To Sell or Not to Sell? - Why Giving Your Music Away Can Pay Off



**Guest post written by Brandon Swift, musician and creator of


The Grateful Dead helped to set the bar for marketing music in the 21st century. The American rock band, which stayed together for 30 years, broke all the rules and profited as a result. In a time when music artists were concerned with losing valuable record sales to piracy, The Grateful Dead encouraged fans to record music at the group's concerts and then make their own bootlegged tape copies of the music available for sale. They went against almost every industry rule for making a profit.


No one could have guessed how valuable this decision would be for The Grateful Dead. The group was able to obtain sell-out crowds at its concerts, spread their music among listeners all over the world, and create the loyal following that called itself "Dead Heads." The marketing principle at work for the group was this one: In order to see a real profit, you must first give your products away for free.


Music marketers and artists who have come after The Grateful Dead have been trying to emulate this marketing model since the group's success with it. The model casts a wide net of influence for any artist or group hoping to make a serious mark in the music industry. Here are some reasons giving away your music works so well and has the power to help those who are willing to make a considerable profit.



Get the Word Out

One of the biggest reasons many new albums do not earn a large listening audience is because only a few people discover them. Every project should come with its own plan to create sustained buzz about the music, the artist and attempt to turn every listener into a financial supporter. If you give the music away, many newcomers will come to the music simply because there is no cost associated with it. They will stay because they love the music.

+The Best Way To Get New People To Listen To Your Music Is Not About Giving It Away


Music creators should not look at cost-free music as something that detracts from sales. Instead, it should be viewed as a way to supplement sales. Traditional music formats like CDs are not likely to become a thing of the past. There will always be buyers for these physical formats. The Internet, MP3’s and similar file formats, however, have changed the playing field considerably.


Remember, buyers no longer have to purchase an entire album in order to enjoy an artist's music. They can purchase single tracks that they have heard on other platforms. This is a perfect way for artists to earn and create revenue in streams that were not possible before the age of the MP3. Rather than risking the loss of a sale because a potential buyer does not want to buy an entire CD, artists can also now make money because buyers can select any specific song they want. The other side of this is that, if a band releases a song for free, fans may want to buy more of their songs which require a purchase.

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Move the Listener Toward Buying

For an artist, the psychology of giving away music for free is built on the idea that the music is good enough to inspire a purchase. The more people who listen to a particular track, the more popular it becomes. This will lead those who genuinely enjoy the music to seek other tracks by the same artist. When an artist begins a marketing campaign with free music, he has to have his eye on the sale that is likely to happen at a later time.


Independent artists struggle with this concept often because they are forced with doing practically everything themselves and typically take on all the costs themselves. They are eager to recoup some of their investment in any way possible. The speed at which this occurs, though, is generally pretty slow - especially if there is a cost barrier associated with new fans hearing their music.

+10 Ways To Raise Funds For Your Next Music Project (Without Selling A Single Record)


If artists just started out giving away music, they could build a loyal following that would be willing to purchase additional music. The lesson here is that if an artist spends an inordinate amount of time focused on trying to keep others from stealing their music, they are also preventing others from listening to it. Giving it away keeps their music in circulation and minimizes how much they depend on low online sales to carry them.



Grow a Fan Base Community that Authentically Loves the Music

One of the biggest lessons any group can learn from The Grateful Dead is how giving away free music helps to grow a community. Fan bases that are built this way are full of loyal ambassadors for the music they help to promote. By using one of the most powerful marketing tools, word-of-mouth promotion, the ambassadors keep the music alive for much longer than the magical trending time of the last album.

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+Nurturing Your Fanbase


Such a lovely confluence of music, admiration and sharing can lead to other streams of revenue beyond the music. Fan bases help popularize items like T-shirts, bumper stickers and other novelty items that people idolize in order to signify their loyalty to an artist or group. Fan communities are interested in far more than just the music. They want to know the artist and what motivates him. They long to get inside of an artist's creative process. Videos, online content, chats, blogs, ebooks and webinars are other revenue streams that a community helps to drive. Free music is just a tool to get them in the purchase queue.

+Get Your Merch Printed For Less


There are many great ways to sell music files & merchandise online. Free websites like allow artists to maintain their creative control and set up websites and/or online stores with no programming skills. Artists should always try to make a sound decision about where they want to place their focus in music distribution. If the goal is to concentrate on preventing piracy, they should be prepared to give up a lot of creative time. If the goal is to sell music, they should plan to give some of it away for free.




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+The Tools of Music Fan Engagement [Part 2]: Newsletters



About: is a social e-commerce platform with a fully integrated suite of professional social marketing tools. They are looking for bands who want a free website, blog, and online store. While the site as a whole isn't only for musicians, Brandon created it to meet many of the needs that he saw as a musician trying to market himself online.



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