Before I Was Famous: Why Your Music Should Be Free
This article tackles the age old musical impass: to free, or not to free, that is the question. I have advice, which is the good news, but I’m also going to rant, which seems like good news from my perspective at least. As a musician working in a publicity field there are often a lot of questions and concerns I deal with regarding free downloads of music. I have a few reasons and reactions to this civil war of a debate.
1. You’re Not Famous
Unless your name is Adele, you aren’t famous. I’m in a band and I can understand the value of a song. It takes time and energy and money and effort to put forth a musical masterpiece, but guess what, there are 10,000 other bands doing the same thing. Why should anybody care about your act over anybody else’s? You’re really in no position to demand any type of money. The way I see it, nobody owes me anything, in fact I owe them something. I should be delivering a product that they’ll want to buy again and again. Think of a free download as a sample. Once people listen and have a taste they’ll not only want to come see your band play live (which is the real goal isn’t it?) but they’ll want to tell their friends about it too.
2. You’re Basically Funding the Machine
Perhaps some people will say that I’m from the generation that destroyed music or the planet, or whatever. I’m going to make the argument that my generation is saving music and furthermore making it more accessible. So in a way, Mr. Stubborn Guy, my friends and colleagues are exposing your song to the corners of the world that would never even have an opportunity before the Internet was a thing. Just think, before free downloads you would have had to fly to Japan, or snail mail your CD to some random radio station that would probably use it as fodder. Now you can instantly send your delicious sounds across the globe and right into people’s ears. If you make the argument that music should cost money, you’re almost giving in to what “the man” wants in the first place. Unless you are receiving 100% of every single sale, somebody else has their hands in your musical cookie jar. Have you put your music on iTunes? Well somebody is seeing a cut of that money when you aren’t. In fact, any website is basically the same thing. Sites like Spotify, however, offer an alternative. They offer a taste so that people will come see you.
3. Let’s Do Some Math
Let’s say you’re a starving artist. Well I hate to break it to you, but we’re all hungry. I recently finished grad school, I'm working a full time job, and trying to make some sort of ground in the music business. I understand what it means to want a bite. But when you’re selling your music for something like $1.00, you are not going to see any real benefit. Even if you sell 500 copies of your song, you’re still basically making less than minimum wage. Wouldn’t it make more sense to make a small investment, like a free download, so that somebody comes to your show to spend money on a T-Shirt or vinyl instead?
I’m not trying to sound whiney or condescending, I actually think that there is a real sanctity and purity that comes with the live show. So don’t put so much emphasis on your one single. Put emphasis on yourself as a musician. You’re selling a product, so put some value on yourself as a whole and not just a piece. I also don't want to come off as musically entitled in any way, because trust me that's not the case. I understand how many hours and dollars are poured into your passion. I know it takes infinitely more time and effort to create said album than the average person would understand. But then again take things from their perspective, so what? Life is hard, and everybody has a dream, and just because yours involves being on tour and not supporting yourself through a steady job does not mean anybody has to care. Music is a risk just as much as it is a passion, but so is anything worth doing. I'm not trying to change the world, but I hope to at least bring a few people over to this side of the argument, or at least get them into the middle where we can all agree we just love music.
Green Light Go: Even if you aren't completely converted, at least put one song up for free!
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