Sunday, 11 December 2011

Why am I starting to charge for Ghost now? Do I believe all music should be free?

A few people asked so.....

My thoughts on the whole Free/Pay What You Want thing was to use "free" content (in this case an album) to gain an audience for my music. My music is bloody weird/quite odd but hopefully quite melodic so I was really hoping to connect to an audience but it was a hard sell. Weird guitar instrumentals in odd timings - doesn't inspire much confidence does it?

To an extent free/PWYW has worked quite well, I now have an email list of around 3000 people and the album has sold well enough to recoup all costs. A massive result (and thanks very much). 

Do I believe all music should be free? No. My albums are expensive to make because I pay for skilled people to work on them, I want to make great records.  If the audience doesn't choose to pay for music we are all in trouble, there won't be the money to pay skilled people to work on records and the overall quality will decrease. Sure there are massive advances in the quality of technology but you still need skilled people to work on them. The skill set of a guitarist is different to that of a recording engineer (although they can be one and the same). 

In the case of Ghost it was all about gaining the attention of an audience, by removing all barriers for people to hear the music in the eventual hope that people would be willing to pay for future recordings or go to a concert or tell a friend about it. Also if people do choose not pay for it you can torrent it anyway, a reality whether you like it or not. I have no problem with people sharing my music, it's free marketing (as long as they are not exploiting it commercially). 

I also like the whole DIY thing coming from being a fan of US Hardcore when I was younger.

Personally I'd be more concerned if no one wanted to torrent my music, it often means no one cares. The hard thing is gaining the attention of the audience where there is so much music available. 

Now there is an audience I will probably charge for future recordings but also make some content available free, a balance. 

You can download Ghost Free/Pay What You Want for the rest of today from:


Cheers :)

UPDATE!! Ghost is no longer available free/pay what you want but my new album Relic is:

http://mattstevens.bandcamp.com/album/relic

Cheers - AMAZING debate on this post!!

39 comments:

Fogeyspasm said...

Im old school. Like a product in my hand, cover to look at so for me i have no problem paying for music. Going to the other extreme i have downloaded albums from dodgy sources but, maybe im a rarity, if i like it i will always buy the proper album.
Without doing this i wouuld never have bought all the Spocks Beard stuff and not discovered a lot of other bands.

Matt Stevens said...

Agreed - I think as an audience we need to decide to pay for music that we care about:)

gurdonark said...

I'm new school. I release my music for free download, and liberally license it for re-use, so that it ends up in everything from a feature-length documentary to an art exhibit in Norway to hundreds of youtubes and vimeos of larger or smaller ambition.

I listen to a lot of netlabel and Creative Commons music, and support
sharing of music in that way.

Yet I buy music from artists and from record labels, with a preponderance of my paid purchases being from the artist and from small indie labels. I do not believe in violating the rights of the artist, and pay artists who wish to be paid. I oppose unlicensed downloading from the torrents of what should be paid content.

Though I am a huge advocate of shared music and the Creative Commons, to me, the important thing is that the artist gets to choose. If the artist wishes to sell, that is a perfectly permissible and workable choice. If the artist wishes to give away material, that, too, has a purpose and is a permissible and workable choice.

Too often this debate is framed as "paid v. free", but really the debate is 'artist choice v. lack of artist choice". If we frame the debate in that second way, then we can fovus on ways to eliminate things like discrimination against indie artists in subscription service streaming compensation rates.

So I say "good for you that you released for free" and "good for you that you now wish to charge.

I do not favor the artificially long copyright extensions, but I favor protecting artists through copyright, and artists sharing with fans through liberal licenses.

IanH said...

I'm more than happy to pay for stuff I love. £9 or £10 for an album is a small price for many years' enjoyment. I usually stream "new" artists' material to get an idea of what's going on but always pay fpr the product if I like it. The problem for me with free/pay what you want, is I always feel guilty that I might have paid too little LOL!

Oli said...

I can't claim that I always pay for music I like, as I like far more than I can possibly afford, and lets face it, it doesn't actually cost an artist money for me to have some data they originated on my hard disk. The stuff I like most I always want to have on CD, and eventually, I'll get it. One thing I'm certain of: it never cost anyone a penny in lost sales when I downloaded their music for free.

Having said that, if you choose to make your downloads payable I'm unlikely to go looking for a torrent unless they're astronomically costly. If you choose to charge for your releases on Bandcamp, and people will pay for them, I'm all for it (and I'd say the same even if I didn't know I could probably expect a review copy of your releases!) The market's a place where you should be able to find your own level/ approach.

2og5 said...

I totally agree , I also like a physical product but able to hear a free stream is good if you've not heard the music before . Maybe only have a couple of samplers from each album available as a taster ? If everything is to be of high standard it has to be payed for somewhere down the line . I personally don't like the "dialema" of pay what you like and wind up feeling guilty , if the artist can't value there worth , how am I supposed to ?

Darren said...

I believe that art should be free.

Every man for himself. I've tried every strategy. However, after having all my work on Jamendo and just accruing thousands and thousands of downloads and an uncountable amount of playbacks - I received nothing for my efforts as there is no way on there to collect email addresses and build up a way of communicating with your fan base.

I know I have a fan base because they downloaded my music from Jamendo. I know I have a fan base because they continue to download the free stuff I have on my own website (I post a lot of rough mixes, demos and podcasts). I know I have a fan base because I shift between 170-300Gb (yes, that's Gb) from my site every month. I gave away my surround sound mixes because I thought no-one would be interested but after eleven days of this month there have been 410 downloads of my "Textures" surround sound DVd. Add that to the thousands of downloads on top of that and I think I am wasting my time.

I believe that art should be free.

My production costs are minimal. Yes, I have spent good money on instruments over the years, but this is my hobby and I have no other vices to waste my money on. Instead of pissing my life away, there is some kind of legacy.

But as time is passing, I am beginning to think I have made a dreadful mistake as it turns out my music isn't worth anything. It has no value. It is worthless.

Now is this because I have no talent? Is this because what I do is completely awful. I don't know. I am not that much of an egotist. But I used to sell CDs. I used to sell out my initial run of CDs on CDBABY and cover my costs and make a little profit my downloads. But now, things are silent.

So do I continue? Do I charge? Do I give it away. Do I put the guitar down and walk away and gravitate to another hobby instead? I need to earn some cash just to keep my website going, I guess.

But I know where my failing is. Without the ability to play live, I am just another bedroom musician. I am just another third division bum. And this is why the "real" musicians sneer at us and accuse us of polluting the water and complain that there's "too much media". <--- But that's a separate argument for another time.

But I my socialist heart still beats...

And I still believe that art should be free.

rubken said...

From a marketing point of view it depends what you are trying to accomplish. I know that talking about marketing in the context of music and art is slightly uncomfortable, but if you want to earn a living from it you have to deal with this.

I think you're right Matt to value your email list that you have built so far. Doing that while breaking even on an album is really exceptional. It probably boils down to, if you feel it's the right time then it is.

Your points about torrenting are interesting. I think that a really important focus for all independent musicians/labels is to bring those people into your main distribution areas. The way to do this is to have content available for free in some form and to publicise it.

Streaming on Bandcamp is a great service so getting your players on lots of sites is useful. I think YouTube is also an important platform and can bring in lots of fans. Laura Kidd/She Makes War does a really good job of this.

I think you are right to start charging. If it doesn't work at least you will have learned what happens when you start charging.

@Darren, art should be free to the audience, but it has production costs even if that's only ramen for the artists. Perhaps that should come from the state? It would in a socialist model.

If you ask nothing in return for your music it is almost impossible to gauge the value. The folks who download your work might value it highly, but it sounds like you have no way of knowing.

Why not try a platform that allows you to give your music away for no charge but that requires a verified email address. Then send out a newsletter once a month about what you're up to and with links to new stuff. You could, like Matt, even ask them if they would pay for a new release or a special format like 5.1 surround.

Nick Tann said...

ALL art free eh? What about the art of a cabinet maker or plastic surgeon?

I decided to make all my downloadable music free and 15 minutes later sold an album for a tenner. Just saying....

Nick Tann said...

I don't do gigs for free...there are limits

Matt Stevens said...

I'd do some gigs for free if the marketing value is worth is ie. doing a support slot in front of hundreds of people that would lead to lots more people on your mailing list, CD sales etc.

I think you need to make decisions, although I'm not sure how you can make really high quality recording for free unless you have a studio and an engineer and mastering engineer who is happy to work for nothing and then someone else loses out.

Most home recordings do tend to lack something, but not always. There are exceptions, for example Apex Twin etc

I don't believe all art should be free. I think its down to the artist to decide. A compromise is the less glamourous/press worthy answer as usual.

One Fret at a Time said...

It's not like someone still can't hear the album. Thanks to BandCamp, new visitors can still listen to the music streaming. They can then easily decide if they are willing to part with some cash for the convenience of owning the digital file (or hard copy).

I think that is a great balance for someone who has established themselves in their scene, which I think you certainly have. Plus some individuals need a nudge here and there to actually pay for music sometimes.

I'm thinking you should follow-up with this in a few months and let us know how the switch for Ghost worked out for you :)

Matt Stevens said...

I will, although as Ghost is a 18months old record its probably unlikely to start selling loads.

I shall be charging for the solo next album although thats years off.

John F said...

I've done many promos and free giveaways, and see my band's albums on the torrent sites all the time as well.

The problem isn't that people don't pay for music. The problem is, everyone can make and publish music now. Which is also a good thing. But, there is no longer a filter that people can trust to know what's worth listening to.

Prog music takes an investment of time and effort on the party of the listener. But, with so much music so easily attainable, it's like having an endless box of chocolates - everyone takes a little nibble from hundreds of them, and never settles on any to devote any time to enjoying fully.

geoff banks said...

With Pallas we also try to keep a balance and by Christmas will have given 4 FREE tracks in the last 12 months. We want to let people have a chance to listen to the band's music as well as being able to give away things that may not be suited to an album (musically or timing wise).

All the more power to your elbow sir, after all nappies aren't free ;-)

RHacker said...

people who give their music away for free are in effect saying "my music is worthless" and are responsible for the entire devaluation of music as a whole.

Matt Stevens said...

RH Hacker - It's not as simple as that.

If you give your music away in exchange for an email address (as I have done) is that still free?

How much would it cost to get 3000 email addresses through conventional marketing?

What do you think?

RHacker said...

i'm not talking marketing strategies here or touting for syncs etc, i'm talking about the big picture, as in the devaluation of music as a whole - which to me IS totally simple, yes, not least due to redundant "musicians" giving away their "music" for free which has helped perpetuate the general consensus out there of 'hey, why should i pay for it?' people don't feel like that every time they step into a shoe shop or sit down in a restaurant because they have respect for the fact that shoes and food aren't free to produce. but not for music... people who give music away for free undermine the value of music as a whole for everybody.... simple, yes it is!!!

Matt Stevens said...

How do you sell music to an audience you don't have?

Do you invest in marketing to get this audience?

What is your projection to recoup?

RHacker said...

you get a publishing deal, recording deal or sign up with a decent booking agent, if you can't manage any of those things, maybe it's time to take a long hard look at yourself and ask why.

Matt Stevens said...

I've already turned down all of the above because you don't make as much money as doing it yourself when you only sell a few thousand records like I do.

The only way to sell more would be though a marketing spend that would be impossible to recoup, a sync or some kind of freak viral.

I make weird esoteric music and for a small audience. This makes me happy :)

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Sullivan said...

@RHacker Spoken like a person who knows nothing about the music industry. Or musicians.

A record deal is not a panacea. In fact, it's a millstone. The record company doesn't pay for anything at all - they loan you money out of future sales which you pay back from your cut of the profits - *after* they've taken the lion's share of that themselves.

So if they plough a million quid into promoting your album, you need to pay that back before you see any money yourself. And if they only give you 30p per CD sold, you can do the maths yourself as to how many discs you would need to sell.

Why would any musician choose to go that route now that the Internet and prosumer recording technology have given them the option not to? Musicians want to make music, and, if they're lucky, eke out a living doing so. Matt seems to have managed that admirably - why would ever consider handing that freedom over to a record company in return for massive debt and the loss of creative control?

Matt Stevens said...

Thanks - to be honest when I looked at all the deals I was offered (by some of the best know Prog/Post rock indies) I wouldn't able to the pay the rent after signing so it wouldn't have been an option anyway. The definition of profit seemed hard to fathom and I wanted complete control over the music so all in all it made sense to stay indie. I'm not closed off to options in the future thou, I'm still hopeful.

I would like some help thou and I'm working with some people in the new year so hopefully that will work out :)

aneyeonbi said...

So here's my take on it, based on my own behaviour towards you and other artists doing similar things:

You create interesting music. It is off the beaten track and so the people that find you are (like me) typically going to be people who are looking off the beaten track. They are interested in interesting music, want to explore it, test it out and understand it (as well as enjoying it). If they find something that's not interesting, then they move on. If they are interested in sticking around and finding out what else the artist is creating, then they will do.

They are also interested in the artist themselves, what they are doing, what is inspiring their music, where they are heading, what else they are listening too etc. etc.

Because I am interested, I am happy to invest. When I find music that interests me, I will almost always pay, even when there is a free option. I will also pay more than just a token amount. The relationship is symbiotic.

So. To me, what you are doing makes perfect sense as long as you continue to keep some (or all) of your new material available. That way people will continue to find you (as you now are) and can then invest to find out what you were then (e.g. Ghost). I understand that music can be streamed, but I think that there is still a genuine investment in being able to download (even for free). Firstly, you get the contacts base, as you say...but as a consumer, I have done something affirmative and I suspect that that has some psychological value too.

Anyway, keep up the great work in all your roles as solo artist, band member (and dad too)!!!

Ernesto Schnack said...

I think gurdonark makes a great point...it's about the artist having a choice. Just because you make music, doesn't mean you're supposed to or have the right to make a career out of it.

There are many ways of doing this, and all we can do is to try and hope that our music resonates with other people. If you find that fanbase, then you can start thinking about where you want to go with your music.

A great example is Cloudkicker...he's a guy with a day job who makes music for fun, and let's people download it for free, not even for an email. People started talking about it and sharing it, and eventually he started selling cd's because there was a demand for it.

But he still has his day job, and has no plans of leaving it. No touring either, and all the money he makes he invests back into the music. And you can still download all his music for free.

And that's just one way of doing it. The major obstacle is to have a big enough fanbase, after that it's up to the artist to do what feels right to him or her.

And @RHacker, you can't equate price with value. I have many things I got for free that I value very much. And I only value my refrigerator to the extent that it keeps my food cold. But I would feel the same way about it whether it cost me 5 or 500 bucks.

RHacker said...

dear matt and john, firstly can i declare myself, my name’s robert hacker jessett, i don’t like doing this in a spineless anonymous way, and i want to make clear also when i use the term ‘you’ or ‘looking at yourself’ this is ‘you’; as in the 3rd person pronoun (alternative to ‘one’ – which sounds a bit posh to me) i am in fact a fan of your music matt, but i’m not a fan of giving away music for free and i stand by every word i’ve written, as for people waffling on about the difference between the value and price of something.... well, i’ll leave those sort of platitudes and semantics for the oscar wilde scholars.

before people out there cast aspersions upon myself , may i just give you a bit of background as someone who’s been in bands and around the music world for the last 30 years, band-wise, i’ve been signed up, dropped, ripped off, stitched up, toured, played to 2 men and a dog in a dive bar in peckham, 1000s at a big festival, been a part of deals with rough trade, one little indian, had publishing deals with chrysalis and booking agreements with various bookers including asgard, apart from that i was a part of one of the most audacious attempts to circumvent the industry with my current band (morton valence) raising £20k by selling %s of our 1st album to fans, so i think that makes me qualified to have an opinion on a subject which i feel passionate about john.

i never said a record deal was any kind of panacea, but then neither is the new media, and believe you me i know all about artists getting stitched up by cockroaches in the industry, but again this point goes back to my fundamental point which is if musicians allow themselves to be exploited they do a disservice to all musicians, be it signing a terrible contract, or giving music away for free, it's symptomatic of the same thing that has been going on since time immemorial, exploiting artists (it's a bit like shooting fish in a barrel) it’s very easy to take advantage of a kid with a dream, and there’s plenty of people out there who are more than happy to oblige.

i have no love for the old school industry, i can think of dozens of instances of real talent being left to rot and the dross getting all the props... sure, who hasn’t? but what i would say, when there were gatekeepers as such at least it limited the numbers, the problem now is music is a preposterously overcrowded market place, this is because anyone who cares to pick up a guitar, learn a bit of garageband and do a bit of social networking can make an "album", and they do, no matter how questionable their actual talents, this may be democracy, but the net result is a lot of charlatans out there flooding out the market with free “music” which in my opinion is probably free because in all likelihood it’s worthless, moreover it has a negative effect on ALL artists, good, bad or average, including you matt.

but if you’re happy doing niche music to a small audience (as i am) then i would suggest this conversation is kind of pointless and we can plough on and probably outlast all the wannabes. however, when you talk about getting a bigger audience, i understand that as the opposite, i.e. hitting some sort of critical mass or “making it” as such. The only way to do that is through financial investment, like 40 to 50k just for a mid sized indie band, either you’re already loaded or you do some sort of business deal, that business deal will usually mean either a label, publisher or booker, or all 3. can you give me an example of an artist who’s sold to a big audience (i’m talking 100 000+) and circumvented the industry, with or without the internet i can’t think of a single one (don’t believe the hype about the arctic monkeys or the magic numbers... industry bullshit).

but like you i don't really care about that world and i'm happy ploughing my own furrow, so i guess this conversation is poitless.

keep playing the cool music matt.
rob

Matt Stevens said...

Thanks Rob, really glad you like the music, much appreciated man :)

Totally agree to build a serious audience:

"The only way to do that is through financial investment, like 40 to 50k just for a mid sized indie band"

I thing often people don't realise this is the sort of investment required. Sure you can build slowly through social media but this will takes years rather than months. Its took me 5 years to reach the level of obscurity I am at now :)

And knowing where to spend it is the key and working out how to get that kind of investment without losing all control to the industry it the hard bit. Do I have any answers? Not really because anyone investing is going to want something in return, its very difficult.

Word of mouth does work really well if you do have a viral hit - my mate Jon Gomm has seen his audience grow really quickly after having a million plus views on his Youtube video.

I'm not really an evangelist for the old industry or the give everything away free lot - I want to take the best from the past and the present. Musicians who want a serious audience will need some of the skills a label can offer, whether they pay someone to do it or they sign directly to the label.

What I think needs to happen when all the dust settles is this compromise.

The main problem I can see is how do you recoup that 50 grand investment when we move to streaming via services like Spotify?

I have no idea! :)

James Beaudreau said...

Hey Matt, great discussion you've started here. At this point, it looks like streaming -- i.e. Spotify -- is not going to be an indie artist's game. As streaming becomes more ubiquitous listeners looking for non-mainstream music will have to still be comfortable with downloads or physical media -- otherwise, they won't be able to hear it! Just as indie artists have had to operate outside the channels of the big music biz, so they'll have to do outside the streaming model. Or so it seems at this point anyway.

Matt Stevens said...

Agreed - I'm really tempted to pull my stuff from Spotify now.

Gareth said...

A friend of a friend of mine, who is a full time DiY artist of some repute said something along the lines of: either make your music free or expensive; anything but cheap. Free is a gift, 'expensive' is a living; cheap is just cheap, in every sense of the word.

I would like to think any music that I produce is worth more than just a couple of pints of beer to someone given how much effort has gone in to its production.

On the other hand if I gift the music (in exchange for an email address, say) then I'd hope for some reciprocal token in exchange. Like bums on seats, or a purchase of some merchandise or cd, spreading the name to their friends or even a pint.

What would cheapen it for everyone is if I sold my wares for the price of a pint or two. I might be off base but I'd feel that the perception would be that I don't value *my* work all that much and that the punter shouldn't either. Because I'm 'only' charging two pints worth, if that, and then going to spam them with emails, why should they bother.

I'm undecided what tactic I'll employ when our first album is ready to go but I tell you one thing, it won't be cheap.

Matt Stevens said...

Mmm yeah there is a logic to this argument (from my time in retail i know its true), although i'm not sure I'd feel comfortable charging a lot more than 7 or 8 quid for a download. I'm not sure but i see the logic.

Gareth said...

Well, £8 is more than 2 pints - in Glasgow at least.

Anything above that, would maybe need some sort of perceived added value, like a physical item, not necessarily the CD.

At a merch stand at the back of a gig, I'd probably charge a bit more of a premium.

Matt Stevens said...

Ahh - i was on London pub prices :)

Warren said...

I never really thought about RHacker's approach. I have a question for RHacker. Many folk who are unknown and don't have the ability to do many live events, give their music away for free as a promo tool. What would you suggest as an alternative?

Matt Stevens said...

Save up £50,000 and spend it carefully on promoting your music is the alternative or do it slow and steady like me.

RHacker said...

@warren, errrr.... that they go and get a proper job

Matt Stevens said...

hahahaha always useful advice :)

Ugo Capeto said...

Well, if you intend to live off your music, it's probably better to charge for it. just my 2 cents.

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