Monday, 27 June 2011

Should I make my new album free/pay what you want?

IMG_0493 by mattstevensguitar
IMG_0493, a photo by mattstevensguitar on Flickr.

Pay what you want has worked really well for me - it has allowed me to build an audience I never expected, it has been great. I've been very lucky.

My thoughts on all this is that you should use "Pay What You Want" as a way of building an audience, as free marketing. In the early days of your career it is very hard to get people to even listen to your music, let alone buy it. I've been there, when you haven't got audience/radio/podcast/blogpress support you are just another person asking listeners to "check out my music" - I hate that phrase.

The idea is that you exchange the download for the audience's interest and an email address. Hopefully then at some time in the future they will decide to pay for something you sell and tell their friends about your music. I seems like an honest exchange, especially when there is so much music out there at the moment

When I started making my my music available "Pay What You Want" I had no idea that the music would a couple of years later be reasonably successful and I'd end up with print press, playing quite big gigs and thousands of downloads. I didn't expect that and I'm hugely grateful to my audience for making that happen. It worked :)

So what now - someone emailed me the other day saying "established acts like you giving away albums spoils it for the rest of us trying to get going". I asked everyone on Facebook and the response was mixed, some said I should some said no.

Well first of all I'd say I'm not really an established act, I'm very obscure and why does what I do relate to anyone else's business model? I want as many people to hear my music as possible, this is what most musicians want.

I would like music earnings to cover recording costs and help with my living expenses, this seems realistic - this is what happens at the moment. But I am not entitled to anything, it is all down to if the audience likes the music. Musicians who say they are entitled to payment for music because they have worked hard at it, even if no one likes it are crazy. Nobody owes you anything, if anyone likes your music you are very very lucky.

Even if I do decide to make the next album a paid download I am aware a free option will be available via torrents/DL sites within a small amount of time as my music is freely available on torrents now. This is good - free promotion! I'd be very worried if Ghost wasn't on the torrent sites. If your music isn't torrented it means no one wants to share it. Not good.

Artists should take torrenting as a compliment. So perhaps making paid downloads a main feature of my website is a good idea, with the option of a free version still being available somewhere online. However if people do decide to torrent don't get their email address and I can't build a relationship with them for years to come - email addresses/relationships are worth a lot over the career of a musician.

One thing I am concerned about is that "Pay What You Want" is becoming less remarkable. Perhaps to be interesting and remarkable it is time to say this album is £5 and that's how much it is. Is an album that is charged for of more value to the listener?

If I don't charge for Relic I'll probably charge full price for the next one, they're not cheap records to make. I think we're at that point now, the audience are there, the torrents are available. I think it is almost at the point to charge for my music rather than do "Pay What You Want". Change is good.

Do some audience members perceive that if an album is available free that it is not very good?

What do you think?


attitudebadger said...

Matt - I think the model you used for the Live album works well - make it a minimum cost for the first few days so that established fans can pay to get it early and then pay waht you like thereafter - I'll pay for it.

Przemek said...

The point about torrented music is very true. I'f people don't want your music the illegal way, they certainly won't be willing to pay for it. I'd put a small charge on the album, e.g. 2.99, which I think is proportionate to the perception of your current position as an artist but at the same time it shows that you're not trying to rip people off. I think people who are your audience are perfectly aware of the situation in the music business at the moment, big labels ripping profits leaving peanuts for the artists and whatnot, so they should appreciate something like that. Or you could even state that 50p from every 2.99 album sale is going towards some charity of your choice. This could give you some momentum, I reckon.

rubken said...

I think you're right that pay want you want is a great way to build audience numbers. So the question is then, do you have enough people listening to your music? If the answer's no then some free availability is probably worthwhile.

I think it depends on format though. It makes sense to me to make low quality digital files (mp3s at lowish bitrate) available free and charge for FLAC/AIFF/etc and physical media. That way people can get hold of your music but there is a chance they might upgrade for better quality in the future.

For me pay what you want doesn't devalue the music at all. Whether I pay or not I feel a sympathy with artists who take this approach. If you are going to stop giving free access to all your music I think it is important to make sure that people can find your stuff that is free to get them hooked.

I think there's a case for encouraging payment though, making it clear that you need the income to make the business work. It's also worth making clear that people can download for free but come back and pay you if they find themselves listening to the album more than a handful of times.

Ultimately it's about your business model and your relationship with your fans. If it's clear you'll make more money with a pay only route then fair enough, but I suspect the level of engagement you have with your audience is very valuable too.

Unknown said...

I have no problem with you fixing a price rather than going down the pay-what-you-want route. I generally prefer to own CDs for artists I like, which necessitates a fixed price. And if I'm paying for a digital download, pay-what-you-want can leave me wondering guiltily about whether I've short-changed the artist or worrying that I've paid more than it is worth!

Having said all that, I think it is important for promo purposes to do some free streaming of the material or make a few medium-quality MP3s available for free download, so that prospective buyers can be sure they like the stuff before parting with any cash.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm happy for you to tell us what you think your music's worth, so long as you also provide us with some way of judging, at no cost to ourselves, whether we agree with you!

Wayne said...

The heavy implication of your article here is that you think you are losing money by going the PWYW route and that you'd make more with a fixed minimum price for downloads.

That is to say - as (I think) you see it, there are people downloading for free who would pay if they had to but, since they don't, aren't, and that these people outnumber those who download for free, listen a few times, then come back and pay, or - perhaps more importantly - who listen to someone else's free download, think 'wow', and go and pay for their own copy.

If that's so, I'd be interested to know what led you to that conclusion.

To be honest I'd be worried that an audience specifically built up through PWYW might be somewhat eroded by a return to minimum-price downloads, and that doing so might make it take longer to make the costs of the album back. I'd also be worried that by relinquishing control of the (inevitable) free downloads, you slow the rate at which your audience continues to build.

Moreover, the only people I see suggesting that people see PWYW music as equivalent to 'not very good' are people who are themselves selling music downloads at some minimum price - I can see their axe and it is grindy.

To go over some now very old ground, since the marginal cost of reproduction of digital is zero, the value of the thing is also zero, and all recorded music is now effectively free, like it or not, no matter how much was spent making it. The value that people are prepared to pay for is about their relationship with you and with that music - it's optional, but they do pay. I don't see how the fact that you have successfully built up a substantial listenership changes anything.

Then again, not yet having done so myself, perhaps I wouldn't :)

Unknown said...
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Tom Emmons said...

Partial pay, i.e. a track or two free, and the rest included in a paid download on the album could be an option. I've seen this done successfully.

Also, a free listen option, but if you want it in your car or iPod, you must pay for download.

More interesting ruminations, Thanks!

Ernesto said...

I ended up putting a minimum price on my album, but I still offer a few tracks for free.

I figure people can always freely listen to my music on bandcamp anyway, not to mention youtube. It's not like I'm offering 30 seconds clips or something...

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I think whatever i do going forward there will be some PWYW element to my offer, but I don't believe PWYW is an effective long term complete business model.

The problem is that as your audience heads towards the tens of thousands how do you have an individual relationship with everyone?

I'd like to, but I'm not sure its possible.

You need to keep experimenting to find out what works for, instance Radiohead did PWYW then tried paid download.

Experimentation is the key. The thing with PWYW is the you lose some money and gain an audience. Thats the equation, the way it works. In terms of marketing, an email is worth more than a £1 so its in effect a reasonable exchange on the basis that the downloader will hopefully tell their friends/come to gigs etc in the future. Thats the way it works.

In the early stages the important thing is get people to listen, thats REALLY hard :)

Do you think you'd be less likely to support an artist through PWYW if you perceived them to be "successful"?

Scaling is the problem.....

This may be useful @wayne:

Anonymous said...

Dear Matt,

thanks for bringing that up - I just recently thought about that topic, sometimes aloud.

My situation is vastly different from yours at the moment - "official" downloads are not in the thousands; they're in the tens, and I don't have an established fan base like you; and with that comes that I can't say (nor did I ever consciously aim at that) that music covers part of my living expenses.

What is most interesting to me in your post is what you say about torrent downloads. It appeared odd for me that music that is "pay what you want" would appear as a torrent, even if it's as successful as yours. To my great surprise, I found that my music is available on torrent sites as well (which, according to you, is a good thing).

There is one very special observation I had made in the past: for one specific "limited time" release, I decided to make it available at minimum price, mainly because I didn't believe anyone would download it (remember "Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen"?). What happened is this: this is the album which generated the highest number of downloads in a given time for me ever. Was that because it was available for a limited time? Or because it wasn't "free"? Or because the people who heard it liked the music much better than that on my other albums? I'd give a lot for the correct answer to that question...

Ok, back to the beginning: based on that "evidence", and also based on the fact that unlike with you, my business model does not count on income from music sales, I will do something that is minimum price (which will still be somewhat low - like pi or Euler10 or something), and see what happens.

I'm already looking forward to another blog post from you, detailing your experiences when in the next step you change your pricing concept.




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