A little premise: I’m aware that the topic I’m about to deal with is really tricky, but I’ll go on nonetheless.
I’ll try to be as clear as possible in explaining what’s my personal and questionable opinion about the perennial issue of legal and illegal free downloads, and digital music in general as well.
Let’s start from the premise that music is art, and any musical product calls the artist for a great effort in terms of time and money to get it done. That’s why a reward for the artist himself is always desirable if not just due.
That being said, let’s face the harsh reality: if no one knows of you as a band, who do you think will ever want to buy your beautiful digital album? The answer is: no one, or almost. Well hey, your mom and relatives do not count!
The underlying concept I would like you to see is that your first goal is to get known, to put your name out there (along with the greats, possibly), let people know who you are, what you do and the fact you’re serious, determined and ready to roll. Not that of instantly being paid!
So, in your opinion, what would be the best way to get “out there”?
Alright: lots of gigs, being online on all social networks known to man, burning down churches, recording your debut album in a Norwegian forest in the moonlight using an artichoke as your mic, that would be rigorously off-axis as well (cit. Rizzo)…
All really cool stuff, but for what matters your marvelous digital album, so painfully recorded…and “cost-fully” too, well what do you think to do about it?
Do you really believe that your audience will come running in crowds to buy your album on Bandcamp, just because you made an “official announcement” or your cute little Facebook bandpage? Well I’m not with you for sure!
You’ll probably manage to sell a handful of copies, but that will always be a really small number with respect to the (supposed) true potential of your album.
You’ll then agree with me on the fact that the audience has to first be able to listen to the mentioned work.
Please, however, don’t use those stupid 30-second previews for your online songs. It’s just ridiculous stuff in 2014. Offer, instead, full streaming of your tracks and allow for legal free downloads from your official distribution channels.
You could at last opt for a “name your price” policy (I said at last, even though I strongly suggest that). That policy was introduced by the musical platform Bandcamp, and it consists in the option to freely download a musical work while at the same time having the possibility to support the artist with a voluntary donation for the downloaded content. That’s basically reflecting the law of price discrimination, and it’s a really smart way to approach free downloads that briefly sums up, in my point of view, the logic behind today’s music business.
Fact is that nowadays, due to a real “flood” of music with whom we’re bombarded everyday by the media, people needs to listen to a piece many many times before deciding if it’s the case to purchase it or not. They have to feel it’s a part of their self, deeply understand if that work of art can really “better off” their lives (obviously in a metaphorical sense, but not too much nonetheless 😉 ) before contributing economically.
Then guys, just pretend to put yourself in the shoes of the average listener. Do you really buy every single new entry you’re proposed with, or do you proceed to some selections before financially supporting an artist?
In addition, rephrasing the great Jesse Cannon (author of the really good “Get More Fans” book, which I advise you to instantly check out if you’re interested in the music business): if you finally decide to offer your own music for free, try to set up the less barriers as possible between your potential listener and your product.
It’s really important in fact to avoid to the unfortunate person who would like to download your new EP the need to open 3 web pages, register to your personal blog, like your Facebook page, share your Twitter status, fill in a form with his email and finally being able to download the album.
Most likely that guy would have surrendered at the third web page already.
That’s naturally an extreme case but you get it, isn’t it? Bear that in mind!
Now I’d like to open a little digression on those websites which actually “steal” digital albums from various musical platforms (namely Bandcamp, SoundCloud, YouTube and so on) to offer them at their members for free.
I recently had the occasion to talk with some people who complain about that. And in a sense I’m with them, but not completely.
Let’s try to view that issue from another perspective: those websites (I won’t name them, and you probably know it all better than me nonetheless) offer your music to their audience. It’s true, they do it for free (that means you won’t get a cent from them) and most of the times illegally, but they’re substantially offering you free publicity, isn’t it?
Alright, you won’t be earning anything directly, even though I can ensure you (talking from my experience) that some of the people who’ll download your album for free will come back to your channels and contribute, this time economically finally, buying your merch or maybe a new album or possibly just the physical version of what they had illegally downloaded before.
From my really personal point of view then, those websites are not to be denounced (generally, at least) but to be used at one’s own favor, trying to get an advantage as big as possible from them in terms of new earned fans, word of mouth and general interest with respect to you and your project.
That being said I’m absolutely not stating that illegal file sharing websites should be celebrated, but if you can’t avoid them why not to use them at your own benefit?
Lately I see more and more underground bands offering their creations for free.
I’d sincerely like to compliment them because it really takes a lot of courage to give away (well gifting basically!) something that cost you sweat, time and money; but I firmly believe that this choice will pay back in the long run.
I’ll end up saying that was only and exclusively my humble way of thinking. I probably wrote a lot of bullshit, but I hope I gave you at least something to think about before your sleep.
If you don’t agree with what I wrote, if I pissed you off and you want to insult me (Ok, no. Maybe it’s still polite to keep nice tones 😉 ) well, I’d like to see you replying back with a comment and your point of view. Interesting ideas always come out from mature debates.
Teo & Rizzo