Giving Away Your Music For Free – Tools For Indie Musicians

This post is part of the “Tools for Indie Musicians series. See all the posts here.

This is more of a strategy than a tool, but strategies are tools, right?

All of my original music is free. I’m going to explain my strategy in this post, but first, let’s look at this idea from both sides.

Argument against free downloads

You can do a google search and read tons of opinions on artists giving away their music for free. Many are passionately against the idea. I’ve read a lot of arguments against giving away music, and I’ll sum them up with this statement:

Giving away your music for free cheapens it. You put lots of work into creating music, and if you believe it is valuable, you shouldn’t just give it away. Furthermore, it harms the entire music industry, conditioning fans to expect to listen to and download music for free.

Why I choose to give my music away free

I believe the argument for giving away music is stronger. So, this is why I give away my music for free.

  • I am an unknown artist. Sure – I may have more than 2 or 3 twitter followers, and my mailing list has more than 13 emails on it, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m totally 100% an unknown.
  • As an unknown artist, exposure is worth way more than money.

This sounds nice, but how does it play out in the real world? For years I had a couple albums out on iTunes and I was trying different strategies to try and sell the albums. I had physical copies that I sold to my friends and family for $5 or so. I think in all I sold maybe 30 CD’s (and most of those were probably people who felt guilted into buying one) and a tiny amount of iTunes downloads. I had essentially no sales, and people were not discovering my music at all.

So, a little over a year or so ago, I decided to try an experiment. I was finishing up an EP, and I thought I’d try giving it away. What did I have to lose? I didn’t want to ask those same 30 people for another $5 for an album they might not really want.

I gave it away, and I used several strategies including BandCamp, NoiseTrade, and MailChimp. Don’t worry – I’m planning to write posts detailing just how I used these.

My mailing list has grown from 0 to about 2000 people. My Facebook and Twitter profiles are gaining followers. I feel like the people that are discovering my music actually like it. Plus, I’m making some money with tips – and thanks to all of you who have tipped me through NoiseTrade and BandCamp. You are awesome!

The free model has worked for me and for my goals. I’m still an unknown artist, but at least a few more people know about me. If you are in a similar situation, give some thought to the free music model. And stay tuned as I’m planning to detail just how I use services like MailChimp, NoiseTrade, and BandCamp.

  • Mirjam

    so thankful for artist like yourself that give away their music for free. We work with the poor a lot here in South Africa, and these people simply cannot afford to buy good worship music all the time. it is a blessing for them to have this available. Keep it going and may God richly bless you and reward you for the seed you are sowing!

    • http://www.brianwahlmusic.com Brian

      Mirjam, this is really encouraging! Thank you so much.

      • Mirjam

        it’s a pleasure! you have an awesome gift, continue to use it for His kingdom! There’s not one time i speak the poor we’re working with, that they don’t tell me how blessed they are with the music. It’s all they have..and in the harsh environment that they live in, surrounded by witch doctors and violence, they really need the encouragement. Be blessed!