In today's increasingly communicative world, there is no shortage of ways to distribute audio-based intellectual property. As a result, there is an overabundance of music for consumers to buy and hear.
So how can independent musicians ensure that their work is heard, and therefore bought, in this competitive virtual marketplace? They can start by distributing free samples of their best work online. While the Internet can serve as a great equalizer for the independent artist, being an equal means that you are judged on merit commensurate with the best in your genre.
Giving away your music in order to generate sales is nothing new. “If you don't give away some amount of it, no one will hear it, and no one will buy it,” says John Buckman, founder and CEO of Magnatune (www.magnatune.com), a fledgling Internet-based record label. The firm has built a good reputation by having great artists and a flexible payment plan — from $5 to $18 — for what consumers choose to purchase.
In addition to indie CD sales sites such as CD Baby, MP3 sales juggernauts such as iTunes.com, and free-for-all file sharing and exchange protocols such as Gnutella or LimeWire, there are numerous new ways to distribute your music. Podcasting and BitTorrent file exchange technologies are growing exponentially, especially with fans of online music downloading.
Podcasting brings the convenience of TiVo to iPods and other MP3 players for lovers of Internet audio programming. Podcasting is an Internet broadcasting application designed for downloading audio-based programs, and receiving a Podcast is easy. Once online with an MP3 player connected to a computer, users can subscribe to a programming feed from any of the rapidly multiplying Podcasting aggregators such as Feeddemon.com, Bloglines.com, or the first aggregator, iPodder.com. The chosen content — ranging from music shows to just about any other audio-based entertainment imaginable — is then delivered to the subscriber's player via the aggregator from an original source provider.
BitTorrent, an amalgam of Internet and FTP technology, gives users the ability to download intellectual property with standard browsers via “torrent://” proceeded by a site address. BT, a free program available at BitTorrent.com (see Fig. 1), eliminates the bottlenecks associated with lightning-fast downloads of massive files via traditional file-sharing technologies. With BitTorrent, there are no users downloading without sharing, and everyone isn't accessing the same content provider simultaneously. BT requires each user to upload files while downloading through swarming, a process in which small pieces of a file are all shared by users. Etree.org, which offers musician-sanctioned concerts, is one of many great new Web sites that rely on BitTorrent technology for IP distribution. Trade-friendly artists include bands such as Drive-By Truckers, Phish, Grateful Dead, Aquarium Rescue Unit, Guster, and Howie Day. If so inclined, you can even submit your own concert audio, once you go through the site's sign-up/log-in process.
The everexpanding universe of file-exchange possibilities is exciting for consumers, and yes, it can be effective technology for self-touting musicians as well. Proceed and use these applications and programs with caution, though. Use new technologies for the purpose of self-promotion wisely, retaining ownership of your music while distributing your art in ways that can lead to financial compensation. “My advice to musicians is to absolutely keep control of the rights to your music and find as many outlets as you can to get your music heard that bring you a little money,” says Buckman.
After all, “It's much worse never to be heard than to have your music stolen,” he adds. So set your music free for promotional purposes, even if it's only a song or two. Done successfully, you may learn what your art means to the world while receiving monetary affirmation in the process.
Strother Bullins is a musician and freelance writer specializing in the audio, music, and entertainment industries.