Doing my industry reading like a good music biz employee today I came across an article by Paul Resnikoff on Digital Music News. The article – “What Coachella is Telling Us” – speculates that the economics of the current festival/live performance aspects of the music business could be highlighting a trend: Fans discovering music online as freebies causing a drive upward in concert revenue. He mentions that even in the face of the current economic situation ticket prices are still soaring – and selling.
I’ve never been a proponent of artists giving away music in hopes that exposure will grow, however now that I’ve been at my job for 5 years I can definitely see some interesting prospects for acts that are starting to gain a somewhat significant following (we’ll say 1,000+ followers).
While Paul seems to indicate that bands giving away free music could maybe might just somehow lead to increased ticket sales perhaps, I’d argue that music should still never be “free.” However fans can offer a value even if it isn’t in cold hard cash.
Bands looking to gain some sort of monetary value from their music can go about it in various ways and I feel one of those channels should definitely not be selling an album to the mass populous. Well, at least not at first. But what Paul suggests – giving music away can drive concert revenue – is actually getting close to not a bad idea. Let’s take it one step further though.
Value fans can give:
1) Free PR (Word of Mouth, Blogging, Twitter, etc)
2) Free Distribution (burning CDs, emailing files, etc)
3) Money (concert revenue, album sales, merchandise, etc)
4) Connections (Music supervisors, ad agency producers, etc)
I’m sure there are more but these are a good start. As a band on the cusp, I’d say the main goal is to generate money with music. That means doing two things: Live performances and Licensing. Fans can help do both though point 4 above is far less likely until points 1 and 2 have reached a tipping point.
After reviewing this info, a band might then post something on their website offering fans some sort of value (perhaps a few mp3’s or discount code for merchandise or concert ticket discounts) based on the following:
1) Email address entry (increase mailing list/following)
2) Material dissemination (some sort of referral program for the mailing list)
3) Money (naturally, paying for the tracks should always be an option – low cost at first of course. Also, buying them a track could earn them a discount on merchandise or concert tickets)
4) Professional introduction (I’m not sure exactly how this would work, but it could be a very lucrative opportunity for a band so the reward should be fairly high for the connected fan)
In all I think Paul definitely makes some valid points about how the industry is being more and more shaped towards live performances since that’s a great way to make money as a musician. However, giving music away for free, I think, is always foolish. Think about the value your fan-base can bring to you, and reward them for it – quid pro quo. Thousands of businesses do this already (Gilt Group, ING Direct, and more) and the sooner you start treating your music like a business, the faster you’ll start to generate income from it.