The Debate Over Free
I’ve watched the debate about the free model of music distribution, which Chris Anderson espouses in his book “Free”. And while I haven’t bought all of Anderson’s theories (see a nice rebuttal of some of them from Malcolm Gladwell here) I have long felt that musicians need to accept the fact that our music is readily available for free whether we like it or not. With download sites, bit torrents, and just plain fan-to-fan sharing, anyone can get their hands on almost any music these days without paying for it. Good or bad, that’s the reality, and it must change the way we think about distribution and making money from our art. Earlier this year Trent Reznor wrote about his thoughts on the subject, which are a must-read for all musicians. And Steve Lawson has talked about the subject eloquently many times on his great blog.
Putting It To The Test
So I decided to put the theory to the test. On Friday, I posted the following Tweet on my Twitter profile:
The blog post linked to in the Tweet asked people to go download the JPQ CD’s for free, with one line at the bottom about paying for them if the person so desired. From there they were linked to my Bandcamp.com page where they could initiate the download. Bandcamp is an amazing tool, as it allows musicians to offer high-quality downloads of their music and let the fan name the price. When a fan hits the “download” button, they are prompted to fill-in a price for the CD. The price can be “0″ if they choose, but it can also be any other denomination of their liking. This give the fan complete control to pay whatever he or she feels is appropriate for the music. They can also preview the entire album before purchasing, which helps them put a value on it before shelling out the money (or not). If you are a musician and haven’t discovered Bandcamp yet you need to go there right now and sign up for a free account!
Over the course of the weekend my tweet was retweeted dozens of time (thanks all!) and must’ve reached thousands of people when it was all said and done. When I started to see retweets from people who I didn’t know I figured it was striking a chord with people.
Sunday night at midnight I checked my Bandcamp.com stats and was amazed. The three Jason Parker Quartet CD’s, “No More, No Less”, “Live @ JazzTV”, and “The Jason Parker Quartet” had been downloaded 128 times! That’s more downloads than I’ve received in the last few months combined. Most days I was lucky if a track or two were downloaded, let alone full albums.
And what’s even more impressive to me is that many of the people who downloaded the CD’s actually paid for them, even though they didn’t have to! In fact, I made more money from sales this weekend than in any other three-day period since the days right after the release of our latest CD, “No More, No Less”. All while giving them away for free!
So, what did I learn from this little experiment? For one, I learned that if you offer a product for free people are exponentially more likely to give it a try. 128 new people hearing my music is a pretty fine turn of events.
I also learned that even when given the opportunity to obtain the music for free, there are still people out there willing to pay for it, thereby supporting the artists that created it. This is truly remarkable, and gives me faith that music lovers get that the music they love cannot exist without their support. It’s still not free to produce a high-quality CD, and that money has to come from somewhere!
Is There a Downside?
I’m sure some might say that by allowing 100 or so people to download the music for free I’ve cheated myself out of 100 paying customers. But I disagree completely. I would argue that most of those 100 people would not have paid even $5.00 for the music. They only checked it out because it was free for them to do so.
So why would I want them to have my music at all, you might ask? For starters, many of those same people tweeted about my promotion, getting my name and my music in front of countless other people I wouldn’t have had access to any other way. And hopefully some of these folks really liked the music and might actually purchase some of my music in the future. I realize that this is speculation on my part, but I believe in my music and it’s ability to touch people. I have to think that the more ears my music finds its way into the better it is for me in the long run.
Should I Continue To Give It Away?
I did raise the price of downloads back up to $5.00 this morning, but I’m wondering if I should I always price my music at $0.00? It worked on a limited-time basis, but will it work as a long-term sales strategy? Is it best to give the consumer 100% control over the price of music and let them decide what it is worth?
I haven’t sufficiently processed these thoughts yet, and I’d love to get your take on it. Have you tried anything like this? Did it work for you? Is $0.00 truly the future of music pricing, or am I crazy for giving my music away?