Monday, October 13, 2008

Don't Overestimate Free, Part 2

Earlier I talked a little bit about why free doesn't work. One thing that might not have been clear is that it's not that free never works, and by 'works' I mean helps a musician maintain a career playing music, it's just that it's not as easy as a lot of people think it is. My point, in my typical long-winded fashion, is that simply making all your music available for free is not going to give anybody any incentive to take it. You must position it so that it's relevant and valuable. Otherwise it feels more like picking discarded CDs out of a dumpster.

Hugely popular artists seem to do well despite, or arguably because of, widespread free downloads of their music. In this past year, Coldplay, Lil' Wayne, Usher, and Metallica all sold over 500,000 CDs in the week following the release of their latest albums even though people could get their hands on the albums for free before the release date.

For guys and gals like me--independent, developing, or niche musicians--it's entirely different. I doubt anybody is scouring the internet looking for free music by Cameron Mizell. In fact, here's a link to a track for you to download. On the house. If you're reading this, you're probably a lot more interested in hearing it than someone that randomly finds it because you're connecting it to a person, or at least the person you imagine me to be based on what you can find out on the internet (hint: there's more than one Cameron Mizell on the internet... I'm the one with the hat and glasses).

More importantly, I actually make most of the money from the sales of my music, and it's what helps keep me on my feet. I currently use CD Baby to distribute my music to digital retailers. When you pay $.99 for a track on iTunes, I get $.64, and likewise $6.37 per $9.99 album. Those are good margins. Granted, I'm not selling boatloads of music, but it always does sell. I'm currently generating income from seven albums on iTunes. Some of these are with other people, so I'm splitting that profit. Even so, it's a nice steadily growing revenue stream.

This isn't to say I don't offer some free music here and there. Every time I finish an album I make two or three tracks available for free across a few different websites. I choose sites where people that listen to my kind of music hang out. I also don't mind if people burn my CD for their friends, or email MP3s. Just don't act like you're helping me. If you've gotten this far, you know that each sale actually makes a difference to my bottom line. Plus I'm not selling that much music, and I still need to buy groceries and pay rent. Not to mention, freelance musicians, like most small business owners in America, can't afford health care (cough, cough).

It's very possible that a day will come where I give away all my music. Revenue streams shift or dry up. But as the industry changes and trends for buying music shifts, independent musicians like myself have the flexibility to quickly adjust.

No comments: