I’ve had to do some deep soul-searching about the idea of giving away my hard work for free. I consider myself a professional musician. Part of taking on that job title is making sure that I’m compensated for the work I do – just like any other profession. Throwing around my work without focus in the name of “exposure” just doesn’t jive with my idea of a good business plan.
The idea of free is very subjective and doesn’t necessary mean without compensation in the music business. The value of an artist’s work is always a matter of perspective. Its worth can go far beyond immediate payment and has the potential to translate into other long-term rewards.
So, I’m going to throw out five clear-cut cases of when it’s acceptable to “Give it away”, or as I like to think of it, creating a delayed return on your investment.
The 5 Times It’s Acceptable to “Give It Away”
1. Production Credit
This includes mixing, co-producing, mastering, creating artwork, or providing any other professional service that you’d be officially credited for in another artist’s work. The idea is to extend your professional reach in multiple directions and as far as possible.
Your work is your calling card and a living resume. Putting yourself into as many productions as possible increases your opportunity to generate paying work. This is smart exposure, not randomly giving away your talents to people who don’t appreciate your time or won’t ever be part your audience.
Who knows, you might end up generating a healthy income doing something like mixing or mastering tracks.
2. A Solid Favor
“It’s all about who you know”, is a real truism in the music business. Personal favors not only generate future opportunities, they sometimes get you places cash simply can’t.
It’s key to be up-front from the very beginning that you’re considering the arrangements you make to be a personal favor, and that you’ll be expecting a favor in-kind at a future date. Don’t shy away from the “quid pro quo” nature of the situation – this is business, and the word favor doesn’t always mean free when you’re a professional.
Your time and efforts have value – not to mention personal expense. Making a fair trade, keeping your word, and sticking to deals all have an immense amount of worth.
3. Growing Your Audience
If you have the opportunity to reach into a fellow artist’s significantly large audience, by all means jump in there. A good strategy might be to produce a remix of the another artist’s work. Remixes introduce your work to the other artist’s audience. In return, they’re getting free production material and cross-promotion.
Opening for an established and well-known act is also good for legitimate exposure, especially if you have merchandise to sell. However, I’d still attempt to negotiate something in trade as payment, even if it’s something small like beer and a pizza.
Just remember, most promoters will be accommodating if they can be – as long as you’re not behaving like a demanding ass! Nobody is going to offer you anything if you’re not willing to speak up and ask for it. Always be gracious, and always make sure to say thank you regardless of what you’re offered.
4. Building Your Network
Be careful – This strategy flirts dangerously close to the practice of non-focused exposure. Attending an event where you can hand out some merchandise and a few promo CDs is a fantastic idea. The downside is that “free” merchandise has cost you money up-front to create.
I can’t express enough, how ineffective and expensive it is trying to create promotional-buzz by randomly giving things away. When it comes to free swag, everybody’s hand will open up. It’s unlikely those people are going to be your future audience.
I handle these situations like I’m going to a casino. I know the odds aren’t in my favor, but I might get lucky and place a promo-CD with someone who could bring significant value to my business network.
Before I even start, I establish exactly how much merchandise I plan to hand out, and I firmly hold to that limit. I also make sure that I’ve got a plan to contact specific people at the event, even if it’s only shaking their hand and making an introduction. Don’t ever go in without a game plan.
5. For The Love
Because you just want to perform. Because it’ll be fun. Because it’s for a good cause. We as artists should never forget why we spend so much time and life-force creating music.
Sometimes, sharing the joy of music is payment enough. There’s not much point to it all if we can’t simply have fun expressing our talents every so often. I love a good jam with fellow musicians and how that exchange lifts my creative spirit and motivates me.
In the grander view, our talents also have a worth beyond cash and physical things. In my opinion, one of the noblest things we can do as artists is to offer what we’ve been gifted in the service of others and for a good cause. Such things offer their own immeasurable rewards.
For more strategies, check out my Facebook group:
>> Indie Electronic Musician Collective