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The EvO:R-Pedia Musicians Tips Section
Welcome to the EvO:R Tips Section. We call this section EvO:R-Pedia because it is like a complete
reference library for Indie musicians...Just about every tip has been used so you won't find false
promises and a series of books to buy after reading each tip. This section was put here by musicians
so that people that followed can take this knowledge and use it's power.
Something For Nothing
by Nancy Moran
At some point in your musical career, you'll be asked to give
something away for free-your music (as in a stream or download),
your performance (as in a gig), or even a CD (the dreaded
"trade"). And I find that most musicians fall into one of two
extreme categories: either they give away everything or they
give away nothing. I, myself, have found myself in both of these
categories at one time or another. (I gave away everything until
I felt taken advantage of and then I guarded my music better
than FortKnox!) In reality, though, somewhere in the middle is
the right answer.
Reprinted with permission from
So, let's discuss a few things that seem to send us indies over
When I'm teaching workshops, inevitably someone brings up the
topic of stealing - as in "I can't put a whole song on my
website for everyone to hear because someone might steal my
song." This is a fear you need to get over. The likelihood of
someone stealing your song, especially when your career is in
its infancy, is slim to none. I do not personally know anyone
who's had a song stolen. Besides, if this is your fear, then why
are you performing your songs in public at all? Can't someone
steal it just from hearing you perform it live? Or on the radio!
Boy, don't let radio stations play your entire song! Or what
about selling CDs? Won't they just buy your CD and steal it from
there? If someone wants to be unscrupulous and steal your song,
there's not a whole lot you can do about it. But the songwriters
that I know actually want to write their OWN songs. They think
that THEIR songs are better than anyone else's - including
YOURS. So, why would they want to steal something that they
think is inferior? Please! Don't worry about this and let it
stop you from forwarding your career.
The next item is sales. Many songwriters feel that if you only
let people hear a portion of the song, the listener will want to
buy it just because they want to hear the rest of it. Sounds
good in theory. And it's probably worked this way on occasion.
But how often do you have to hear a song all the way through
before you go buy the CD? Think about it. How many times do you
hear a song on the radio before you purchase it? A few songs are
so outstanding that you probably go immediately to iTunes and
download it. More often than not, however, you probably hear
that one song several times-and maybe even a couple more from
the same album-before you plunk down cold hard cash for a disc
or an mp3. Am I right? And these are songs from established
artists! So, why is it that we expect audience members and web
surfers to hear just PART of our song and find that's enough to
want to invest in hearing more? Let them listen to the whole
song-start to finish.
Now, keep in mind that I'm talking about STREAMING a song, not
downloading. Downloading a song for free is another issue
altogether because the listener gets to keep it for forever.
Some people adamantly feel that you should NEVER offer a
download for free; while others see that you can use it as a
promotional opportunity. And in this case, both positions are
valid. It's your prerogative to control your material. So, if
you feel that you need to retain the value of your music by only
offering it for sale, then that's a valid decision. However,
there are times in ANY business where the promotional value
exceeds the value of the item itself. And this can justify
giving something away for free or at a reduced cost. Everyone
loves getting something for free! So, the theory is that if you
give away a song for free, you get people excited about your
music, they pass it on to their friends, and you end up with a
larger potential audience base than if you didn't give something
away. Also, theoretically, you'll end up selling more songs
because a portion of those new fans will want to hear more or
will simply want to support you by buying your whole record.
Perhaps the place you have to be careful of the most is with
performances. Organizations, non-profits, radio stations, and
even venues will often ask you to participate in a "benefit"
(which usually means you're playing for free) - and the
"payment" you're supposed to receive for your effort is
"exposure" (meaning you'll be playing in front of a larger
audience than you could draw on your own and theoretically could
gain new fans). While some of these benefit performances can be
a terrific opportunity for you, not all of them are. Anyone can
promise "exposure." But the question is can they deliver? Before
accepting a benefit performance you should make sure that either
a) this is a cause that you want to support and you don't care
what you get out of it or b) you've weighed the pluses and
minuses and you feel that you will gain some media or other
promotional advantages from participating, making it worthwhile.
You may even want to set a limit on the number of gigs that
you'll do for free. If promoters can always get you to play for
nothing, why would they need to pay you?
And finally, I want to comment on giving away CDs. When you're
just starting out, you may be horrified at the number of CDs you
will in essence give away-to magazines, newspapers, venues,
radio stations, record labels, publicists, etc. The list seems
to be endless. While you don't want to just give them away
willy-nilly, at the same time, don't be stingy with industry
professionals. When I promoted my third CD to radio, copies were
initially sent out to all reporting stations. Then, if my
promoter called and found they "hadn't received it" (which meant
they couldn't find it), then she sent out another one right
away. When a station started playing my record, I often called
or visited the station for an interview and I took another few
copies with me: one as a personal copy for the DJ, and a couple
more copies for anyone else at the station that seemed
interested. I never regretted giving these away. And I always
knew that this gesture helped me.
But when I worked at American Songwriter magazine, we often
received six different packages of the same CD, addressed to
each person on the masthead-including the advertising director
and administrative assistant. This was a total waste. The way
the magazine worked, I checked in every CD that came in through
the door and regardless of who it was addressed to, it went into
our "to be reviewed" pile. Any extras were simply given away to
Also, when you ask another artist to "trade" CDs with you, you
are asking them to give you one for free. "But wait!" I hear you
say - "I'm giving them MINE for free too - so it's like we both
purchased one." Ahhhhh - and therein lies the rub. How do you
know they WANTED to purchase your CD? If they weren't interested
in buying your CD, you've now put them in a very awkward
position and have in essence asked them to give you a CD for
free. A better way to handle this is to offer to purchase their
CD. If they respond back with "hey, why don't we just trade,"
then you know that they were interested and everyone feels good
with the trade. If they don't offer to trade, don't be offended.
Maybe they really need that $15 for gas money to make it to
their next gig!
What all of this really comes down to is BALANCE. You're going
to have to give away music and performances and CDs for free.
Just make sure that you're looking at your music career like a
business and that there's a valid reason for giving it away.
Also, make sure that you're not giving it all away all the time!
Your music is worth something. So treat it with value. But
remember that value doesn't always mean "money." Your music can
work for you and reward you in many ways.