22 Jun Why I’m Giving Away Free Music This Year
Several months back, I attended an event for entrepreneurs at Atlanta Tech Village, where my wife works. A presenter encouraged attendees to ask themselves the following question – “how do people want to buy what I’m selling?” It’s stuck with me ever since, and came up frequently in the idea process that ultimately led to Can’t Live Forever, the free music project I launched this month.
As an independent songwriter, the answer to the question “how do people want to buy what I’m selling?” seems simple: they don’t. They want it for free. This is overwhelmingly clear in the popularity of free music streaming services like SoundCloud, Spotify, Bandcamp, Rdio, and even YouTube, to name a few. Not to mention basic consumer nature – would you prefer to pay for music, or listen for free? Easy.
On an artistic level, this really doesn’t bother me that much. It’s my belief that art gives opportunity (and reason) for pause, for consideration of an aspect of the world; it challenges our conceptions of beauty, of pain, of social constructs, and so on (and on, and on). This kind of experience, these distinct moments of consciousness, should not be a restricted privilege. What’s important to me as an artist is that people listen to and hopefully enjoy my music, and if they feel so inclined, to support it in the ways they deem best.
On an entrepreneurial level, it’s a more vexing question. I want to make a living doing what I’m best at, and the collapse of more “traditional” music industry revenue models can feel discouraging. But asking questions like this one are crucial problem-solving exercises for anyone in business for themselves. What is my product? Is it viable? Is there a customer base? Where record sales may have been lucrative before, they are not what they used to be, and the trend continues downward.
Finding viable financial solutions requires artist-entrepreneurs to innovate and leverage current trends. As for many artists, this is difficult for me because I am more interested in poetry and beauty and sound than I am in customer discovery, marketing strategy, and business models. The latter comprise an entirely new way of thinking, and I struggle with the fact that it sometimes distracts from creation. But for those who want to survive, innovate we must.
And so my aim with Can’t Live Forever is twofold, and consistent with both the artistic and (increasingly) entrepreneurial sides of my work: give free music to listeners and aggressively pursue licensing opportunities, while building a platform to showcase a diverse songwriting catalogue.
Releasing one track every month offers the kind of small bites that satisfy listeners’ increasingly short attention spans in the digital age, but with enough frequency to build traction over time. That my first song release – An Awful Thing to Waste – received more first-week buzz than each of my last two albums did in their first week suggests this is a good model. Genre diversity in future releases will hopefully reach an equally diverse audience, yielding similar “listen,” “like,” and “share” results.
The licensing aspect is a more behind-the-scenes pursuit, with the exception of my presence on the royalty-free music site Audio Jungle, which is a distinctly separate venture from Can’t Live Forever. I’m still learning the ins and outs of it all, but licensing music to companies for marketing purposes can be a far more lucrative opportunity for independent artists & songwriters than selling to consumers. The two are intertwined though, at a very basic level – your song’s marketability is what will appeal to a marketer, which requires you to do the work of building a solid following. Being the soundtrack to a commercial exposes your music to a whole new audience, which furthers your reach. It has to be a win-win all around.
I’ll continue to post on the progress of Can’t Live Forever and look forward to sharing more thoughts on the relationship between art and enterprise. It’s a strange new world for me, but one that I’m excited to explore & discuss. What are your thoughts?