A co-worker of mine here at CD Baby made an interesting comment a few weeks ago while he was searching Google, trying to find audio clips to illustrate his argument about an independent musician we were discussing. He keyed in his search and started clicking around, but his determination soon shifted to dissatisfaction. He turned back to me. “If a band doesn’t have a link to one of their songs on the front page of their site, that’s it – I don’t bother.”
While I think that his all-or-nothing perspective probably leans toward the extreme, it also struck me that he is by no means an atypical music fan, and his views can’t be unique when it comes to a situation like this. It got me thinking about my music, its presence on the web, and how I feel about offering it to people who have made no promise of giving me anything in return.
Whether we like it or not, music fans are more accustomed than ever to not only hearing something before they buy it, but also to getting some (or even all) of it for free. They’re also increasingly impatient when it comes to the time it takes to make that happen. Song snippets (like the ones provided on CD Baby and iTunes) are one of the best ways for potential fans to get a sense of what you sound like, but they’re not without drawbacks: The clip might be unrepresentative of the whole of the song, leaving the listener with only a vague sense of what they’re getting.
Streaming full songs on your site is clearly the next best thing, but there are shortcomings here, too, especially when it comes to portability, which is something a modern music listener really values. Now, you could choose to look at this as your strongest selling point: someone’s eventually going to get sick of listening to your music exclusively on their computer, and they’re going to pay for it in order to port it to their iPod or listen to it in their car. But while that model may have worked in the past, I’m not so sure that its effectiveness is quite what it used to be.
The quickest way to introduce a potential fan to your music? Make it easy to find, give them some of it for free, and let them do what they want with it.
If you offer fans prominently-placed access to a full, free song, it’ll be on their computer in minutes. In their music library. Ready to be transferred to their iPod. One click away from being added to a mix or playlist. All set to pop up randomly when iTunes is set to “shuffle.” Before they know it, your music is with them, and you’re in a better position than ever to connect with them. And the goodwill offering of something for nothing? Not a bad way to start a new relationship.
Now, I understand the overwhelming urge to be protective of your music, and believe me: I feel your pain. Your songs are worth more than nothing. I know that. Mine are, too. And in a perfect world, none of us would be handing over the goods until we were paid in full. And if you choose to stick with that approach, I can’t fault you for that. But I also think you’re missing out on an easy opportunity. The simpler you make it for someone to hear your music in the way they want to, the more chance you have of becoming a part of that person’s life, which can quickly lead to them introducing your music to their friends. The more you keep your music under lock and key, the higher the risk becomes of someone getting frustrated and forgetting about it.
A great way to try it: set one of the track prices on your CD Baby album page to zero, and add links to that page on your site(s). This way people can get a look at the rest of your album while they’re there, too, further introducing them to what you have to offer.
Just think how happy someone would be if they Googled your band name and got a free song from you, all within the span of a few minutes. If you make it into their headphones during that critical time when they’re especially curious about your music, they’re going to give your song(s) a good listen. And if they like what they hear, they’re going to want to hear the rest of your album.
So, what do you think? Have you had any good/bad experiences with giving your music away for free?
-Brad at CD Baby