Most independent musicians don’t have large marketing and advertising budgets to spread the word about their music. You’ve spent most of your money on the recording itself, why not use that as your marketing tool? Giving away your music might seem counter-productive if you’re ultimately trying to sell it, but giving away the right amount, and to the right people, can help you build your email list, learn more about your audience, fuel word-of-mouth marketing, and spur greater sales in the long run. After all, the end goal of any marketing, advertising, or promotional plan is to get people to listen to your music.
How much should you give away?
Usually one free track from your new album will do the trick. It’s hard enough to get people’s attention, so focusing on a single track will help even a small amount of buzz gain some critical mass. If you have older albums or demos, perhaps you can make some of that music available for free as well, but keep the focus on your new material.
How should you give it away?
Just because you are giving away your music for free does not mean you should give it away freely. Employ some strategy, using the following ideas, to make your free music work for you.
Build Your Email List
There are a number of ways to use a free download as an incentive for people to join your email list. I manage my email list with FanBridge, which allows me to send a free download automatically to every new subscriber. There are also some distribution services, such as Bandcamp or Topspin, which offer the free download in exchange for an email address.
Don’t forget to actually offer the download to those people already on your email list–after all, you should treat them like VIPs since they’ve already opted in. A free download is a great excuse to send an email blast, and you can ask your fans to share the mp3 with their friends.
Learn About Your Fans
Give a free song away or make it available to stream in places that can provide some metrics about who is listening. Widgets that can tell you who is listening, like those provided by Bandcamp and Topspin, or music-centric social networks like Last.fm, will help you understand who listens to your music, and where they are listening.
For example, I use Bandcamp widgets on my site. One is in the sidebar, though there are others throughout the site. Using Google Analytics, I know which pages and blog posts are getting the most traffic, and Bandcamp tells me which pages people are on when they listen to music on the widget. Combining this information, I’ve started to learn how to write blog posts that attract the most people that will be interested in hearing my music.
If you’re unfamiliar with Last.fm, it’s a site that tracks users’ listening habits. For example, you can visit my Last.fm profile and see what I listen to at my computer! It’s a great place to give away a free track because the people who will download it there probably track their listening habits as well (called “scrobbling” on Last.fm). I’ve learned that the people who listen to my music the most don’t always have much in common with me. Naturally, we’d assume anybody that shares our taste in music would also like the music we create, but it turns out that’s not always true. Once I saw trends in my listeners’ libraries, I was able to promote my music to a wider yet still very targeted audience.
In both cases, using metrics helped me understand my audience and make better use of the time I spend online. But this can also come in handy when you promote shows, or just talk to people about your music. Learning more about my fans has been the most valuable result of giving my music away.
Target Fans with Fans
Offer free downloads to fans with the greatest reach. Do a little research and figure out which of your fans have popular blogs or use social networks regularly to talk about the music they love. Maybe they’re musicians themselves, or perhaps they’re just interesting people that write entertaining blogs. You never know who might be considered the “go to guy” for new music recommendations amongst his friends.
Send them a personal note with a download link and thank them for their support so far. Be specific–it helps to know what show you saw them attend last, or the last time they mentioned you on their blog. Tell them you’d like them to hear your new music before you release it. Chances are they’ll reciprocate by mentioning your music online.
Free Tracks Love Metadata
Whenever you give away your music, make sure you tell people where and when they can buy more! If you’re offering a free download before your album is released, make sure people know that. If the album is available, embed the link in the MP3 metadata. The importance of embedding your track with extra information (ie. metadata) cannot be overstated.
This is especially true when you send your music to your email list and bloggers. Give them all the information you’d like them to tell other people in a nice, neat few sentences that they could just copy and paste to their blog. You are essentially giving them a press release, but in a more personable fashion.
Again, the importance of metadata cannot be overstated. If you use iTunes, right click on a track and choose “Get Info.” I’m sure other media players have similar options to enter extra data for MP3s. Fill out as much of that information as possible. Include lyrics, sidemen, composers, links, or anything else you can think of. When your tracks end up on somebody’s computer, you want to make it easy for them to find more of your music!