EDITORIAL: "Why Musicians Should Never Give Music Away For Free” (by Jon Ostrow)

hyperadmin | Editorial,Music | Tuesday, July 13th, 2010


Via HHC! from TMB!

Y’all already know my stance on this topic and the importance of always receiving TANGIBLE returns for your music.

Here’s some more practical fuel to the argument from Mic-Control co-founder Jon Ostrow.

At this point, most emerging artists are familiar with the (potential) benefits of giving their music away for free:

  • Maximizes the possibility of discovery
  • Free Advertising
  • Can create viral-buzz about your music

But in reality, unless you already possess a large fan-base along with the subsequent reach, giving your music away will be the last you hear from most new “fans.” This situation is only ideal for artists who have successfully converted people from fans to loyalists – those who not only want to share this music with others, but who actively seek out others who share a common interest in the music. If you are not at this level on a large scale, consider using a slightly different strategy.

What you need, is a way to turn this seemingly one-sided transaction, into one that is mutually beneficial. You essentially want to continue charging for your product, but in a way that replaces value in terms of money with that of brand growth. Consider charging for your music using social currency, which would put you in the position to receive a tangible return that would increase your reputation and reach, rather than increase your bank account.

Full article after the jump!

The following are a few different ways for you to charge for your music using social currency:

Collect e-mails

This is the ideal choice of social currency. Building and maintaining a mailing list has many long-lasting benefits that can be used to leverage fan engagement, and can even lead to the conversion of fans to loyalists.

Most importantly, a mailing list gives you a direct channel of communication between you and your fans. You may have 10,000 followers on Twitter or fans on your Facebook fan-page, but if you post up an announcement, how many will actually see it? Social media works in real-time. Unless all of your fan-base is online or is specifically looking for updates from your Twitter or Facebook account (a typical characteristic of a loyalist), the chances are that the initial announcements will be overlooked. Your mailing list, however, ensures that when you reach out to your fans, you WILL be seen.

As mentioned above, mailling lists also give you the opportunity to leverage additional fan engagement that may convert fans to loyalists. Through exclusive benefits such as pre-sale opportunities, additional free downloads, discounted merch, and more, you have a better chance to keep your fans engaged and interested.


This invaluable website offers many great (and FREE) services to independent artists. Specifically, it allows you to build your mailing list in exchange for giving away some music of your choice.  Bandcamp lets you to choose whether you want to give away an entire album, a collection of songs or even just a single track, all of which can be downloaded for free as long as the person joins your mailing list.

Exchange a tweet for a download

This can also be an effective form of social currency, and is a great alternative option to give those uninterested in joining another mailing list. However, the effectiveness of this method is entirely dependent on three things:

  • 1. The person’s reach, involvement, and reputation on Twitter
  • 2. The time of the tweet
  • 3. YOUR involvement and reputation on Twitter

Exchanging a tweet for DL can be very helpful IF all of the above criteria are met, otherwise the tweet will likely be a wasted promotional effort. While this method is much more IF-based than a mailing list, it can be a great way to building up your own presence on Twitter.

Here are a few services that can help you set up “tweet for a download” functionality:

Tweet For A Track: A free and easy service that allows you to not only customize the tweet that will be sent out and can track how many downloads have taken place, but requires the downloader to input an email address as well. Win-Win!

Pay With A Tweet: Similar to Tweet For A Track although it does not require an email address. This service does, however, give you a widget to embed in other places.

NOTE: If you do offer this as an option, make sure that the tweet includes your own Twitter tag so you can track the retweets with Twitter Search.

Exchange a Facebook Share for a download

This can be an effective form of social currency as well, since most of your fans are already on Facebook, and are usually (though not always) connected with friends who share common interests. Although, the pitfall with this option is that not only does Facebook’s news feed work in real-time, but it now uses an algorithm to determine which wall posts appear in other peoples’ feeds. Unfortunately this means your FB shares may get lost in the mix.

Cash Music: This non-profit organization has created open-source applications for both Facebook and Twitter that allow you to offer free music downloads in exchange for telling others about the music. Ironically, Cash Music has made it a requirement that you also share a tweet or wall post on Facebook in order to download the code for the app. What a great use of social currency!

The idea of accepting social currency as payment for your music will give you more opportunities to grow your brand throughout different avenues of social media. While the mailing list is the ideal option, it is important (and fun) to offer a few different ways to allow people to pay with social currency, as not everyone will be interested in joining your mailing list.

Now that your thinking in terms of social currency and not money, what is the best way to ’sell’ your content?

No Comments »

  1. Thanks for reposting my article!

    Comment by Chris Bracco — July 15, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

  2. Found your websites on AskJeeves, great subject matter, but the site looks awkward around my browser setup, but is effective fine in IE. travel figure.

    Comment by contract financing — April 7, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

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