Your music is valuable. I think a lot of musicians forget this or are afraid to admit it for some reason. You can ask people to pay for your music in a variety of ways! Lets take a look.

Today, many indie musicians find themselves stuck in a seemingly impassible rut. You are giving your music away for exposure and can’t seem to get to the point where people actually pay you.  You think if you don’t give your music out for free you’ll never be able to grow your fanbase.  But if you continue down the free music route bills won’t get paid and no one in the industry will take you seriously. It’s a paradox that plagues most indie musicians, and you’re not alone!

Free music is great. It is one of the most effective ways to grow your fanbase, which is why it’s probably a huge part of your marketing efforts right now. Even big-time musicians like Radiohead and Trent Reznor have used free music to their advantage. Now granted, they were already well known.  But for most artists, the key is to find the right balance between free and paid content.

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Let’s start with your fans. Different fans are willing to pay for different things. Some fans will not pay for music and will not attend your shows. Others will only pay to come to your shows. Others will pay for music, buy merch, go to your shows, and still be willing to throw more money at you if you only asked. It’s important to differentiate between these fans so you can target your offers.

In this context you need to consider the purpose of “free” music. Think about your fanbase in terms of a pyramid. Potential fans are in bottom third, casual fans in the middle third, and superfans at the top. One purpose for free music could be to move fans up the pyramid. Fans at the bottom of the pyramid will probably not give you cash, so trade free music for an email address so you can stay in touch with that fan. For those in the middle, give them some free songs when they buy something from you – a ticket or merch or a bundle of other songs.  For fans at the top, make special limited run products for them and charge them, but give them something exclusive for free to seal the deal.

Matthew Ebel is a Boston-based “piano rocker” who has struck a balance between paid and free with his membership site. He offers an entire free album to anyone who signs up for his mailing list, paid albums and merch, and an exclusive subscription site for his super fans. Matthew isn’t a superstar artist – he has a humble 1,684 Facebook likes (2014) – but he works as a full-time musician and makes almost 30% of his net income from only a few hardcore fans.

The subscription site has a few different levels ranging in price from $4.99 per month to $499 per year. Matthew’s offers include exclusive live show recordings and videos, discounts, early access to material, access to member-only parties and concert seating, and even a custom-written song. These are things that a lot of indie artists just give out for free. The trick it to trade your music for something else of value to you. There are many forms of tender.

When trying to navigate the realm of paid content don’t let yourself be restricted to the typical music products like the CD and tshirt. Services like BandPage Experiences allow you to sell unique products and experiences to your fans. The sky’s the limit, and the more personal the products and experiences, the better. Rock Camp used a BandPage Experience to host a contest, allowing guitarists to purchase entries to win a spot at the Ultimate Musician’s Camp. Anberlin used a BandPage Experience to sell all access passes to their tours.

Remember that money isn’t the only form of payment that has value. Information can be just as valuable or more than cash in many instances. As an example, Matthew Ebel offers an entire free album to anyone who signs up for his mailing list. The purpose here is to move potential or casual fans up the pyramid to more serious fans. To do this, he gives them a taste of his music – a try-before-you-buy if you will – and in return gets the ability to contact them through email. He can now send these casual fans information on his live shows, new material, and life.

Want to know the other 9 musician mistakes?

  1. You Don’t Have a Plan
  2. You Aren’t Leveraging Copyright
  3. You Skip Time Management
  4. You Don’t Have a Team
  5. You’re Not Out There Networking
  6. You Don’t Focus on a Niche
  7. You Don’t Let Your Fans Market
  8. You Don’t Have a Brand Strategy
  9. You Don’t React to Opportunity


Matthew’s strategy may not work for everyone exactly as it did for him. You need to take some time to look at your career, music, and goals to find the right balance between free and paid content. The important takeaway is that you need a solid plan. In the New Artist Model online course we will teach you strategies for marketing and promotion. You’ll create a personalized career plan for your music.

Here’s a great post by Mike Masnick.

“As you look through all of these, some patterns emerge. They’re not about getting a fee on every transaction or every listen or every stream. They’re not about licensing. They’re not about DRM or lawsuits or copyright. They’re about better connecting with the fans and then offering them a real, scarce, unique reason to buy — such that in the end, everyone is happy. Fans get what they want at a price they want, and the musicians and labels make money as well. It’s about recognizing that the music itself can enhance the value of everything else, whether it’s shows, access or merchandise, and that letting fans share music can help increase the market and create more fans willing to buy compelling offerings. It’s about recognizing that even when the music is shared freely, there are business models that work wonders, without copyright or licensing issues even coming into play.

Adding in new licensing schemes only serves to distort this kind of market. Fans and artists are connecting directly and doing so in a way that works and makes money. Putting in place middlemen only takes a cut away from the musicians and serves to make the markets less efficient. They need to deal with overhead and bureaucracy. They need to deal with collections and allocation. They make it less likely for fans to support bands directly, because the money is going elsewhere. Even when licensing fees are officially paid further up the line, those costs are passed on to the end users, and the money might not actually go to supporting the music they really like.

Instead, let’s let the magic of the market continue to work. New technologies are making it easier than ever for musicians to create, distribute and promote music — and also to make money doing so. In the past, the music business was a “lottery,” where only a very small number made any money at all. With these models, more musicians than ever before are making money today, and they’re not doing it by worrying about copyright or licensing. They’re embracing what the tools allow. A recent study from Harvard showed how much more music is being produced today than at any time in history, and the overall music ecosystem — the amount of money paid in support of music — is at an all time high, even if less and less of it is going to the purchase of plastic discs.

This is a business model that’s working now and it will work better and better in the future as more people understand the mechanisms and improve on them. Worrying about new copyright laws or new licensing schemes or new DRM or new lawsuits or new ways to shut down file sharing is counterproductive, unnecessary and dangerous. Focusing on what’s working and encouraging more of that is the way to go. It’s a model that works for musicians, works for enablers and works for fans. It is the future and we should be thrilled with what it’s producing.”

Read a lot more here.