Releasing your music for free is a lot like putting on a condom. There are so many ways to do it wrong, but when you get it right, it can be incredibly rewarding, and save lots of frustration down the line!
Before you even decide what to do with the music – make sure you’ve got it ready to go. For me, that means:
Once you’ve got that sorted, it’s time to consider your options.
Many people will be familiar with Bandcamp’s now quite common method of pricing, where you can set no upper limit for cost, and allow people to download your music for free.
This can be completely free with no catch, or it can be free provided you leave your email address. I prefer the latter, since I think at least then you’re able to get something from your audience in aid of letting them know about possible future releases.
What I have often found is when you allow people to pay what they want – a small percentage of people will pay something above zero (in my experience, about 1-5%). Whether it’s the hidden guilt aspect, or a genuine appreciation for what you’re doing, or even just a token amount to allow them to stream it on the Bandcamp app – it all helps and starts to add up (and can often be a great way to recoup mastering, promo or artwork costs amongst others).
Remember: Bandcamp is not the only place to offer this service. Lots of platforms are adopting this method now. You can even build your own if you’re feeling ambitious!
Quite a novel system when it started to gain traction 3-4 years ago, the “pay with a tweet” method worked with a special hidden link, activated only when a tweet was posted including your link, and essentially in return for a little promotion, the download was activated.
I liked the simplicity of this, although this has now grown into the sort of thing that can really be a bit more abused. Facebook has now also been introduced on most of these content gates, and what was once a simple and effective tool has become a little more cumbersome in an attempt to provide too much functionality.
More and more, I see free download buttons on Soundcloud actually re-directing me to these so called “Fan Gates” which allow you to specify a certain action (or three) before the download is released.
I have mixed opinions about these. On one hand they’re relatively effective, and can boost your followers or likes, but they put me off a little, so I need to really want the track first of all.
Secondly, if I follow your rules to get the download, and see that I’ve been taken advantage of by having liked and commented on your track, and then having automatically reposted it somehow as well as been added to your mailing list – I think there’s a point at which I’d call this overkill.
Don’t put people off.
Instead of having a fan-gate request somebody like your page, or follow you on Soundcloud, why not encourage them to sign up to your mailing list instead?
To a degree you can set this up with Bandcamp as part of the pay what you want system, but if you’re tech-savvy and want to try this yourself, you could do it on your own site.
Send somebody to a special sign-up page, hooked up to your mailing list provider, and then have either an auto-responder email the link to anybody who signs up, or have a custom confirmation page with the download on it (or heck, both!)
(Full disclosure: The Aweber and Mailchimp links are affiliate links. They don’t change what you get, but they help me make a little cash back.)
Soundcloud is a wonderful platform to help you push your free downloads – and to be honest, i think it’ worth having at least clips up there, although if you’re giving it away you might as well put the whole thing up on your Soundcloud too.
Whether you make it directly downloadable (I wouldn’t, since you can’t collect anything in return for the downloads to help further down the line) or if you disable downloads, and link people to where they can get it – that’s up to you.
When I started Cut, I’d release music for free – pay what you want on Bandcamp. People shared it far and wide, and with every release we got about 1000 more people joining the mailing list, either via Bandcamp, or the site.
We amassed a subscriber list of almost 15,000 people over the course of about 12-13 releases.
Imagine if even just 1% of those people bought your album when it came out. That would be 150 sales. Even if you sold it for €5 you’d be looking at €750 without even doing any promo.
Free is not for everyone – and it’s not always the best solution, but if you decide to go down this route – even just for your first EP or one of your early releases – make sure you do it right!
Not sure if you should release for free? Why not read Should You Release Your Own Music For Free?
Do you know somebody who’s releasing music for free? Why not send this their way and help them do it better.
It’s free, and I won’t sell, rent or spam your inbox.
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