Offering free downloads should be an integral part of any musician’s strategy, especially for up-and-coming acts. The democratization of the music business has led to a growing level of noise that is increasingly difficult to cut through for a new artist. Interestingly enough the same things that make it easier for an artist to get out there, make it harder for them to actually get heard. Recording costs have dropped so it’s cheaper to make an album, and online distribution has opened up so it’s easier to make it available for sale, but the sheer amount of music being put out makes it less likely than ever before that someone will take a chance by spending money on a new artist. With an overwhelming amount of new artists available to them, people instead end up listening to the ones they know already, the ones their friends tell them about, or the ones that are force-fed to them by the media. There is too much noise to break through.
We can learn from video game companies, magazines, and rappers. Rovio doesn’t expect you to drop your hard earned $0.99 on Angry Birds just like that. They offer a free version with just a few levels. Just enough to get hooked, or in Jay’s words: “just a breeze, not enough to catch a real vibe.” The same goes for magazines with short-term test-subscriptions, or free issues included with other magazines. Rappers are of course the subset of musicians that have understood the value of this method for decades. Give them a taste, and leave them wanting more. First expose people to what’s so special about your music, and if it’s something they dig, they will be back and ready for you to close the sale and convert that into purchasing behavior, whether it’s a shirt, more music, or a concert ticket. We see this behavior all the time at Family Records, and are excited to share some music for free with the confidence that people will love it so much that they’ll be back for more and to support the artist. Below is a pretty common message we come across, and one that keeps us excited about sharing more free music. We even present an entire free section front-and-center in our store.
One way an artist can enhance the free download is to provide context and package it with free downloads from other popular artists that are related in style or aesthetic. We do this with free roster-wide Family mixtapes and playlists. One of the most satisfying aspects of what we do is seeing people come into our store through one particular artist they’re a fan of, and then come back a few weeks later to pick up an album by another artist they learned about through the free mixtape that came with their previous order. See below.
Anyone can do this. Take the initiative to gather up a bunch of talented artists, including ones in other regions you plan to tour in, pick some great tracks and put them together with some nice artwork (it counts!), and encourage all the artists to have their network help to spread the mixtape. It could also be a playlist on Rdio or Spotify of course. When putting a mixtape together respect people’s time by keeping it relatively short. You may think you’re a bit of a genius, and that giving away your music alone should make people want to listen to it, but keep in mind the aforementioned thought on the overflow of new music. People don’t care if you’re a genius, until they care to begin with. And that brings us back to the start of this post. Break through the noise by providing people with context, and an easy way to sample your music for free.