Giving your music away for free is not a new concept nor is it something that I just came up with on my own. Although the idea has all but crippled the music industry, it has helped hundreds if not thousands of independent artists get their music to the masses. For an up and comer or even for an established artist (i.e. Radiohead), giving your music away for free can be a potentially brilliant maneuver. That is of course, if you do it the right way.
Bands, djs, rappers, and producers have been handing out mix tapes for decades now. The hope is that the music gets in the hands of a label exec or an A&R guy who then throws bags of money at the artist. This theory has worked (see 50 cent)…just not very often. Forget about the odds against a mix tape landing you a record deal, there is a huge lost opportunity by simply throwing your sample cds out to random outstretched arms at your next show.
In the internet age, one of the most valuable assets that anyone or thing can have is information. Companies pay out the “rear” for good info on who is viewing what webpage. who is buying or bidding on what product, who is watching what video, who is downloading what game or song. They can then tailor their own webpage or decide on which website to place their own advertisements. A band should be no different than any other info hungry business.
When you give your music away, make sure you get the recipients info, their name, address, email address at least. If you have your music in a downloadable format on your website, make your fans join a fan club by entering their info before they can download it. You are not only getting a great database for your fans (think fan club) but now have a built in marketing army. When you have something to sell, whether its music or a dvd or a t-shirt you now have a target market with built in projections of who is going to buy your goods. This should turn into real dollars.
It works even better when you look to license your music to a third party. If you have 5,000 fans that have provided their info in order to download your music, compared to someone who thinks they may have simply given away 5,000 cds you have a huge upper hand when a company comes along who is looking for music to go along with their next commercial or video game. For a relatively unknown artist, licensing remains a real way to make big money. The opportunity to license your music increases when you have more to license then just your music.
Moral of the story: Give your music away for free but profit from the info you retain.