Are free digital downloads still a relevant way to create fans? You know what I’m talking about: the “sign up for our email list and receive a free track;” a track that’s also available in the iTunes Store.
Once upon a time, this was a way to entice people – the $0.99 email list business, something very prevalent with independent country and folk singers. Then, streaming took off. I’ve discussed my complicated relationship with streaming services, but my basic point is: when the same song is basically free in a more convenient way, why should anyone care to give you their email address?
Today, I wanted to share some strategies I’ve seen unsigned artists use in recent times, and refine it all into one plan. This was written for artists who already have a free single out there, and want to give their strategy a makeover. Not everything may apply to you, but it might get you inspired to take this concept other places. If after reading the whole article, you still think this is bizarre and stupid, be sure to tell me in the comment section on my website or public social media (gotta love them algorithms).
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Okay, for those of you still here: let’s go over the materials you’ll need to pull this off:
A song you’re willing to give away for free
An official website
A mailing list
Beginning with the free song:
I got into a debate about the concept with one of my metal-core friends the other day (yes, I hang out with “loud guitar people” too). His argument was (I’m paraphrasing) “but it costs $800-$1000 to record a professional song! Why would a band give that track away? Allow me to tell you the cold, hard truth: Less than 1% of all albums breakeven in sales, let alone make money. Where you are going to see real income as a musician is from concert tickets, merch, and endorsements. So then, what’s the difference between earning fractions of pennies off streams, and giving an exclusive / only available directly through you song away for free? You can build a relationship and earn the support of a new superfan.
Next, an official website:
You need a place to collect email addresses and sell merch online. If you don’t have one yet, start looking around. There are a bunch of website building companies made for musicians, blog servers, or you can go the self-hosted route like me.
Lastly, the mailing list:
This is the #1 pro tip for a musician mailing list – repeat after me: If I am an artist to plays a lot of gigs, I will ask for their geographical location when people sign up for my mailing list. If you’re able to sort your fans by the approximate area where they live, your invitations to shows you send out will be a lot more personalized and you will likely have a higher percentage of turn outs. I’ve been on mailing lists where I get a mass invitations to shows on a different continent!! But when I get a personalized one that says a musician I like (obviously I like them, I signed up for their email list) is coming to my city, guess who’s more excited to go out and see them?
Ready? Got all those things together? Time for the Master Plan:
You’re going to make this exclusive song a “surprise gift with purchase.” So many artists fall into the mistake of “please won’t you subscribe? I’ll give you a free song… please?” – that is, trying to make this a barter transaction and use this free song to catch the interest of a potential fan.
The surprise gift with purchase is different. It’s a nice present for those already interested in you. They follow you on social media and have your publicly released songs in their music library. They are fans to care enough about your career to sign up for your mailing list out of support and personal interest. They buy your merch.
Now, instead of advertising the song to them before they’re interested, you save it as a gift. Say, if I, a music fan, sign up for your mailing list, imagine how happy I’d be to receive a personalized email like this one right after
Thank you so much for signing up for my newsletter! I send it out on the first of every month, with updates on my new EP’s progress in the studio and shows I’m playing. By the way, I just announced that I’m playing [venue] in your city on [date] at [time]. Here’s a Facebook link to the event: [link here]
My second EP is nearly done recording, but if you’re impatient for new music, here’s an exclusive track I’ve attached in this email. I’ll be for sure playing this song at the concert, so I hope you can make it to sing the big chorus along with the entire venue.
Honestly, fans like you are the reason music is my career. I hope you have an amazing day!
one cool artist
[song attachment here]
This, my friends, is how you create a superfan. Don’t copy and paste my example, obviously. Rather, create one in your own distinct voice, with plenty of room for changes. If they live too far away, don’t make a big point of inviting them to your individual shows, but stress the gratefulness part (and then ask them to buy your EP if they haven’t already). Same idea goes for when someone buys your merch. At the end of the day, it’s all about making your fans feel valued and special.
I can imagine this piece will be controversial. Just to be clear, I’m not advocating that every band needs to give a song away for free. Some genres do it more than others, and everyone’s got their reasons. What I am advocating for is making fans know how special they are; and if you’ve already got a song you’re giving away, why not use it for that