Saturday, October 27, 2012

What Happens When An Artist Makes Their Music Free For One Day

Andy Othling/Hypebot

There’s a lot of debate about whether giving away your music for free is a good practice or not. Some say that it devalues your music and keeps people from taking you seriously. Some say it’s necessary to get people intrigued and listening.

This post isn’t meant to convince you of one of those opinions, but rather to show you the effects of an experiment I did a few weeks ago. I wanted to see what would happen if I made all my music name-your-price (with a $0 minimum) on my Bandcamp page for 24 hours.

The Setup
Here’s how it worked: I scheduled an email to go out to my mailing list at 1am on October 4th telling everyone that all music was name-your-price with $0 minimum and asked them to tell everyone they knew about it. I also scheduled some Twitter and Facebook updates for the same time asking people to spread the word about it for the next 24 hours. After that, I had tweets scheduled for every 2-4 hours and Facebook updates scheduled every 4-6 hours over the 24 hour period reminding them of the promotion.
The Results
Obviously one result of this is that lots more people got my music for free. They entered $0 and got everything they wanted. But some other interesting things happened.
Lots of downloads means Bandcamp popularity

Since there were so many more people downloading my music (for free or not), my albums got bumped up on many Bandcamp lists. The image below shows the best-selling ambient albums for that day/week:

As you can see, all six of my albums are at the top of that section. Awesome! Also good to see Karl Verkade there!

Being higher on lists means more new visitors

Because my music moved up on some of Bandcamp’s lists, it became more visible to others who were perusing the lists that day. Below are some screenshots from Bandcamp’s stats page for this day:

So over 100 people checked out my music as a result of the Bandcamp home page and another 50 did because of the lists like the one I mentioned above. These are people who weren’t previously connected with my music.
People actually did spread the word

I was pretty unabashed in asking people to spread the news about the “free” music for this 24 hour period. Because of this, someone took it upon themselves to post on Reddit about it. This brought in more new listeners, as evidenced by the below screenshot:

Once again, 202 new listeners just from asking people to spread the news!
People still paid for the music

Now you’re probably wondering about how this panned out in terms of money. I was anticipating a drop in revenue, because that’s usually what you expect when you start giving things away for free. But what happened was that in a single day I made more than 2x what I normally do on music sales in an ENTIRE MONTH. Yes, you read that right. More in a day than in two months of regular sales.

I don’t quite know how to explain this, but I think a lot of it is based on reciprocal generosity. People seemed to really appreciate that I did this and responded by paying more than they normally would. I was blown away by people who decided to give more for an album than it would have cost them the day before.
The most important part: connections

More money is great, but in my opinion it’s not the biggest success of this experiment.

There you can see that in one day, I added almost 450 email addresses to my mailing list. That’s 450 more direct connections that I can make in the future, and 450 more people who can spread the news when I do something like this again. This is way more exciting to me than money.
So what happened here?
  • Lots of people got my music for free
  • I made an unexpected chunk of change
  • I gained lots of new listeners and connections for future releases
To me it seems like everyone involved came out happy. There were really no costs to me for doing this experiment, rather the gains were huge. And my listeners were not taken advantage of. One final statistic and maybe a slight cost to me is that my paid download percentage went down from an average of 22% to 8%. But given everything else that happened this doesn’t bother me at all.

So what does this mean for you as an artist? That’s a little harder to say, as so much depends on what you have in place and the fact that everyone’s situation is different. Hopefully one thing this does is show you the value of experimentation. You’ve got to try some things to see what your fanbase will respond to. You’ve got to learn about them just like they’ve learned about you.

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