Should Musicians Give Away Their Music for Free?
You want to increase your fan base and get as many people as possible to hear your work. So what’s the best way to do that without doing yourself a disservice?
Sites like Bandcamp enable you to charge as much or as little for tracks as you wish and it’s common for artists to run free music promos. But should musicians give their music away for free, or is this bad for both artists and the industry as a whole?
It really depends on who you are and how you’re doing it. In this article, we’ll take a look at whether you can benefit from free music promotion and if so, how you can go about it for the best results.
Should musicians give their music away for free?
There are two main considerations you’ll need to make before answering this question.
Firstly, it really depends on where -and how – you’re giving your music away for free. It can be a very effective strategy, but only if you target the right sites and events, otherwise you’ll lose money fast, especially if dishing out hard copies of tracks that cost a lot to produce.
Secondly, you’ll need to evaluate where you are in your career. If no one’s heard of you and you have no following, you’re unlikely to make cash from your songs. Giving them away free can help you build up a fan base, allowing you to move on to some paid sales further down the line. Equally, if you’re a massive band, a freebie can be a great way to generate publicity. Remember when iTunes randomly issued a free copy of U2’s latest album to every single subscriber. It caused a huge stir and probably won them far more in publicity and appearances than releasing a mediocre paid album would have done otherwise. It’s all about smart PR.
Is Giving Music Away for Free a Good Idea?
So you’ve recorded a brilliant track. Now how do you go about getting it out to the public without spending any money? Finding free opportunities to promote your new music may be challenging, but here are there are still plenty of ways to get your music promoted for free. But some are better than others.
Giving music away for free is a good idea, provided you have the right game plan. This should include:
- Social media
- Live gigs
- A launch night (online and offline)
- Coverage such as blogs, article features and radio appearances.
If you struggle with tech and aren’t all that internet savvy, spend some time learning some social media marketing skills. Keep up to date with all the latest apps and advances – things are constantly changing. But equally, if you’re fine behind a screen but shy in person, push through that barrier.
Sometimes the best results come from direct approaches in person. Work on your online presence and image, but also learn how to sell yourself face to face – charm and charisma is everything here.
Artists that give away free music
So it probably won’t surprise you to learn that one of the first ports of call for free music promotion, is the internet. There are many websites specialising in providing space for unsigned artists to share their tracks. If you’re at all cynical, you’ll wonder what they stand to gain for this and whether it’s legit.
It’s always worth asking these kinds of questions. Check out a site’s credibility before posting anything, or entering your private information. The ones we’ve listed in this article are all above board. But as new ones are constantly popping up, it pays to do a quick search and read the terms and conditions before handing over your details.
There are a variety of ways a website can benefit from you using them. In most cases, subscribers and hits equal money-making potential. This might be in the form of advertising space on the sites, or via sponsorship and funding. Some sites offer free music promotion, with optional paid add on services.
While others provide time-limited free trials, in the hope you’ll love it so much you sign up for a fee. If you do sign up for a trial that asks for your credit card details to get started, make sure there’s an option to cancel before the end of the trial period and that the site has secure encryption to keep your data safe.
Ways to promote your music for free
#1 YouTube: one of the top websites to upload music for free
Thousands of musicians make a living from videos on YouTube (thanks to paid sponsorship) and many well-known singers got their start on the platform, such as:
- Justin Bieber
- Jorja Smith
- Shawn Mendes
- James Bay
- Carly Rae Jepsen
You can carve out an entire niche and career or YouTube alone. It has the benefit of allowing you to showcase your image as readily as your audio. So if your act is as much about the visuals and style, as well as the sounds, then this is undoubtedly the primary avenue for you.
YouTube is taking over from live TV more and more, garnering an ever-growing army of viewers, who are converted to choosing channels and clips, over Freeview, cable and satellite channels. But the best thing is that you don’t have to win over a TV executive to get a shot at screen time here.
All you need is a decent smartphone and internet connection and you can get started. Although, once you’ve started making some cash, it’s well worth getting some better recording equipment. And talking of cash, get enough subscribers to your channel, and brands will start paying you for commercial time.
#2 SoundCloud Promotion
When it comes to free music promotion, SoundCloud is one of the most popular sites for unsigned singers. It’s one of the very best resources because it’s free, slick and user-friendly. You can upload your music on to it and the popularity of the site means you have an elevated level of exposure – anyone can listen to your music.
All singers should have a SoundCloud account simply due to not least because of how easy it is to create and keep updated. After uploading your tracks, you can then embed your links into your social media sites so that your music is always available to all your fans.
#3 Spotify promotion
Another massive name in streaming is, of course, Spotify. Upload an unlimited number of tracks via Spotify for Artists with no fees attached. Received stats and data on it, to find out how it’s doing.
For more info on promoting your music specifically for Spotify, read our article on it here.
#4 Free music advertising on social media
All singers should be using social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all the time. These sites are fast overtaking conventional advertising in appeal and leverage. They’re also the vehicle through which so much millennial and post-millennial communication happens. If you’re wanting to appeal to a youthful audience (and let’s face it, in the music industry this is highly likely), your social media presence is your calling card.
Do use every channel you can. But be aware that as a singer, Facebook is going to be your best friend. Other industries may favour Instagram for its strong visual emphasis, or Twitter for its soundbites. But for music – be it bands or artists – Facebook wins. Not only can you post pictures, videos, sound clips and links to your tracks, but you can also create events.
Make and manage a page for yourself as a public figure, or band. This will give you extra buttons and tools for self-promotion. Put thought into your branding as a singer. Invite everyone you know to share and like your page and keep updating the content, so your followers stay interested.
#5 Music promotion packages for social – Hootsuite
Once you’re up and running -and attracting attention in the form of posts, comments, reviews and likes, Facebook business often offers freebies to boost your posts. It’s worth taking advantage of those. But another tool you’ll definitely want to get to grips with, is Hootsuite, the social media management dashboard.
All this posting, sharing and commenting can become immensely time consuming and you need to be strategic about the days and times you’re doing it, to maximise your audience. So why not have a service which can schedule your posts for you?
Hootsuite is very easy to use, all you have to do is take some time to write up social media posts and then decide when you want them to be posted to your profiles for you.
Hootsuite allows you to schedule these so you’re interacting with your fanbase regularly, especially if you are too busy or unable to put posts up. It’s compatible with Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest – so you can cover all your bases in one fell swoop.
Social media marketing is a whole science in itself and an ever-changing landscape. But as it’s such an attainable way of spreading the word, it’s a vital part of your free music promotion arsenal – especially as it gives you the opportunity for limitless free music promotion.
#6 Jump on the free music promotion BandWagon
BandWagon is a website where singers can search for gigs in their local area and apply for them online. Gigging is a great way to promote your music and to get experience in the industry. There are also opportunities to make money through this website as some of the gigs are paid. Bonus! Once you’ve got some cash through this you can invest it back into your act.
Make sure you’re partnering the live performance opportunities with all the other methods. Once you have that gig, talk about it on social media (using Hootsuite, so you can be posting at the same time as travelling and warming up), create an event, post a video of it to YouTube and a recording to SoundCloud.
Before you go on stage, go live on Facebook show your fans the venue, chat about your upcoming set and encourage them to head down to see you (there’s still time!). At the end of the gig, use this time in front of the mic to let the audience know how to find you online and where to see you live, next.
#7 Create your own websites to upload music for free
Don’t just depend on other sites to market your music. While using existing tools is easy and helps you reach a wider audience, it’s well worth setting up your own landing page too. You might think this sounds expensive, but with the likes of Wix, Square Space, WordPress and countless more, it’s never been easier to build your own website. This gives you full control over the content and layout. Add a contact page for fans to get in touch, as well as highlighting your experience.
Google alerts send you a notification when someone searches your act name on their search engine. This is a useful tool for singers to have because it shows you where your fans are going from there and what websites are getting you the most attention, helping you to adjust your music promotion accordingly. Once you have your website up and running, Google alerts will be especially handy and informative.
#8 Unsigned artist promotion – local media and press
You might not have the budget to hire a PR company yet, but there’s nothing to stop you from contacting your local newspapers and radios yourself. They may be able to offer you space if you present a good press release in the right manner and it is newsworthy.
Look out for niche publications and up and coming bloggers. They’ll be looking for great content and interesting stories, so if you can offer something worth publishing, you’re in with a good chance. But to do this, you’ll need to be ahead of who’s who and what’s what on the music journalism scene.
Do your homework, read articles they’ve released about other artists and figure out which writers and media outlets would be most likely to feature you. If you can incorporate something of local interest all the better. Do you use your music to benefit the wider community or volunteer in some capacity? Have you raised money for charity with a gig?
Another good way to get free promotion via the media is with reviews. Review sites don’t generally pay their reviewers, but they do get free tickets to gigs. This means they can cover a lot of ground by keeping costs low. Find the review sites covering your town, city and county and send them your press release and an invite, whenever you have a gig coming up. If they do come, they’ll write about it, and you’ll have a published piece to share on social media. Readers and scouts may make the effort to catch you too if you get a glowing review.
#9 Word of mouth: be your own music promoter
Probably the most important form of free music promotion is by word of mouth. Engaging with potential fans and getting them to spread the word about your music or gigs can be the easiest way to get your name around. This can be done online, in person, or via your nearest and dearest – yes, make the most of your family and friends to maximise your reach.
Go to other artists’ and industry events. Mix, mingle and network. Look out for influential people. Let everyone know what you’re doing. Don’t be pushy but do be genuine. Friends in the right places will take you far, but it’s a two-way street. If you want contacts and help, be prepared to buy a few drinks, build some relationships and give something back whenever you can.
#10 Use listings and forums for music promotion services
Contact or post on websites or forums. There are lots of listings sites that you can add your events to without paying a penny. Skiddle is a major name for music and club listings. Add as many as you like and link them to Facebook events via the dashboard. It’s simple and user-friendly. Plus the stats will let you know how many hits your event is getting.
Gumtree is a good example for posting local listings and Facebook has dedicated music groups that you can join for every location and genre of music around. Look out for regional event websites that’ll let you do the same. Many of them will tweet and share your upcoming events for you. Reddit is a popular forum for sharing content too. You will have to put some effort in to learn how to play the game though. As with face to face networking, engage with others and show interest beyond your own work.
#11 Promote your music for free by giving it away
Although you will want to make money from your music, giving some demo CDs or a memory stick away for free after your gig can actually be beneficial.
You never know, the guy who got dragged along to see you and got given a CD might just become your biggest fan.
And it’s not just hard copies that you can gift. Remember when everyone with an Apple account received a free copy of U2’s new album Songs of Innocence – without even asking for it? This met with mixed reactions, to say the least. But it’s a regular occurrence to find bands and artists giving away songs and albums via the likes of iTunes, Spotify, Google Play and on their own websites.
Radiohead, Prince and Gorillaz are all among the acts to have offered songs free and gratis. The idea is that trying a little, will whet your appetite for more, the same as any other free trial. Although it’s always better to let someone choose your tunes, rather than have them inexplicably land in your playlist. If you’ve got a considerable following and a growing reputation as an exciting emerging artist, it may be worth approaching Apple and Google, as they do have new music giveaways as part of their catalogue.
There’s really no reason to hold back on your music promotion and marketing. Even if you’re just starting out, it’s worth getting the ball rolling with something simple, like setting up some social media profiles. And if you’re wanting to take your music career seriously, set yourself a plan, with some achievable targets and do at least one task every day to contribute to your own PR.
The bottom line is, if you want to make it big, you will need to pay for a promoter at some point. And a really good marketing campaign and public relations team is vital to ongoing success. But in the meantime, there are loads of things you can do by yourself, to ensure you get plenty of free music promotion.
Once you start to get some momentum and loads of people are downloading your songs and coming to your gigs, you can start to charge. But if you’re not there yet, you probably should give your music away for free.
- How much does it cost to promote a song to a radio station?
It depends on what radio station and who’s doing it. If you hire a radio promoter and aim big, it could be in the thousands. But if you go local and go small, you can promote your music for free with some demos, by yourself.
- How do you get people to download your music?
First, your tracks need to be of a very high standard, professionally recorded with a unique and appealing sound. Then you need to market it and plug it in the ways we’ve described. Social media will be key in this.
- What is a free promotion?
‘A free promotion’ is not necessarily the same as ‘free promotion’. It usually refers to giving something away. So you might want to offer people to sign up and receive one of your tracks as a free promotion. Then once they’ve done so, you can encourage them to purchase others.
Do you give away your music for free? Are you trying to plug a new release right now? Let us know and post a link in the comments