How One 'No Name' Musician Used Free Music To Build A Following

from the funny-how-that-works dept

We’ve joked in the past about how people always look for ways to make “exceptions” rather than “rules” out of every example we use to show how adopting business models around the economics we discuss works well. So, if we show a big name band being successful, we’re told it only works for big bands. If we show a less well known name doing well, we’re told that it only works for no names, but that it could never work for big names. Someone in our comments jokingly referred to this “exceptionalism” as “Masnick’s Law.” Hell, in a post that once described both big name bands and no names being successful, someone in the comments complained that it might work for big names, and it might work for no names… but it couldn’t possibly work for the vast majority of musicians in the middle.

So, the best we can do is continue to show examples of how it works… for musicians of all “sizes” and levels of fame. One of Techdirt’s longtime readers, and a well known “social media guru,” Adam Singer, sent in a very personal example: himself. It turns out that, on the side, he’s been something of a hobbyist musician. After years of trying to sell his music from various sites and getting nowhere, he went free and found an entirely different experience. He chose a Creative Commons license for his music, and it was like “magic.” Because people could easily pass around and share his music, suddenly he had a following. Many more people heard his music, even to the point of people creating a profile page for his music on Last.fm, his music showing up on popular music blogs and internet radio programs — and even people asking to commission him to write new music for them. To say that Adam is a convert would be an understatement.

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Comments on “How One 'No Name' Musician Used Free Music To Build A Following”

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43 Comments
lordmorgul says:

Re: Special Case

Are you kidding? The name ‘Singer’ is not helping him, if anything can be said about that it is hurting him because lots of people may assume he has chosen a stage name that seems somewhat egotistical. Since it is his name, I don’t think that is true but people who come across his page might not immediately make that assumption.

Michael Whitetail says:

Re: Re: Special Case

Wow! The sarcasm in that post went right over your head 🙂

People are always going to invent exceptions to prop up their preconceptions. You see it all the time with the Mac360/ps3/ipod/zen fanbois.

When you get people like that railing at you, then you know your on to something because you have mioved beyond the logical arguments into the land of emotional denial.

Anonymous Coward says:

I always said the Trent Reznor’s “business model” when he sold limited editions of his albums (for a hefty price) while giving away the tracks for free on his own website, would only work for established Artists.

When I heard about Radiohead’s Pay as you wish I though that business model can be more “universal”

I believe Adam Singer’s case completes the loop.

-When your unknown you should give your music for free (Consider that advertising/Pr) you could use the “pay as you wish” model too but free will create more good will.
– One your start becoming an Established musician you switch to pay as you wish.
– when/if you get really famous you start rolling out the limited edition albums (that’s if your stuff is good of course)

Rib (user link) says:

Special Case Ditto

More of concern than whether someone with a non-musical name could duplicate such success is the question of whether someone who is not a “social media guru” could succeed as a hobbyist musician. Plus little is known about what impact trying unsuccessfully for years to sell music from various sites might have.
It’s obvious that the free model cannot work in any case due to the unmanageably large number of unduplicatable variables…

mobiGeek says:

Re: Special Case Ditto

“It is obvious … “??

How is this obvious?

As for being a “social media guru”, I think you miss the point. It isn’t the artist that is the guru…it is the FANS themselves. By liberating their works, the artist allows the fanbase to GROW ITSELF. The work is used not to generate revenue directly, but to spawn FREE marketing efforts by the fanbase so that revenues on scarce resources (e.g. performances) becomes much more valuable.

nasch says:

Re: Special Case Ditto

As mobigeek touched on a bit, but I thought I’d expand… he specifically said he is not going out trying to promote his music. He just uploads it. Most of the suggestions he has would be very, very simple for any moderate internet user to do if they’re interested in putting in a little time on it. Nothing requires guru status or even close to it. Really just a modicum of intelligence, some desire, a little time, and the ability to use Google.

Michael Kohne says:

Things that work at different levels of frame

Even in the traditional music industry, musicians at different levels of fame do NOT do the same things! So why is the fact that something that works for a very famous musician (Trent Reznor) but won’t work for a no-name mocked?

You can’t do a greatest hits album if you’re a no-name, either, and that’s an old standby of the traditional music industry.

Your Gawd and Master says:

Re: Re:

I call bullshit!! I’m wagering that you’ve never sat down and written a single song either and you’re little more than a shill.

Almost every musician I know wants free music AND have written many songs, AND give them out for free. And I know a lot of musicians thanks to some skills I have that they lack.

Hell, back in the day before we could download music I toured with a band that was mostly local that made incredible money simply from touring around the state all the time. Five piece band, $1500/night and played 5 nights a week. That was $78,000 a year per member back over 10-15 years ago. It actually cost them money to put CD’s on the shelves in stores.

Or are you talking about someone who is utterly and completely unknown even in their own town?

The ONLY people I will pay for music are the real exceptions like Andy Partridge of XTC who had simple stage fright then someone(I think his wife at the time) threw his nerve pills down a toilet right before a show and his anxiety got so bad that he’s been phobic of stages ever since. That I can understand paying for since he never tours but Andy is wickedly wise and already has realized that he’s gotta give his fans a bit more for them to buy the CD’s and has done something about it. There are other exceptions but Andy’s is always the first to come to mind.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Agreed. I was in numerous band in the 80s and 90s and we’d always give our music away as much as possible to get a fan base.

The biggest obstacle any musician (or any artist) faces is obscurity. Not copyright infringement. The internet makes obscurity much easier to overcome. I wish to god we had the net back in the day. It would have made life a lot easier and we would have saved a small fortune copying cassette tapes of our music.

And one more thing, songwriting is not difficult if you’re a good songwriter. All the songwriters I know had no problems writing songs. They just flowed out of them. Songwriting is only hard if you have no talent to write songs. But that’s true of any activity.

Mattk says:

Free music

Of course people won’t pay for something that they know nothing about or haven’t heard before. In a sense, you get free music when you listen to the radio, but unfortunately most of it is the same old crap you’ve heard before, so online is the best way to get your music heard.
Like A.C. said, you can start to charge people once you have built a following. My only concern is people stealing your tunes for their own use.
Comment 4 – are you being ironic? Coz I can’t tell.

Listening Intently says:

Re: Re: ok smartguy

Indeed you did.

Most of the widely popular music available (in traditional formats & for sale) that you hear on the radio is utter rubbish (IMHO). The artists are either engineered (boy bands) or no-talent development projects of the record label (examples too numerous to mention).

The reason that so-called “piracy” hurts the industry’s business is because the practice of engineering a band or investing heavily in production to make a worthless artist sound good for the radio is extremely expensive, but deemed worthwhile because they have been able to make it profitable for so long.

In addition, there is the fact that most artists (content creators) are not lucky enough to have any creative license or latitude in their contracts with said record labels, make little or no money from album sales, often must pay for touring and promotion out of their profits from all of these activities, and when all is said and done, retain no rights to the music that they have written.

A lot of worthwhile artists love the sharing model precisely because it bypasses all of these common complaints; distribution becomes virtually free, and they are able to create the music that they want and develop a fanbase on the same. This then allows them to profit in ways only associated to the music itself (touring, branded items like apparel, etc.) while their creation is itself offered to consumers free of charge.

What is the end result? 1) Most of the mass-marketed content that I download I subsequently delete, as I don’t even tolerate the “cost” of the hard drive usage, and 2) I have uploaded content for several real musicians so they can build their own following and become successful outside of the traditional business model.

Parker (profile) says:

Its all in a name?

I really don’t see how his name matters in this case, Mr. Big Content. If that was really the case, bands and artists would be changing their name to more descriptive ones all the time. Doug Painter would be selling millions of dollars worth of painted canvases.

Rose M. Welch – Agreed! “Masnick’s Law” would be a great band name. Of course, the band would then have to fine TechDirt everytime Mike used the phrase “Masnick’s Law”…

Finally, I think what is key here is one of the last statement’s in Mike’s post: ‘and even people asking to commission him to write new music for them.’

THIS is is business model – not giving music away from free, but using the free music to promote himself. These commissions might involve writing wedding songs for people or writing commercials, but the bottom line is that they pay and enable him to produce more music for fans to enjoy. Everyone wins.

Don Bartlett says:

Another example of this is a young musician I work with named Joe Pug. He not only has his music for free download….he’ll actually send fans free cds to pass on to their friends….postage included. In the 8 months since his first record came out, he has been able to quit his day job and make a comfortable living off of his music. His shows routinely sell out, and he’s touring with some major artists this spring. The best part? The more free CDs we send out the more CD’s people buy.

Bob Lefsetz did a feature on the free cd program at http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/index.php/archives/2008/11/21/e-mail-of-the-day-13/

Julian Moore (user link) says:

Is being heard by thousands of people for free, bad?

I think if you ask anyone if they’d be happy if tens of thousands of people were able to hear their music if that was a good thing, they’d say yes. If I offered to press 50,000 copies of your music and distribute it free, would you say yes? Or say no, you’d rather sell them?

I doubt you’d be sitting there rubbing your hands excited about the money you could make from 50,000 copies. I think you’d be more worried about how to sell the damn things!

When you scale the question up I think the ‘free is bad’ idea goes right out the window. Here’s what we did with ‘free’: http://bit.ly/14MD9

At no point did we think this was a bad idea. Quite the contrary. We’re wondering when we can do it again.

peacewolfwm (profile) says:

location

I reside in LA & am considering moving to a city that is less in congestion, smog, fires, in-congeniality, but still has a base of musicians & venues for an up-and-coming prog/ballad artist.
A production company advised me to stay in LA due to the eclectic atmosphere & a good place to gig. Even though I am not doing business w/ them at present, I am digging for data that gives me a ‘green light’ on relocating. I brought up Nashville & he replied that it would be good if I played country.
If you have any referrals to production companies that can work w/ an artist who can write well, play all the instruments but needs marketing, more production & help in direction, please feel free to advise.
I would be much obliged to have your feedback.
Thank you.

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