No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Originally published by So’lano Music Group.

For many years now, companies have given away free samples of their product in the hopes of winning over future loyal customers. Many musicians follow a similar model when they offer free downloads of tracks in the hopes of generating buzz for future paid releases.

For a company that manufactures millions of boxes of laundry detergent a year and has an annual profit margin greater than the GDP of some small nations, a free giveaway here and there won’t sink their ship. Especially since, eventually, people will need to buy more detergent; they can’t simply download a copy of someone else’s.

For a musician with limited resources in a market where their product can be easily copied rather than bought, each free song is more of a gamble. The trick is to find a way to profit from the transaction without asking for money. This is where an artist must stretch his or her creativity beyond its traditional application.

One simple option is ad revenue: if you are willing to place ads on your site, then you can generate some income by racking up a hit count from downloaders seeking their promised quarry.

It is also possible to turn a profit that has nothing to do with money. A few lines of coding can create an intermediary step whereby a potential downloader must submit their email address in order to download the track. By building up a robust mailing list, you can then directly contact people who have already expressed an interest in your work when you are ready to put product up for sale.

Some social media services will even handle the coding for you. If you sign up for a free artist account on ReverbNation, you can offer songs to stream or download exclusively to fans who are on your mailing list. This way, not only are you beefing up your potential market, you’re also offering a tangible ‘thank you’ to people who are already waving your flag.

With fresh headlines coming out each week about the crumbling music industry, it is tempting to simply abandon ship and seek a more stable income source elsewhere. However, while the old model certainly seems to be dying, this may simply be the perfect opportunity for visionaries to step forward with new models upon which to build a new, more relevant industry.

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