Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Give it away, now?

So the mantra for many independents is "Give it away, because later they'll pay".
If you don't know what I am talking about, let me explain

Many independent artists chose to give their music away free, usually download only, in exchange for the email address of the person that bought it. The thinking behind this is that once you have seduced your fan with free music, they will fall in love with you and purchase your next release.

Lets assume, for a moment, that this is the correct and proper way to go about it. At what point do you start to charge?

Lets now question the giving away of our precious talents. Many of us record at home so the actual cash outlay of producing a track (or podcast for that matter) is nought. Uploading to sites such as the beloved Bandcamp is also, nought. So on a strictly financial basis we are not out of pocket by giving these things away.

To avoid this becoming a discussion just about music, I would extend the "talents" to poets and writers.

Some may mention that old chestnut "Time is money" which, I believe, is balls and not worth clouding this already foggy issue. 

27 comments:

Nick Tann said...

On the other hand, what is a few pounds? The price of a cup of coffee, a pint of beer. My album is worth a cup of coffee isn't it?

Tom Campbell said...

With stuff like giving away audio for nowt, you have to look long term. Of course you could easily just demand that people buy your music. You could say that people can ONLY LISTEN TO YOU if they GIVE OVER THEIR NOTES! But then, chances are, nobody will get heard.

The beauty of offering music, writing, what have you for free is that it puts you out there and gives people something tangible of yours...some will buy, some won't. But I can guarantee more people will be interested in what you have to offer if it's free initially.

I spent 10 years working at a Community Radio station getting paid nothing, but I valued the time I had because it allowed me to hone my craft - and gave me sufficient training so that when a proper paid job in the radio world came my way I was skilled enough to get on board with it.

I could've, after four years, told that radio station that I won't do it unless I get paid. They would've stopped using me, and I would be no further on.

As long as you're realistic and making money from other sources, there's no harm putting music, writings, sketches, radio content all out there for nothing...because you never know who's on the other end! Media careers can go from nought to 60 in three seconds. Trust me!

Nick Tann said...

Thing is Tom, that on these sites, people can LISTEN for free, not even iTunes charges you to listen so you will get heard.

Matt Stevens said...

I think its down to the individual artist. If you are in any way successful your music will end up on torrents anyway so my thinking is give away and at least get an email address, free music has been great for me because people have been generous enough to want to pay for it. Amazing really.

I think the problem is getting people to listen because of the amount of music out there. I feel really lucky to have people listening and thats only because i let people listen for free.

Its tough out there at the moment but goodwill is worh tmore than a cash figure.

xoorox said...

I think that time being money is a relevant observation here. I'm aware that is costs me to pour time into something I love.

As for giving something away for free... there is an old adage that nothing is ever free. It's worth bearing that in mind when you give something away. In the end you're looking for a wider audience and hopefully a way of making ends meet doing something you love and that hopefully others find worthwhile.

If you've got a killer track, giving it away as an incentive to persuade people to purchase the album it came from is a canny way of doing things. If you really have something that people will want to listen to, if you put it about then news spreads... exposure grows and then you can make something of it if you want to. If you are lucky enough that you produce something that attracts enough attention eventually someone will want to license it for use with an ad or something... if that's where you want your music to end up. Even then... the exposure might be worth the tradeoff even if it's a naff ad.

On the other hand, if making a living from music is not important to you, you don't have to be a canny businessperson and you can give it away for free. Art is all about expressing yourself and the most successful art shares something genuine and shows someone something from a point of view they wouldn't have otherwise seen it from. The tradeoff for the artist is that it's worth giving it away if someone somewhere understands what they are trying to say.

xoorox said...

The world is changing for sure though... I'm now old fashioned - if I hear something I really like, I just have to get my hands on a hard copy. Finally though I'm starting to find that there are things being released in soft format only.

xoorox said...

The other thing to bear in mind giving away things for free is that there is a danger some people will think it is worthless.

Matt Stevens said...

I do worry about the whole "its free therefore worthless thing" as a lot of free music is crap (and therefore not free as its taken up my time).

Rhys Anslow said...

Being part of the generation the industry would blame for 'stealing' everyones music, my point would be that if a person wants to get music for free THEY CAN, and if they cant it will be pushed to one side and forgoten about.
I think Matt was right in the respect that it's tough out there - I've had it pointed out many many times that the music industry is the toughest in the world - there's so much music out in the world and people can far too easily walk away from one to another if accessability is to hard to come by.

I will also say that while, yes, all your albums can be streamed completely for free, this enviroment (for me personally) is not my favorite for consuming music. In my car and listening to my mp3 player while out and about is how I like music best. I cant stream an album while walking to Uni. But, I can download the album for free to try it out, walk back and fore to Uni and then decide I loved it so much that I'm going to buy your entire discography.

Though I will point out, there is extreme merit in your new system of having older albums avaliable with the free option where as your new one is to pay for. Why not have the option of some material for free while others you can pay for?

Sarah said...

I agree. Free music gives the connotation that it is lousy. I did, however, download all of Nick's stuff for free, and probably would have procrastinated to this day, had it not been for free. But like it enough to pay for it. I would have paid $3 for "Don't" alone...

Meanwhile I intend to pay for Matt's stuff, because I particularly enjoyed echo as well as ghost, but have to psych myself up to buy anything online. But that's just me and my crazy OCD issues.

I think the people you want to buy your stuff are people that appreciate the talent and believe it worth, yes, a good cup of coffee and more. Not the freeloaders that want to fill a box for a buck.

I mean, I guess the idea is to just get it out there... be heard by whatever means. But the new question begs to reason, what is an artist for? But of course, then we get rather philisophical and as Nick so aptly pointed out, let's not cloud the issue further.

Sarah said...
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Sarah said...
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xoorox said...

Ah, but is it clouding the issue or clarifying it?

There are two simple questions to ask yourself as an artist - Am I in it for me alone? (i.e. fuck everyone, I'm in this for me alone and art for art's sake) ...and am I in it to make a living?

First one - for most people the answer is no, in which case you need to find an audience to get the most out of it, so whether your looking to make money or if it is simply to share who you are and what you do, you need to find ways to promote what you do... get it seen by who you want it to be seen by.

If you want to make money from it you may have to be more hard nosed about what you give away in order to attract attention to yourself... you may also find that to make ends meet you have to give an audience what they want, which isn't always what you might want.

So... the only fuzzy are is when you want to do your own thing but want an audience and want to make money from it... then it gets trickeh eh?

John said...

(Reposted from a similar discussion at http://spurssimon.blogspot.com/2010/07/so-is-music-free-now.html)

It's only in (relatively) recent times that music has become a commodity, and then at the behest of "music companies" and not "musicians".

Before that, we had the concept of patronising - people who appreciated the art paid artists to produce and perform works - music was not a manufacturing and retailing business, it was a service industry.

What is happening now, in some way, is a return to that ethos - that the musician creates because they love to do so, and the music lover pays because they respect the artist and the work of the artist and want to show that in a way that's going to put food on the artist's table.

The concept of music as a product is an anathema; the image of the multimillionaire rock-star an obtainable dream for most that ultimately kills not only their spirit, but their ability to produce great music too. Music is not about money. It's about music.

Most of the artists I know see downloading as a way of getting their music (and their name out there). See it as Try Before You Buy if you like, or Brand Management, Mailing List Development or whatever, but the truth of the matter is this - if you make good music, and you develop relationships with your audience, they will pay you.

If you really do it right, they will taxi you, work for you, cook for you and feed you - q.v. Amanda Palmer and (to a lesser degree) Imogen Heap.

Sure, you may never get your LearJet and your fruit-bowl full of cocaine, but you'll be making music, people will be listening to it and all will be right with the world... How can that be a bad thing?

(I've glossed over issues of legality, copyright, publishing, gigs, merchandising and many, many other things here - life's too short.

Disclosure: I'm a composer and a musician. I do fine.)

Nick Tann said...

Wow, look what I've come back to.

Thanks Sarah, really? It's a dreadful recording!

Xoorox, if things could only be boiled down to two questions....

You can hear for free, as I mentioned earlier, even on iTunes so the idea that people must actually posses the tracks to be able to listen to what we do is moot.

AT WHAT POINT DO WE CHARGE?

Or do we always give it away?

Kevin dotw said...

Did we ever really buy the 'music'?
In the days before digital files, if we wanted an 'album' we went and got it. If we wanted the music we recorded it off the radio, borrowed the records from friends or the library.
Buying an 'album' was an event, the gatefold sleeve, lyrics, new photos of your fav band. There was always a race between me and my friends to be the first to get the new albums as they arrived in the shops. On some occiaisions we were disappointed with our selection, but that just made us more picky next time.
It's not like that now :-(
I hear from many artists I have contact with, that their fans are asking for vinyl, they want to purchase an 'event' not a collection of digital files!
Maybe vinyl is the future for independent artists, create something exclusive that real music fans will want and stay away from the mp3 collectors who can always use fake email addresses or one that is just set up for getting free stuff! :-)

Sarah said...

*sidebar* Yes. Really. I guess I focus less on the wrapping paper (the recording) and more on the gift itself (the melody, the guitar playing, the lyrics). Speaks to the soul... at least it did mine.

Sarah said...

Back on point, however, I think you've got it right as it is. I say charge for the new music and give away the old. And when you've got a new album, those that held out will get the previous for free. :o)

Now I feel like I ought to send you an honorarium...

Nick Tann said...

No need to feel obligated Sarah...
Saying that, the physical is well worth the money, it had art and stuff...

colintgraham said...

I tend to agree with John about the patronage. People like Monteverdi, Bach, Handel and so on had to write stuff on command, play their own stuff at job interviews, do stuff to impress potential employers, etc.

Mozart had to take in pupils to make enough money because he didn't want to play the political games that his father had...

Their names survived because they produced something - great art - that went beyond the service they were providing for their patrons. It was also their fulltime work. Just to physically write out all of the notes of Mozart's complete works would take the equivalent of a 'normal' 8-hour day, five days a week...

So, I don't think most independent musicians kid themselves that they are producing 'Great Art', but every piece of music or song that you write gives away some part of you - or I think it needs to, if it's going to be any good.

You never give art away for free, but people may be getting it without having to pay money. Personally, I put (synthesized versions of) my compositions online in the hope that other musicians will listen and ask to perform them. It has happened.

The question may be about trying to build a fan-base. I suspect most performers want to increase the size of their live audience at gigs, as much as becoming the next 'Kylie'. Providing a selection of tracks for people to listen to without having to pay seems sensible. Allowing people to download and listen at their leisure is also a good thing, I think.

I would be tempted to have one or two special tracks or special offers (£2 off a t-shirt...) that are e-mailed to listeners who have downloaded a certain number of tracks e.g. download 10 get "Special 1", download 20 get "Special 2"... That way those who enjoy your music get a loyalty bonus, and if some only download 2 or 3 tracks, that's fine too.

So, charge if you like, but don't expect to make any money from it...

I'd go for the e-mail address, and provide an extra of some kind for the special followers...

Darren Landrum said...

For me, it comes down to this: The worst thing that can happen to a piece of music is for it to die in obscurity. Now, giving it away for free doesn't mean it won't, but at least now it has a fighting chance of finding a few people who really love it.

I often go through large vinyl collections at thrift stores, looking for something that might be interesting. Although I enjoy that kind of thing, I'd rather people never have to do that with my stuff.

Nick Tann said...

So then what do we do? Do we continually give stuff away ad nausium.

WE DONT CHARGE TO LISTEN

Sarah said...

You know, Nick, you keep mentioning this "art" as yet unseen. Perhaps if you posted pictures of the artwork one might acquire upon the purchase of said physical album, people might be more excited about it. But as of now, you are hoping people will purchase your "unheard" music, backing that with "unseen" artwork doesn't exactly sweeten the deal.

Besides, you're selling mostly to other musicians at this point who are empathizing with your desire to be heard. Again, the artwork is just a distraction of sorts. But, really, post some pics of the art and people might get excited about it. Just as cars need to be driven, music needs to be heard, art needs to be seen.

Beyond that, I think physical albums are going, going gone. In another 10 years CDs will be all but obsolete and my grandchildren will be wondering what music has to do with investments. Not that I'll have grandchildren in 10 years...

Nick Tann said...

You sound irritated Sarah, sorry about that.
If you looked at my bandcamp site http://nicktann.bandcamp.com/album/dont-make-me-wait
You would see pictures of the artwork. But I take your point.

I dissagree that I sell mostly to other artists, I can assure you that is not the case. There are many artists commenting on this post but that is because the subject is relevent to them.

Some like cds, if you read some of the comments here you will see that is the case.

Matt Erion said...

Hi Nick. Good question. I think the final choice has to rest with the artist itself. I argue about this with my own band, and if they were web savvy there'd be a mutiny if they discover I have a few tracks on BC for free. However, I feel that that is a personal choice, and when there isn't any physical product involved it doesn't really cost me.

Many have argued about the time to create, but I for one don't write songs with the hope of getting paid for them. I write to procrastinate from posting comments on blogs. :)

But without "free" in various forms, I wouldn't have heard of your music, Matt's or dozens of others. Just too flooded of a market.

However, if you're ready to be paid, then charge away! I don't seem to be getting anyone to hear my music, though my first record sold quite well through CD baby. I don't know what the answer is.

Nick Tann said...

To listen is free BUT if you want to posses?
As I have mentioned, if you want to listen to our music, you can either on iTunes or elsewhere.

If you want to posses, if you want to own...

Do people have to own the music to appreciate it?

Nick Tann said...

Fee for poorer quality yes? http://dotwmedia.com/dotw/index.php/2010/07/09/dare-to-think-differently-pt-56-how-freely-available-is-my-music