Should you give it away for free?

In a private Facebook message regarding my free Electrik Project distribution, a trombone player wrote me:

People should be buying this. Composers need to be receiving renumeration for whatever they do. It shouldn’t be free.” He then followed up with “Get a good publisher.

I very much respect his opinion and understand his sentiment. Frankly, I’m surprised that no one has brought it up to me before now. But his comment gives me an opportunity to share my thoughts on this important topic.

My answer to his last point about getting a good publisher is that I already have one: ME! In fact each of us has become our own publisher. We each have global reach through Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, CD Baby, iTunes, our own websites and a hundred other places. Not for a minute do I think some music publisher will make my music accessible to a larger audience that I can.

The whole concept of centralized control is dying, that source of “control” being a music publisher, a big record label, a record store, a radio station, or a big name recording studio. iTunes, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Cloud Player, and the dozens of other sharing/streaming services are proof that the traditional music business model is being turned on its head – thank God! It’s now up to musicians to use the simple tools within our phones and computers to create a new and effective distribution model for our music.

So why give music away for free? Well, it’s hardly unprecedented. Twitter provided a free microblogging platform before it even knew how it would make money, as did Facebook and other social sites. They knew that building their audience was job one. Free eBooks, blogging and Youtube exist to provide free content. In fact, content marketing is one of the most important strategies in business marketing today – giving away great content. One of the great online marketing gurus, Eben Pagan, admonishes people to give their best stuff away for free. Why? Because if you expect to build an audience, you’ve got to give them the best samples possible.

I’m giving my music away to anyone willing to trade me their email address because I want my music to reach the largest possible audience. I’m having conversations with people in Brazil, Russia and Japan I would have never connected with if I was back to selling CDs. I’m being contacted by young players who, because of hearing my music, have decided to play the alto instead of the tenor. Now, that’s awesome! Again, trying to sell my music through the old-fashioned music business model won’t give me that kind of reach.

How will I make money? I don’t know, and at this point, I don’t care. I’m simply focused on reaching the greatest number of people I can and providing them with the best music I’m capable of writing and recording. If I start to put a price on my music at this point, I’ll dramatically reduce my reach and influence. Yes, I’d like to eventually make money with this, but I don’t yet have the audience.

I say throw out the old rules and traditional business dictums about what musicians should and shouldn’t do with their music. Make the best music possible and build your raving fan base in the process. If you do both well, I believe your monetary success will follow.

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