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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.

    So, let's discuss a few things that seem to send us indies over the edge.

    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 charity.

    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.

    Reprinted with permission from www.songwritersconnection.com


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