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Master Class: Making Money from "Free"

September 29, 2015

Today’s musicians are often asked to give away their music for free. Fans, creatives, and even for-profit enterprises such as television studios, production houses, software companies, and other media ask for free uses of music.

Perhaps the best-known example of a music giveaway in recent memory is the month of free downloads that U2 and Apple offered, via iTunes, when U2 released Songs of Innocence last fall. It’s rumored that Apple actually paid the band for all of those downloads, believing that the promotion would be worth it for all concerned.

But most musicians are not Bono, and can’t necessarily afford to risk their livelihood by giving away what they create. One of the biggest issues that musicians navigate today is, how to promote music without devaluing it, because once anything is assigned a low value, it becomes pretty difficult to raise the price later.

Giveaway promotion on steroids: U2 made their album Songs of Innocence free to iTunes users for a month after its release.
You can avoid this problem by giving your music value: Always require something in return for your music, even if it’s not a direct payment. Using the techniques below, you’ll ensure that your fans, potential licensees, and content creators attach value to your music. You'll find that you can even make money from “free” distribution of your music. Plus, you’ll get exposure, and you’ll motivate fans and clients to want to work with you in the future and keep coming back to you for music.


The biggest problem with giving away music to fans is, it’s hard to convince them to buy it after they’ve already received it. To avoid this problem, take a page from the videogame industry’s book and make your fans “unlock” the music by giving you something else of value in return.

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