Song-writing can be an arduous affair; from the tedious write-erase-rewrite process on the notepad to the long hours spent at the recording studio, it’s fair to say that once a song is completed, a feeling of pride and ownership prevails. Therefore, why on earth would an artist, who devoted so much time in crafting a song (which essentially, is a product) work so hard, only to give it away in the end for free? Well, we cracked down this week to find out these answers as this week’s topic is:

Music – To Be Free or Not To Be Free?
We’ve sat down with five wonderful bloggers who were kind enough to share their insight. This week, our New Media Maker Panel consists of: Rick Goetz of Musician’s Coaching, Ryan Liechti of The F.O.R.M. Blog, Author Loren Weisman of “The Artist’s Guide to Success in the Music Business”, Kevin English of and Voyno of the The New Rockstar Philosophy.
Rick Goetz                        Ryan Liechti                Loren Weisman              Kevin English                         Voyno

As this series is powered by the YOU, we encourage any feedback you may have and feel free to ask any questions of your own! What topics do you want see covered in this series? This is all about YOU, the artist, so let us know what you think about this post and share any lingering questions you may have.

1. What marketing techniques can artists use to leverage free music to build a bigger (and more loyal) fan base?

Voyno from The New Rockstar Philosophy: I hope everyone says that getting fans on the email list is the most important part of any marketing technique. ABGE. Always Be Gathering Emails; for a songs via Bandcamp, for early ticket sales via Topspin, for new videos via private YouTubes, whatever, this way you can always reach your fans.That’s part 1. Part 2 is engaging them with cool content and walking that ‘oh so fine’ line between consistent content and pestering. All audiences will be different so it’s okay to experiment.

2. If artists are not making money from their recordings, where can they make money from?

Ryan from the F.O.R.M. Blog: Shows! Lots and lots of live performances. You’re playing for pocket change, but if you play often and save smart you should start to accumulate some income, which will be reinvested in your efforts (i.e. food and gas money to get from show to show).

Sell your merchandise. You’re not “selling out”, you’re building a brand that others can support and believe in. Anybody can put a name on a T-shirt, poster, sticker or button. But for some reason, not everyone does. Set your self a part from low quality merchandise.

Create quality products that you would love or find useful, and your fans will feel the same. Get creative because there are plenty of opportunities out there! Network with music supervisors who are always on the search for new, affordable music to be added to the background of their TV show, video game or movie. This can be a very lucrative source of income for many artists/bands.

3. If an artist doesn’t give away free music, what are the most effective ways to promote an upcoming release?

Rick from Musician’s Coaching: YouTube is huge.  Beyond huge.  Even if you can’t afford a real video, make a still of the album artwork or even slides of the live show and set that to your music – YouTube is a very big destination for those searching for music.  Oddly, people are more likely to watch a still image of artwork set to music than they are to stream a song without visuals.

4. What is the biggest mistake, or most common mistake, that you’ve seen emerging artists make when giving away free music?

Kevin from Eleetmusic: Not having a centralized way to manage and analyze the music you are giving away. The service you choose to use should allow you to collect intelligence about what is working. If you cannot get an email in exchange for a download, stop what you are doing and change services. You should also be able to the who, what, why, when and where for each stream or download. I know for a fact that has these capabilities along with a host of others.

4. Is there a limit to the amount of music an artist should be giving away for free?

Kevin from Eleetmusic: I think it is important that artists are selective with what music they give away for free. Depending on your level of experience and brand recognition, the amount of music you give away may be different. For bands just starting out, giving away an entire album or EP may be ok. For artists that are a bit more mature, giving away the lead single may be the best approach.

Voyno from The New Rockstar Philosophy:Digital music is infinite. Get them hooked with the digital stuff then get them to pay for the real deal. As long as you’re in contact with them via email-I think the more you give, the more you get.

5. How do artists create incentives for their fans to buy their music?  How do they keep their fans faithful and constantly interested?

Ryan from the F.O.R.M. Blog: There are many incentives that artists can create for their fans to become more faithful, stay interested and buy their music. For starters, create limited edition albums, with extended cuts or bonus tracks. Release multiple versions of cover art for album, and ask your fans to choose the best ones. Create collectible items and memorabilia that your fans will find fun and entertaining or even useful. Autograph cd’s and merchandise. This is also another great way to build a connection with fans. After every show, stick around and see if fans are interested in having anything signed and see to it that they leave with a good experience of meeting you and connecting with your music.

Perform live at free shows and festivals or at special charity events.Take up a cause! This is one of the greatest ways to promote yourself and your music. Try to provide your fans with an overall better experience. Anyone can record songs, perform them live and put out a T-shirt. The real music business is more then that. It is building a long lasting connection with people who become fans and believers of your brand.

6. Where should artists be giving the music away? Does driving traffic to any single place make more sense then sharing the wealth?

Voyno from The New Rockstar Philosophy:It depends what stage of your career you’re at. A service like Bandcamp is great for starters, then you could merge to create your own thing or use a service like Topspin. I think it’s less about “sharing the wealth” and more about what your audience uses. Try everything you think will work in the beginning and see what works. Then stick to that so you don’t waste too much time. But more importantly it’s always a good idea to have all of your emails in one place/list. MailChimp is good for 2000 emails for free, and then it’s a small but worthwhile fee after that. Organization is key to all of this stuff.

7. How do artists (particularly older ones?) connect with today’s youth, especially college students, without giving away music since their generation are the main ones downloading?

Loren from The Artist’s Guide to Success in the Music Business: They have to take the same steps as younger musicians and put in the effort to build that education on social media, the marketing of today and the way promotion is working in the music industry of now. So much of it, regardless of age, is coming down to the marketing and the content that draws a potential fan to listen instead of the days when it was listen first, and then find out about them later.Again, having short sample clips, video clips and other snippets that represent can help to draw people in to the purchase.

With the over saturation of millions of bands online all going after the same thing, the industry is in a partial shift to bands being seen and read about online before being heard. The story is the hook to get many to the music on the independent level. Hook them fast to the music with samples! Giving someone a 30 second sample of ten of your songs which will allow the listener to hear 10 samples in 5 minutes, will up the chances of the purchase. Whether a few free songs or a number of free samples, give them a taste. It is one more step to drawing new fans in and keeping old fans interested.

Rick from Musician’s Coaching: The best way I know of accomplishing this is by aligning yourself with younger artists.  Butch Walker did this very well with the whole friends or enemies scene.  He was in metal bands in the 80s, an alternative group called The Marvelous 3 in the 1990s and wound up producing and writing with younger musicians who embraced him and gave his career longevity it may not have had with a younger audience.

We would like to thank the panelists who participated in this post, and remember this is powered by YOU. What topics would be most helpful for you? What do you want to learn? We’d be glad to find a new panel to address your questions and concerns in our next blog series post.

If you enjoyed the insights of our panelists- please follow them on Twitter via @Musiccoaching @rapmusicbiz @lorenweisman @eleetmusic @newrockstarbook

Category: Blog

  • Finnstarenergy

    i grew up listening to songs on the radio,if i liked it i bought the album,now i check out twitter and so on, if i like something new i down load the whole album free,any thing and every thing that’s out there,i don’t think its fair to the artist,they make no money off me……but then it is what it is,

  • Finnstarenergy

    i grew up listening to songs on the radio,if i liked it i bought the album,now i check out twitter and so on, if i like something new i down load the whole album free,any thing and every thing that’s out there,i don’t think its fair to the artist,they make no money off me……but then it is what it is,

  • Omar

    Thank you so much for putting all your opinions out here.  It helps everyone who’s trying to come out as a new artist find his place on the map.

  • Annie Fitzgerald

    Hey Panel!

    What a great thing you’re doing. So first off, thank you.

    One thing I would benefit from, is hearing more about what Ryan mentioned about networking with Music Supervisors. I’ve found that there are several organizations such as NARIP, and the grammy org., as well as SPONY, that offer networking events pertaining to music supervision………..but the majority of them cost money. NARIP, for example, has some great events happening with specific Music Supervisors over the coming months. But they cost $330 a pop. For two and a half hours with a Music Supervisor. I understand that as any business owner (i.e. an independent artist) you have to make smart investments. No matter how much I’d like to take a chance that I might make a connection, I can’t justify spending that much money at this point in my career. 

    What I think would be really beneficial, would be to have some sort of panel to talk more in depth about connecting with music supervisors. What concrete things can us artists do that are legit and won’t wear a hole in our pocket, other than the obvious & necessary getting out there and meeting people on a regular basis?  

    Music Think Tank had a great article recently about different resources such as Humtoo, Crucial Music, Musync and others. (
    I would be very interested in finding out what you guys think about these types of services. It’s overwhelming to see how many avenues there are out there, and it would be nice to hear trusted industry professionals opinions to help the cream rise to the top.

    Ariel rocks. So do you. Thanks again. 

    With Love,
    Annie Fitzgerald

    Americana Soul Singer/Songwriter
    Twitter handle:   @FitzgeraldAnnie:twitter 

  • Brian Franke

    Thank you everyone on the panel for their insight (I read and follow most of you already).  As a musician, I give away some free music, but not the whole enchalada.  I look at it in two ways: give away a free song to gain a new fan’s email and info and second give away a free song to a select group of fans, such as your true fans/super fans, as a token of appreciation.  Definitely have merch to sell and I didn’t see anyone mention this–but think in terms of BUNDLES–don’t just offer what you sell separately, package it in groupings because you’ll make more money.


    – I’d love to see a panel that explains the various channels of licensing your music for TV, commercials, film and explain the pros/cons of each.  I’m not so interested in how the deal is broken down if it makes it all to those formats (all I’ve learned from that is to get a lawyer), but who are some of the more effective people or companies getting songs placed (I know of a few like Music XRay, Taxi, Jingle Punks, Songtrust, Rightsflow, Pumpaudio; but can’t tell who makes sense for me)?

    – Publishing deals: how to seek them out, approach a publisher, and any services that can help.  I know this is big in Nashville, but I don’t write country music.

    – How to build a team: when is it the time to get a manager, publicist, tour manager, booking agent, and all those things.  Is there an order in which to build it?  What does each person do?

    – Creating a songwriting circle/collaborations: what are some ways to build a collaborating group of 7-12 songwriters in your city and get them to buy-in to the idea?  Tips on co-writing would be great too.

    – Getting corporate sponsors.  I know very little about this, but have seen a few friends getting a brief sponsorship from a beer company or a household name product.  Ins and outs of this.