Giving Your Work Away For Nothing

27 Nov

For a good long time there has been this idea that if you give your stuff away for free it will find more people, and those people will find their way back to you and if it’s good, then eventually labels will be knocking down your door.

Or is that not the way you picture it?  And I’m not saying that’s totally wrong, I just don’t want to wait for someone to come along and promote me or my music.


Wanting Someone To Do It For Us (Or ‘The Lazy Approach’):

I used to think that if I gave away all my stuff and kept making good stuff that labels would eventually come find me.  That’s kinda lazy.

It’s not that I’m charitable with my art and want to share with the world without getting anything in return.  It’s that I’ve been lazy about marketing and learning how to earn and appreciate fans.

I just want to make music, I’d tell myself.

Photo by Phil Moore


What I really meant was ”I don’t want to do that thing that I don’t know how to do,” namely marketing / networking / hustling.

If I had admitted it then, it would’ve become clear that for me ”I just want to make music” meant ”I’m not willing to be uncomfortable and put myself out there.”  Basically ”I’m not willing to try that hard because I might fail.”

I’ve been creating songs since I was 15, now I want to get something in return for that value I put into the world, how about you?


What are the benefits of giving it away?

So when I got a message from a guy on Soundcloud simply saying “I like your music, and I want to put your song out for free on my next free compilation!” I applied my principle.  I asked him: “What do I have to benefit from that, compared to the loss of me giving this thing away for free?”

The obvious answer is “Well, free promotion.”  And that is what a lot of us have been doing for a decade or so.

However, I didn’t see the value of him putting out my song at all when it was already out, right there on my page.  Putting it out on his page would dilute the results of the song only being on my page.  The balance is, it may have brought me new followers, who in the future would get stuff off of my page, which was something I didn’t think about at the time.  I may have screwed it up.

But on second thought, I remember why I did this.  Because it forced him to see my perspective, to recognize me and to value what I think.  He responded kindly, and promised me he’d release my stuff in a way that was more beneficial in the future.  Suddenly, we had a conversation.  I sacrificed the publicity of giving the song away, but in return I started a conversation and I got to keep my song.


Ownership, Samples, Fans As Promoters

I’m not saying you should charge for all of your songs, either.  Talking to Vanilla, a beatmaker from the UK who’s been pretty prolific and puts out quality music, music so good that it doesn’t need a label and promotion, people upload his stuff to YouTube for him.  The fans act like a record label for him.

But he told me he’s not interested in gathering email addresses.  And he let’s people pay whatever they want on Bandcamp, including no money at all, for the broke musicians and kids without credit cards or paypal accounts.

He’s generous, but also he’s mastered his style, he’s prolific and he has a following.  He doesn’t know where they are or how to get ahold of them whenever he wants, but he has a following.  He has to trust that they will seek him out next time he puts something out.


When You Legally Can’t Charge For Music

Oh, and big reason why he leaves the free option open on his songs?  His songs are made of already copyrighted material.  He samples soul, jazz & r&b songs, in a completely recognizable way, vocals and everything.


A Legal Way For Samplers & Re-Editors to Make A Buck

Legally Vanilla *can’t* charge for his music.  He’s sampling the hell out of a bunch of Motown records, so he’d get sued.  Record companies still are on the prowl for that.  BUT he can allow people to ‘donate’ to him (a feature implicit in Bandcamp’s ‘pay what you want’ option).

vanilla_mail_screenshotHe told me that people have been a lot more generous than he thought, some paying way more than what an album would cost. Like I said, he’s good, he’s revived a lot of awesome songs.


On Donation

And if I was a rich fan, I would give a lot out to those musicians who inspire me, just to keep them inspired and working.  You get inspired by their music and want to give something back.  Fans feel that.


Owning the fans

That’s what I mean by owning your fans.  Let them pay you what you’re worth -and what it’s worth is whatever the value is of the feeling you give them with your music.  And for people who like your music, that isn’t zero.

The currency you have is inspiration, and you can make as much of it as you want.


How about you, how do you plan to get paid for what you do?

Do you ever get paid more than you had expected?

What value do feel like you really offer to your fans?

Let me know in the comments below, I’m curious.  

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