created an entirely new set of licenses called ‘copyleft’……decriminalize listeners — give attribution credit to artists — listeners share all you like….but to use a track for any commercial purposes, well, that requires a different permission from an artist (and the artist names the price). You can see how this works at or come visit our ‘Culture of Sharing’ panel at the Web 2.0 Conference in May.

    Thanks again for this article. These are exciting times for music.


    ~Emily Richards

    P.S. I believe you must give to receive 🙂

    1. Creative commons licensing for music is a horrible travesty.

      There’s really no other way to put it. It was not intended for that kind of content, it was intended for library computer code, where it makes a lot more sense.

      Put simply, the artist/author ALWAYS controls the rights. If the artist/author wishes to give stuff away for free, it has always been,and always will, be his/her prerogative. Just because you CAN demand fees for use licenses doesn’t mean you HAVE TO.

      Creative commons licensing doesn’t solve any existing problems, it doesn’t cure any actual ills. It is like walking into a grocery store, paying for groceries, and then leaving without them.

      EVERYTHING that you can do with Creative Commons licensing of your music, is stuff you can do with traditional copyright.

      Standard copyright protection says, “you can control this property, if you want. It’s up to you.”. Creative commons says “you give up the right to control this property, no matter what”.

      Why would ANYONE who was actually in this business want to do that? It just makes no sense!

  64. We have given away almost 15,000 CD’s since january 2009, physical CD’s….yes….really. We ordered them all from discmakers. It has been great for us. It allowed us to saturate our local market, and now we are slowly moving outward. I think it is a great strategy. However, we don’t do free stuff online. I know it may seem backwards, but so many people do online giveaways, it makes you look desparate. With a physical CD, we are giving them an actual tangible gift, with online, you are giving them an electronic file, there is a difference in perceived value.

  65. This article presents a good argument for both sides. I think this blog’s previous article about free music summed it up well: Free music is a good marketing tool, just make sure the fan knows you are giving him something for free that is normally worth much more.

    I think this idea allows for good online marketing while still upholding the value of your music.

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