by Jonathan Jaeger
Digital Music News wrote an interesting piece on giving away music in the days of declining music sales and illegal pirating. Often times, the mantra these days is to give your music away for free. Since there are more and more artists using readily available equipment to get music into the world and online, it’s harder to cut through the noise as an artist. So the next logical conclusion would be to give your music away for free to get it into the most hands of as many people as possible and to “spread the word” quickly. Apparently that’s not always the wisest decision when it comes to the lessons of supply and demand that Economics 101 taught us so long ago.
One DIY artist commented on Digital Music News:
“But it's funny that even when I used to give away [my music] for free, there wasn't much traffic nor many downloads, almost nothing. Then we decided that we should put it up for sale so that we might be able to recoup some of the money spent on making the music videos (when it's your brother making the videos, I still consider it DIY). Anyway, as soon as people saw that the music was up for sale, the website and other related social media gizmos received much more attention. Also, people began looking for ways to download it for free, which isn't always a bad sign."
So the people who are willing to pay for music perceive the music from this artist as having greater value because they are charging for it. If a brand name is willing to charge more than the no-name brand, then certainly an artist who charges for something rather than giving something away is brand name caliber too.
The people who don’t pay for music are still interested because of the perceived value of the music and will seek the music out through illegal channels—but there is still a demand there that might not have existed if the music was free from the start. If your goal is to get into the hands of as many people as possible, perhaps having that price tag makes your music seem worth it, regardless of whether someone actually pays for it in the end.
In a world of branding and image, sometimes it’s important to start off with a level of perceived quality. Of course this strategy might work out differently for different artists. If you can’t actually deliver on that quality, perhaps putting a price tag on your music won’t actually tip the scales in your favor (rather you’ll be digging yourself just as fast into obscurity). But if you know your production value is there and your songs are what people are looking for, the right strategy could be to charge. If you notice charging for music in the conventional sense is slowing you down, see if you can give away your music for free but charge for extra perks like bonus packages, behind-the-scenes footage, meet and greets, signed memorabilia, merchandise, or other unique items that go beyond just a digital download. If the money’s not in the music, it might be in the experience you’re selling.