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how to make free music make money

Technology. It’s provided a lot of really cool opportunities for musicians. I mean, now you can create incredible quality music with your laptop, you can release that music to the world with the click of a button, and you can connect with a global fanbase from your home.

But – and this is the big but – for a lot of musicians all that opportunity hasn’t necessarily made their lives any more secure revenue-wise.

I’m sure you know the story… Free music is everywhere so it feels like no one is willing to actually pay any more. Even music instruction is available for free online on sites like YouTube now so even side income from lessons seems to be dwindling.

As a result, the average musician – whether it’s your career or passion project alongside your day job – seems to always run into the same brick wall: “How do I compete with FREE?”

What if I told you that you don’t have to compete with free music? That you should embrace “free” into your approach for promoting your music?

No, I’m not saying renounce money and go live in a cave with an acoustic guitar. I’m saying USE free as a stepping stone – a point of entry for new and potential fans to come into your camp and get turned on to your music and a small piece of your overall approach. Let’s take a look.  

Free Music is One Part of the Bigger Picture

A lot of musicians will look at the idea of giving away free music and think they are just throwing away potential income. But it can actually have the opposite effect. It can help you create fans who will buy more music, merch, and tickets – if you use it correctly.

Think about how you discover new music. Let’s say your friend recommends a really cool new band. Are you going to go out and buy their album right away? Probably not. You’re going to get on YouTube or SoundCloud and listen to a few songs and make your decision from there.

So once someone has heard a song on your YouTube, what’s the next no-brainer step they can take? They can download it for free by trading their email address. It’s a little bit more of an investment on their part because they’re giving you access to their inbox. But it’s still a relatively painless step.

And now you’re getting permission to contact them again – and that’s key. That contact will open up the door for you to send them more cool stuff they can buy. So we’re opening up the potential for them to be repeat buyers.


Not sure what to send your fans when they join your email list? Download these 10 free email templates: 10 Attention-Getting Email Templates for Musicians


One Size Does Not Fit All Fans

And now to dispel the common myth: Fans DO want to spend money. They want to support you – it’s up to you to one, give them the opportunity to, and two, figure out what they want to buy.

Giving stuff away for free can also help you piece together the puzzle to figure out what fans really want to buy.

Here’s the thing. As musicians, we tend to group everyone into one category – fans. And that category includes everyone from people who literally just found your music to hardcore fans who have been following you and supporting you for years.

But all of those fans have different interests and want to buy different things. Some fans might like collecting merch. Other fans may be musicians themselves and would be totally into lessons and instructional videos. And some may want signed stuff and exclusives. So if you just give them a chance to buy a $10 album, you’re missing out.

Get to Know Fans’ Interests

Here’s where free stuff comes in. Seeing which fans opt into which free offer can give you hints at what they’re interested in.

So someone who wanted one free song may be interested in buying the full album. A person who entered a contest for a chance to win a big merch bundle may be interested in buying a new merch design you come out with. A fan who opts in to get a gear list for your pedal board may want to buy a bonus version of your album with the Pro Tools files for remixing OR PDFs of the tabs and sheet music. And a fan who comes to your live Q&A streams on YouTube may be into meet and greet packages at upcoming gigs.

In most email programs, you can mark these interests automatically by segmenting your list into “groups”. You can then add hidden form fields on your opt-in forms.

So try to go beyond just offering free music. Think about the things you can sell and figure out what you could offer for free to sort your fanbase by interest. This is where free stuff gets to be really powerful in your overall approach.

Build a Ladder

Once you get some free offers in place you can start building a ladder – something that will work your fans up towards bigger purchases and move them into the realm of superfans. Start piecing together your free offers so you’re constantly giving your fans free stuff and simultaneously figuring out more and more about them and what they want.

This approach is taken out of the New Artist Model Essential Music Business Course. As you can see, the strategy is designed especially for indie musicians to work in today’s modern music environment – not the industry of 10 years ago. If you want more up-to-date and practical indie musician success strategies, check out the full online course. Or sign up to get 4 lessons for free

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One thing a lot of indie musicians procrastinate on is tackling their email list strategy. There are lots of things you need to get your head around, from which platform or service to use, to what content to include, to how often to send emails. On top of that, you also need to figure out how to get people to actually sign up for your email list – a marketing role that many musicians are uncomfortable with.

Despite all this, your email list is still one of the most powerful assets you have. I’ll break it down into 5 main points so you can easily update your email list and email marketing strategy.

 

1. Platform

If you don’t already have one set up, you’ll have to choose a platform to send your emails out. If you try sending out an email to hundreds of fans through services like Yahoo and Gmail, it will often get marked as spam or won’t even go through. You can, of course, opt for generic platforms like Mailchimp or Constant Contact. Keep in mind though that many services you already use have email functions like Pledgemusic, Bandzoogle, and Fanbridge.

2. Incentivize signups

Now that you have email capabilities, the next step would be to actually get people to sign up for your email list. Of course, you’ll want to add an email button to your website. You’ll definitely get some signups from it, but it’s a very passive approach. Take some time to brainstorm some strategies to incentivize signups. Think about the email lists you’ve signed up for – what made you subscribe?

There are many options here, and the more creative you can be, the better! Offer your fans a free track in exchange for an email address. This is a great way to get newer fans on your list. You could also offer early access to a track from your upcoming album to get your more dedicated fans signed up. Another option would be to give your email subscribers access to early content across the board and even some exclusive discounts, contests, and promotions. The key is to really take into account your unique brand, genre, and personality!

3. Content

The beautiful thing about your email list is that it’s opt-in marketing. This means that the people who sign up for your list actually want to hear from you. It’s your job to make it worth their while and come up with interesting things to write to them about! Look at the emails you get from artists and bands. What emails do you like receiving? What subject lines get you to actually look at the content? Try to incorporate those things into your email strategy.

The main function of your email list is to drive traffic. You want your fans clicking through to your website! Taking this into account, don’t compose your band emails like you would a personal email. Tell your fans about the offer with a link to your website or give them a short update on the album process with a link to the full story on your blog.

Treat your email list as something completely separate from your social media channels and website. You want to give your fans a unique experience. If they could get the same content on Facebook, why bother signing up? Of course you’ll have to send out some updates across all channels like tour announcements, but try to go further for your email list. Give your email subscribers discounted tickets, early access to VIP packages, or even a sneak peak at the set list!

Another great way to provide compelling content is to segment your list. Break it down by location so you’re only sending local fans blasts about your show tomorrow. This way, your fans will only receive relevant content which will help keep your unsubscribe rate low.

4. Timing

You want to establish a schedule when it comes to email marketing. Not only will this keep you organized, it will also help keep fans’ interest levels up and your unsubscribe rate down. Keeping your fans updated is one thing, but too many updates can get annoying. You no doubt know from experience just how many emails we all receive. Only send your fans emails when you have something valuable to share. For more established bands this could mean once a week and for smaller bands it could be once every two weeks or even once a month. On the other side of the equation, you don’t want too much time in between your emails or your fans will forget you exist!

5. Learn

As with any strategy, the most important thing is that you learn and improve as you go along. Any platform you use for email will have some sort of analytics tools. Use them! The most important metrics are your open rates and click-through rates. Open rate is mostly dependant on the subject line, day of the week, and time of day, while click-through rate has more to do with the content.

Look at the emails that got the highest open rate. What day of the week did you send them? What about that subject line do you think attracted people? How can you incorporate that into your subject lines from here on? Next, look at the emails that got the highest click-through rate. What about the content do you think got people interested? Again, try to incorporate that into future emails. You should also look at emails that didn’t perform as well as you’d like. How can you tweak the offer to make it more appealing?

TheNew Artist Modelis an online music business school for independent musicians, performers, recording artists, producers, managers and songwriters. Our classes teach essential music business and marketing skills that will take you from creativity to commerce while maximizing your chances for success.