All Blog Posts By Topic, Arts & Entertainment, Creativity & Imagination, Music

Is ‘Free’ Killing the DIY Artist?

Many artists believe offering potential consumers a “taste” of the good stuff for free will lure them in again to either buy or share their product or URL with friends, thus spreading word of their brand.

It’s a controversy you may only be familiar with if you own a small business or if you work in a creative industry such as music, art, or literature. Should you give away products for free, or not promote giveaways for fear of losing the “bottom line” and possibly devaluing your intellectual property? That is a debatable question!

For tech-savvy social media connoisseurs, having weekly online giveaways for items that don’t cost anything extra up front to distribute to fans, such as e-books via, may work well as a marketing tactic in drawing in consumer attention and furthering an author’s brand. However, outside of literati, musicians just starting out, for example, are finding a harder time receiving a return on investment for free giveaways. Some musicians fear that giving away free downloads of music via mp3s posted on Soundcloud or ReverbNation will devalue their end product (i.e., the CD they are trying to sell). After all, in a society where CDs get digitally divided into $.99 cent iTunes downloads (the same cost as many ludicrous smartphone apps out there, such as the infamous “Fart App”), it’s easy to understand why musicians might want to protect their intellectual property as much as possible.

However, how are they going to get new fans if no one knows what they sound like?

For popular musicians such as Skrillex, who gave away his “My Name is Skrillex” EP for free (, while offering true fans a way to give back donations via PayPal, the revenue loss for such a large internationally touring artist may be negligible. After all, it gave him more street cred and opened access to his music from younger kids or the unemployed without much disposable income. That’s great! Good job, Skrillex!

But what about local bands in Indy who are just trying to break even? Between paying for equipment, gas to shows, recording and printing costs, we are making an investment in our bands and taking a huge personal loss on our taxes rather than seeing any kind of steady income. (Heck, that’s why we all have day jobs!)

But for some reason, it seems as if independent authors have had a lot of luck backing each other and cross-promoting their work on Facebook and Twitter to share fans and boost sales by posting about each other’s new free e-book downloads and hosting various giveaways. I want to know why musicians don’t have the same “I’ve got your back if you’ve got mine” attitude! (Or, is it just a Midwest thing? God, I hope not!)

On the flip-side, one must wonder how often these self-promoting “cyber friends” really read the content of the material they’re cross-promoting. I mean, c’mon. It could be pure genius, but what if it sucks?

It’s great to support original creative works in any way possible to nurture the arts in this country, but I would personally like to know exactly what it is I’m backing before I tell all my friends online it’s the “next best thing” since sliced bread.

Our reputations are on the line here, folks! I think it’s okay to “Like” someone else’s page on Facebook to help them spread the word and get more online attention. However, that’s a lot different from posting a false 5-star review of a product if you’ve never even used it, or even worse, if you actually think it’s poorly made! (i.e., Stop selling bad art, people!)

So where’s the fine line? How many free e-books or downloadable mp3s should someone give away for free before it devalues their brand? How many new “real” fans is this process really gaining, anyway?

Seriously. I’d like to know. What are your thoughts as musicians? What about your thoughts on putting on free concerts? In my experience, free concerts do not necessarily mean more fans will come out to support the band! In fact, oftentimes, fans (or potential fans) prefer the concerts that cost $10 or more, because they may subconsciously think “Hey, this is worth something!” And if the band puts on a great show, I’ll feel I got my money’s worth, and I’ll probably even buy their album! (That’s what happened when I saw The Civil Wars… After reading a great preview of the concert that night in Nuvo Newsweekly, my guy and I spent $50 on concert tickets on a whim, and another $10 on their album. And since they actually had great content, we’ve told about 100 people since then about how much we love this band!)

So, forget about free here! Be careful where you draw the line, and stop giving away all the good stuff, people! Maybe it’s better to just “tease” your fans with a limited amount of free content and then make them come back wanting more. I learned this on my band’s first album. It was all downloadable for free online for a year after we released it, because we needed new fans. But how many new albums did we end up selling? Zero! … And starving artists can’t survive off zero dollars!

So, please share this and respond with your thoughts. I am eager to hear what you have to say. How many of you give away your goods for free? Does it make a difference to the DIY business owner, author, artist, or musician? And when should you stop?



– Leslie I. Benson is a published journalist, marketer, and songwriter living in Indianapolis, Indiana. Find her online at or at Her band can be heard at ,,, and




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