Several posts on some of my favorite digital music blogs talking about free music on the internet and what you can really accomplish by just giving it away. (links below).

Working at a major label, I have to balance the business side that wants to monetize everything, with the pressure of free music on the net and the need to market new music. There are no absolutes, and one advantage I have is that I work on a lot of projects and get to test things big and small.

Start with your goals
It’s too competitive to think just “giving away music” will advance your career and too many bands start and end with just wanting to give it away for free. Think harder.

Free may be a starting point if you’re a new act, but established artists have very different goals. Is a free download or stream designed to grow the fan base or reward your fans who may have already purchased from you?

First Goal: Establish a relationship with fans
Make the long term plan for you and your fans. If you are offering downloads, or streams, Make sure you have a community plan in place to capture the momentum new music can create. Collecting basic info fans can be a fair trade off for giving something away. If your an established artist, look beyond just giving your music away- there may be other ways to keep your community active. Give fans a place and incentive to extend the experience of your music and share their feelings with others. Are you strengthening the bond between existing fans? Adding new ones? Find the mix that makes sense and keep in mind there are bands serving thousands, and hundreds of thousands of streams on myspace, with very few fans. It take alot of dedication and great music to keep fans engaged.

What Can You Sell?
Fans are willing to pay. It’s the blend between quality and art that must be respected. I’ve successfully seen bands drive revenue, and keep fans happy by debuting new music in itunes for 99 cents.

Genre of music
Understand your scene and what is expected by fans of that genre. Culturally, fans of different genres have different expectations when it comes to sampling music.

What is the body of work?
is it a concept or collection of singles? Stream the album vs a download? Depending on your art, protect the best way for fans to sample and purchase.

What else are you trying to sell, tickets Merch? Your plans should tie this all together.

are there other things for you happening in the marketplace?

Where to stream?
There are many sites for major labels and some indies where its free to consumer, but you can get paid – imeem, myspace, lala, are a few emerging partners that allow artists to stream, and monetize.

Majors vs. Unsigned
Don’t assume this debate is about the majors vs indies or the unsigned acts. Colleagues at several major music services tell me that independent musicians are often much more concerned and protective about their music than signed artists and major label policies.

Its clear the early days of digital music are fading into a new reality – from bands, to new digital music services that are struggling to monetize, there is more to it than free. Some great links for further reading:

Experimenting With Free by David Harrell

Hypebot: free music only has value if…

More thoughts on the ‘Music as Free’ Debate
Posted by Mark Mulligan

Why Music Can’t ‘Just Be Free’

Mark Mulligan under ‘Music as Free’: Solutions

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