Should You Give Your Music Away?

man in the black jacket with cdCan you imagine someone asking you this question twenty years ago? I can’t.

The fact is, the concept of giving one’s music away for free is a concept that has only surfaced in the last two or three years, and I’d say its nativity was in 2007 when Radiohead announced that they would let their fans pay whatever they wanted to for their new album, In Rainbows. I mean, how can you compete with that kind of a pricing structure?

Fast forward to today where Jamie Leger is telling musicians that they should give their music away because it’s not like people are buying it anyway – they’re listening on YouTube or downloading it from a bit torrent site. And if nobody is buying, then what good is having the attitude that you must be fairly compensated for your work? The world, Leger says, doesn’t owe you a living. You’ve got to figure out how to make one, and it’s a good bet you can’t make it on the paltry royalties paid out by Pandora or Spotify.

The music industry paradigm has shifted. People had bands in the sixties, and their music was about peace and love. Today people have brands, and music is just a tool to promote that brand. Bands are businesses now (they always were), and businesses have to make profits. Free music, it seems, has become the new method for getting people in the door.

Think of it this way: would you rather have the revenue from one customer shelling out $0.99 for a download on iTunes, or would you rather have that one customer coming to your shows on a regular basis and buying your merchandise? Doesn’t it make sense, Leger asks, to build relationships with your fans so that you have a sustainable income? And if you can get that relationship by giving your music away, isn’t it worth it?

Recently I got the chance to talk with some teenagers who had been to various concerts over the weekend. One of them proudly pointed to a necklace she was wearing that day. “Look! I got it at the show for $40!” she gushed. It looked like it might have been worth about $5. She said she’d found out about the band from a friend, who had sent her some MP3s from their first CD. She liked them enough to buy tickets to the show ($10) and buy their merchandise. It would have taken 5 people buying CDs at $10 a pop to realize the same revenue from one girl who paid $50 at the show because she’d heard free music.

So is it worth it? You tell me. Join the conversation and say whether you think artists should give music away in order to get fans. Vote in the poll below and add your comments.




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