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not-free-01I know there’s kind of a debate going on. Some artists feel like they always need to charge for their music because of how much time, money and effort went into creating and recording the song. But other artists feel like giving away their music is the only way to get people to listen to it.

You wanna know where I stand on the argument?

I think you should never give your music away.

That’s right. Don’t do it. Don’t ever give away your music for free.

But it’s not what you think. I’ll tell you what I mean.

People always seem to be focused on the money aspect of this argument. They’re either getting money from someone in exchange for their music, or they’re not. But I think there’s something in the middle that artists forget about.

One of the big reasons my music has spread around the way it has is because of the fact that I have a few albums that people can get for “free”. It should be completely obvious that someone will be more inclined to download my music if they don’t have to pay anything. And if they like it, they’ll be more inclined to spread the word and tell their friends about it. But the reality is that it’s not really free, I always ask people for something in exchange for the music even if it’s not money. The only way I let people download my music without paying is if they give me their email address.

The more I do this whole music thing the more I’m convinced that the key to growing your listeners is by focusing on your email list. Not your Facebook fans or Twitter followers, your email list. Why? Because email is more personal. It’s a more direct connection with someone who has received music from you before.

So what’s the best way to get your email list going?

Well, it’s by giving your music away for free on a platform where you can collect email addresses.

I am a huge proponent of letting people download your first one or two albums for free in exchange for their email address. That’s part of how I got started. I used Bandcamp to facilitate it, since they collect email addresses for you. I put those email address into a mailing list (Fanbridge) and told those people about each subsequent release, even if they weren’t free.

Really it’s about seeing the long term instead of the short term. Yes, it might be a bummer that no one gives you any money at first. But if you’re doing it right and you’re using Bandcamp or Noisetrade or some other service that exchanges music for email addresses then you have a MUCH BETTER chance of growing that list of people who are interested in what you do. And you don’t lose people. You have a connection with someone that’s much more reliable than Twitter or Facebook posts.

The worst thing you could do is give people your music in exchange for nothing. Always get something from them. And in my opinion it’s in your best interest to have something available for free, in exchange for an email address. It might hurt a little in the short term, but I think you’ll see it pay off in the long term. I know I have.

Do you give away your music for “free”? Why or why not? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

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  • jacob taylor

    I completely agree with your idea and way of doing things. It makes so much more since this way, plus bandcamp has so many option you can use. Like the customer putting what they want to pay for the music. It’s really awesome, and the options to connect with a merch station to sell merch too.

  • chatrygaetan

    Totally agree. Plus Bandcamp allows you to let people pay something if they want to, so it’s a win-win situation.

    • http://www.andyothling.com/ Andy Othling

      Absolutely! I really love Bandcamp… for many reasons!

  • http://stanmanx.com Matt Smyczynski

    I just updated my bandcamp page to ask for email addresses and signed up at MailChimp. I’ll actually figure out how to use MailChimp soon :)

    • http://www.andyothling.com/ Andy Othling

      Awesome! Mailchip is a good choice for starting out!

  • Steven Rodriguez

    I believe the most important reason to not give away music for free is that it limits the amount of plays and exposure you receive on a website. I agree the giving away a first group of songs or two away for free in exchange for an email will be very effective in the beginning, but once you establish a group of people who are eager to hear your music, give nothing for free. If people can download your music for free, there is no incentive to return to your page if you can just download the music and leave it forever. This encourages people to come back to your page and listen to your songs more and more.

  • Justin D Slattery

    Good call……I would offer free DL’s to people who attend live gigs

  • Bill G

    A very clear approach I can understand at a gut level…..another hot topic..gigs…especially doing a more esoteric musical form…should you play for free..or..what do I get from a situation where no cash is being put in my hand…..I’m actually a solo jazz guitarist that got interested in “ambient” sounds after hearing Explosions in the Sky…..I have played for cash, gift certificates at a now defunct book chain, Meals, Alcohol, Coffee, and for free(which can be demoralizing)…What can I get(other than exposure – which is good) from a live situation to “Grow” my music…Bill G

  • Tracey

    I’ve read articles for a while now, by artists who are now making a living from their music (Andy included:) They all offer free music and many of them state that their email list is what has given them financial success. Facebook etc will come and go, that’s why email is so important. If FB folds tomorrow, how would people know where you are? I’m a big believer in learning from those who have already succeeded well, rather than being too precious about my personal ideals. In fact, I loved what one artist does….she even thanks those who have pirated her music, as she still appreciates the fact that they enjoy her music. They will eventually buy your music down the track anyway.

    • Tracey

      Btw, I also give away free songs ie. one track from my album, which has actually caused people to listen to my album and sometimes buy it straight away

  • http://www.facebook.com/djbigdad Shawn Djbigdad Brandt

    haha I read this with an open mind because I believe we live in a society where your always paying for things. I wish this world was free and artist had to work on stage for every dime. I love reading ur blog posts and starting to think about using a email collector for the music archive that is DJBigdad.com – I appreciate what u do for the ambient scene. Is it okie to say ur music helps me sleep? AMAZING BLOG MESSAGE!

  • Cole

    How about having to give away codes for the dload link or something? Would it be okay to tell them to come to the show to get the codes so they can dload for ‘free’?

  • http://twitter.com/jakebeamish Jake Beamish

    Right on, Andy – this is something I’ve agreed with for a long time now. Money doesn’t have to be involved in this kind of transaction, and an email address – an invitation to communicate – in my opinion has far more potential worth than the £20 maximum that most people would pay to buy an album. Last summer I wrote down thoughts of my own on the subject on my blog. It’d be cool if you took a read if you can make sense of the rambling ;) . http://jakebeamish.co.uk/2012/05/07/music-and-the-internet-how-should-we-react/

  • http://www.facebook.com/ace.firedragon.waters Ace Waters

    Why do I give away my music?

    Because I believe art should be something that is shared, not sold. I believe that you breakdown the very nature of art when you put a price-tag and a copyright on it. Nothing is yours. Everything that is being done has been done before and will be done again.

    But, how do you expect to support your music if you don’t make people pay for it?

    I do, and have always done everything on a donation basis. I host my music on sites that allow me to list it for free AND have a place for the listener to donate (or name their own price, same thing). On the other side of this argument, I wholeheartedly believe that if you resonate with someones craft, whether it be a well made latte or finely crafted song, you should support that art-form. Art is such an important part of our reality, and when you encounter authentic art, it is important to support it so that it can continue and the artist can know that their art is being appreciated.

    Pay what you want is scary. It in personal. It is vulnerable. But, if you give it time, it creates a more authentic connection between you and your audience. Also, from a pragmatic stance, every business that has taken up a pay-what-you-want approach has been successful. The good tends to outweigh the bad.


  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.doss.75 Jon Richardson Doss

    I love making music. I make music that expresses how I feel and also what I think people will like. I don’t specifically target any genre or audience, I just make my music, my way, for my friends. I love giving my music away, because I can always make more. I can always make money down the road, but for now, It’s just me doing what I like to do. I should start asking for money soon however, because my recording quality sucks.

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