Is It Better To *Require* Or *Request* Something In Return For Free Content?

from the the-debate-goes-on dept

Over at Music Think Tank there’s a blog post provocatively titled: Why Music Should Never Be Given Away For “Free”, which brings up a point I’ve heard multiple times from various music industry marketers (many of whom I generally agree with). They say it is okay to give away music without a monetary transaction taking place, but instead you should demand something else in return. In this post, he suggests requiring an email address, a retweet or a Facebook share in order to get free music.

I definitely understand the general rationale for this line of thinking, but I’m afraid that people are going too far with it, and it’s actually harming the value of free music in some cases. Obviously, it’s great if you can get something (monetarily or not) in exchange for the music, but putting up a barrier can also be harmful. First of all, if it’s truly a brand new fan who hasn’t heard your work, they might not be willing to commit to you in that way. Especially when it comes to Tweeting or Facebooking an artist. If I don’t know the artist, there’s no way I’m mentioning them to all of the people who follow me on various social networks. On the flip side, when I do see friends who make those kinds of Tweets, they feel like spam. They’re not at all convincing and they don’t feel authentic. They feel forced. Honestly, when I see people post social networking messages in exchange for free tracks, it actually makes me less interested in the musical act, because I feel like they need to beg for attention, rather than letting the fans organically give them attention.

Finally, part of the reason the whole “free music” world exploded the way it did was because of the massive simplicity and lack of friction in music sharing, which made music discovery and promotion much more seamless and easy. Putting required friction back into the process seems like a mistake, and will likely just drive fans (or potential fans) either to other artists or back to the same file sharing systems that remove that friction. That doesn’t help anyone.

So rather than requiring an explicit exchange, it always seems a hell of a lot more effective to offer the content for free, but ask for the exchange as a voluntary setup: “If you like these songs, tell your friends or sign up for our mailing list” or something like that. This way it’s not forced. It’s not inauthentic. It’s not friction. It’s about trusting the listeners, rather than trying to force them to act in a certain way.

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Comments on “Is It Better To *Require* Or *Request* Something In Return For Free Content?”

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55 Comments
crade (profile) says:

Not all music is worth something to everyone. The basic service that was once covered by radio (and isn’t anymore) is to provide new music for free, with no restrictions, in such a way that still enticed people to want to pay and without turning people off by making them feel forced or restricted.
The general concept of word of mouth promotion of music worked the same way (listening to music at a friend’s house). I’m not sure how since they have become obsessed with fighting piracy they decided that these things never played any real role and are not only expendable but actually harmful, but I think they are wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

music was never free. when you listen to the radio, you are subject to ads and other things that take away from your attention. if you want the music without ads, you pay for xm or similar. more importantly, for those making music, they are paid when their music is on the air, so nothing is truly free.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“music was never free. when you listen to the radio, you are subject to ads and other things that take away from your attention. if you want the music without ads, you pay for xm or similar. more importantly, for those making music, they are paid when their music is on the air, so nothing is truly free.”

Why are the children so clueless?

Yes, there is free music out there. Check Jamendo or Radio Free Hipster. It’s a great way to get exposure without any commitments.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Sweet! Much thanks, Joe! I can see why you are so infamous and extend to you an offer to spare you in the coming Helmety takeover!

Seriously, I’m going through the FAQ for Smash Words right now, and I’ll be checking out their style guide next. I have a book that I think may do better as a self published eBook than anything mainstream, so look for it soon (I wonder if they’ll let me publish under the author name: Dark Helmet ;))….

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Those making music did not get paid for having their music on the radio. In fact the reverse was often true.

The ads if there were any were to support costs of running the radio station, not paid to musicians.

Of course there are many other forms of free music, but the point I was trying to make is that it felt free to the customers, not that it must actually be free in every sense of the word. Customers will not invest in something blindly. Having the posibility of overhearing an advertisement is not investment. I could potentially see an advertisement anywhere. Forcing someone to do something is an investment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

music was never free. when you listen to the radio, you are subject to ads and other things that take away from your attention. if you want the music without ads, you pay for xm or similar. more importantly, for those making music, they are paid when their music is on the air, so nothing is truly free.

This is an argument that can only exist through the lack of understanding of the nuances of the word “free”.

Something can be free to the producer (costs no money to produce) or free to the consumer (costs no money to listen to) or both.

The “free” music discussed was clearly in the latter sense. I can turn on the radio and listen without paying anything.

Your argument is a strawman which hinges on conflating the two meanings. He didn’t say the music was free to produce. He said it was free to consume.

I guess calling for critical thinking is too much to ask for from TAM…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

i dont know about tam but for myself, free is free of any requirement. asking people for an email address or making them listen to ads is not free. it is without monetary cost, but it isnt free.

plus, how did the radio cost you to buy? the power to run it?

there is a whole lot of free that isnt free, you are just not seeing the costs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

They are paid fractions of a cent and if the collection agency even count the artist, because they are not open only God knows what they do.

And you be wrong about music not being free, from the perspective of people listening it is free, they don’t actually have to pay money if it wasn’t nobody would listen.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

music was never free. when you listen to the radio, you are subject to ads and other things that take away from your attention. if you want the music without ads, you pay for xm or similar. more importantly, for those making music, they are paid when their music is on the air, so nothing is truly free.

Never listened to a busker?

Music is sometimes free – and sometimes it is a negative – ie you would pay to stop it.

dfx (profile) says:

Re: Re:

agreed.

However, it’s not okay when they want your email for this. They are basically saying – we absolutely will not give you something for free – we require something in return. They take your email (seemingly harmless to the unaware) and sign you up for email solicitations or sell your email to some other company to do exactly that.

it’s not a welcome concept and is a contribution to the mass of spam people get.

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Not to mention, if word gets out that so-and-so band spams you with email when you sign up for their music, people will stop signing up for their music.

The free market naturally solves these things.

I like the idea of an email address for music. The artist can send a follow-up email after a week asking for feedback, as well as saying that if you like what you heard, please take time to pimp them on the social networking site(s) of the your choice.

I don’t know if it would be sustainable, but who knows?

REAPER user says:

Re: Re:

“The only person worth downloading music from is the artist “Brad Sucks”. His musics are the best you will find.”

You mean the “Brad Sucks” who did the demo track that is bundled with the great REAPER DAW (check it out, musicians and “others”) software?

Brad Sucks RULES!!!!

In a really, really annoying way.

Jon Ostrow - MicControl (user link) says:

Thank You Tech Dirt!

Thank you Mike for reading my article on Music Think Tank (it was originally a guest post for Tight Mix Blog) and feeling strongly enough about it to write about it here on Tech Dirt! Yes it is a controversial issue, and there are those who will feel that sending out a message it spam – these three options are not meant to be set in stone, rather a jumping off point to find out from the community what is considered to be an acceptable and effective way to take part in a mutually beneficial exchange between artist and fan (or even potential fan for that matter).

Please feel free to reach out to me via Twitter (@miccontrol) if you have any feed back for me (good or bad) about the article.

Thank you again for the reference!
Jon Ostrow

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Thank You Tech Dirt!

Hello Jon. It’s nice to see such a polite response to a post that disagreed with your post, but…

Your comment “these three options are not meant to be set in stone, rather a jumping off point” seems to directly contractict the title of your post: Why Music Should Never Be Given Away For “Free”.

Is this another case where an overzelous editor decided to change your title in the hopes of grabbing more attention?

Jon Ostrow - MicControl (user link) says:

Re: Re: Thank You Tech Dirt!

No, that title is all my own. Im curious how you think that my comment contradicts the title though? I still completely believe that some form of social currency should be used in exchange for music IF an artist has already made the decision to give their music away for free. But, any maybe this is where there is a misconception, I don’t feel that the 3 examples that I gave (email, tweet, FB share) are the only ones out there for people to use. Rather the three examples I offer are simply a jumping off point for people to discuss more effective ways that have been tested and approved. The article as a whole is meant to be a jumping off point. Does that help? Thanks for reaching out!

Jon Ostrow - MicControl (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Thank You Tech Dirt!

@crade social currency and advertising are two different things. the term ‘currency’ implies an exchange. Though I will point out that the idea for this article stems from my belief that album sales will no longer be the main source of revenue for artists, but will be (and is already in the process of) shifting towards the live performance sector becoming the main revenue driver. The idea of exchanging a track for social currency gives an artist the possibility of having a stronger presence online (tweet or FB ideas) or gives them the ability to reach out to those interested enough to share their email address. In both cases (ideally, as this will not work for everyone) it gives artists the ability to use the increase in long-term engagement and demand to leverage stronger ticket sales. Do artists really believe that if they JUST give their track away, people will eventually become a loyal fan and will attend all of their shows? Absolutely not! Sure some people will not want to give an email address or share a tweet, but those people will likely not become loyal fans anyway so they are irrelevant. This mutual exchange of social currency gives artists a way to seek out fans who are actually interested in their music, and gives them a way to stay in touch with them.

Jon Ostrow - MicControl (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Thank You Tech Dirt!

Absoultely not! There is nothing blind about this ‘investment’. As I mentioned below in response to someone else’s comment – we are not talking about streaming, we are talking about giving music away. I am a strong believer that all music should be stream-able FOR FREE, as there is no ownership in streaming music. You should never have to pay (in any sense of the word) to stream music. And as you may notice in the example I used within the article, Bandcamp, who allows you to download a track in exchange for an email address is also giving the listener the opportunity to stream the track IN FULL before decided to make the exchange.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Thank You Tech Dirt!

Oh, I see, I did not realize you were making such a distinction. I don’t think I fully understand it. You are allowing people to listen to music for free, but you don’t consider this to be giving it away because there is nothing physical for them to hold? Or because they don’t have control over the source? Or is it that there are limited devices that can play streaming music, so you don’t want to give for free the ability to move to other devices that don’t do that? I don’t get it, to me it is still free music, just in a different format.

Jon Ostrow - MicControl (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Thank You Tech Dirt!

I don’t consider streaming music to be free because you are not giving the music away, simply letting people listen to it. It is the same principle as the radio. By that logic, anyone who listens to music on the radio should have to pay for it. Format makes no difference – you can listen to the radio in a car, on a walkman, in your house, etc. But there is no ownership exchange and that is truly what is in question here.

… I also just want to thank you for continuing this conversation with me. I wrote the article so that I could talk to people about this and so that others could express their opinions. Its nice having a conversation with someone who doesn’t immediately call me a jackass because I have a conflicting opinion.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Thank You Tech Dirt!

I consider the radio to provide me with free music as well. However, the radio is limited in that I cannot choose what to listen to.

It’s just that the concept of ownership is sort of an abstract concept and not a tangible good to be exchanging for. When you are talking about something that is in infinite supply that you already have unlimited access to, I don’t see how “ownership” is anything more than a label. It is like telling me I can eat the cake, but I can’t “own it” unless I give you something. It doesn’t compute to me :).

Jon Ostrow - MicControl (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Thank You Tech Dirt!

Actually its more like test-driving a car. You can drive it all you want, but it ain’t yours ๐Ÿ™‚ Unless you have free-will to do whatever you’d like with the track (within reason) it is not yours. I do see your point though, that streaming your music does give you unlimited access, but it is still bound to that streaming player.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:9 Thank You Tech Dirt!

If I could really test drive a car and drive it “all I want”, then I would definately not own a car.

” but it is still bound to that streaming player.”
Well thats what I was getting at with the limiting to certain devices stuff. The trouble I see with that is that the devices that can adapt to play streaming music. I think we will find as technology advances that the concept of listening vs. copying is a red herring.

Ac says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Thank You Tech Dirt!

“I don’t consider streaming music to be free because you are not giving the music away, simply letting people listen to it.”

You do know that there are many free browser plugins that allow anyone to record and save streaming audio (video versions of these also exist) ???

That said, most streams are pretty low quality audio.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Thank You Tech Dirt!

Putting any barrier between the music and fans is just that a barrier it limits the field, for small artists that is a problem, for bigger ones it may not be as word of mouth counteract that barrier.

Besides is bad security practice to give away any real information over the internet.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Thank You Tech Dirt!

Sure some people will not want to give an email address or share a tweet, but those people will likely not become loyal fans anyway so they are irrelevant.

This seems to be unfounded speculation. What is it about this person that makes them unlikely to become a fan? Perhaps they don’t like non-personal email and don’t want to give a fake address. Maybe they don’t use social networking at all.

If you require something from them they don’t want to give, there’s no way they’ll become a fan. The artist should carefully consider whether that’s worth it, when people who are really interested in the band will often sign up for the newsletter anyway, and will tell their friends about it anyway.

And just so you feel more comfortable: you’re such a jackass! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Fine, how about this one:

If you have to give anything to the one who has the content, it is not free.

That is, even if you have to rent your own jet airplane from an unrelated third party to go to the location where you can get the content, but does not have to give anything to the one who has the content, it is still free (but very inconvenient). But if you have to give anything to the one with the content, even if it is just telling your name, it is not free.

Being less extreme, investing your time, your bandwidth, your electricity, etc, does not make it not free. Investing your time (etc.) in a way specifically prescribed by the one with the content makes it not free.

But this is taking the argument to the “splitting hairs” point, so I will stop now.

Thomas (profile) says:

A little story

Someone I know on a social website posted a link to her son’s music on a music website I had not heard of before. I went there and listened to the music, and then started to explore the site. It had free streaming, some free downloads, and some radio categories you could stream. I picked a genre and started listening. I thought it was pretty good, right up until I got to the band that limited their song to a 30 second clip unless you signed up with them – giving them your email address. “Screw it.” The song started out pretty cool, but if I can’t even stream a whole song, forget it. I promptly forgot the band name and the website. There’s a lot of music out there wanting to be heard, and you have to give me a little something if you want my business.

Jon Ostrow - MicControl (user link) says:

Re: A little story

I completely agree with you – streaming should ALWAYS be completely free. Reverbnation does this with their player many of the times and drives me NUTS! My article, however, was referring to those artists who have already decide to GIVE their music away, NOT stream, but give away. Big difference. In that case, there are much better ways of creating a mutually beneficial exchange for music than it is to simply give the music away. Unless you have a large following of loyal fans, giving that music away will be the last you hear from them. However, charging someone for a stream using social currency is just idiotic. You MUST allow people to experience your music before making a decision to listen. You’ll notice that the example that I used to change DL for email address is the Bandcamp widget, which allows you to stream the entire song before deciding to download it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Keep in mind that there are also people like me who stop listening to streams if Video DownloadHelper doesn’t successfully capture an MP3 download link within a few seconds of starting the player. (My policy is that it’s better to have never heard a track than to be hooked on it and have to decide whether it’s worth what the artist is charging… especially since iTunes doesn’t work on Linux, Amazon doesn’t sell MP3s to Canada, and I’m the epitome of “poor university student”… yes, I’ve been burned before.)

The one or two times I actually gave an e-mail rather than just clicking “Close Tab”, it was a Mailinator disposable one that I checked once for the download link and then never checked again. I also have a facility for generating self-expiring e-mails on my private domain (mixed in with the permanent ones) to side-step blocks on such services.

If they’re not willing to give me my music for free, there are plenty of other artists who will. (and plenty of sites like ModArchive, FuMP, and OCRemix with either direct download links or DownloadHelper-vulnerable streaming widgets)

Steven Finch (user link) says:

I think with this article you have really hit the nail on the head. Just because there is no monetary transaction, doesnt mean you can put other barriers in the way because users will then not want the free music.

I think the music industry is really going about this the wrong way. Instead of debating free services, you should focus more efforts on providing great alternatives to Pirating music. The majority of the industry still uses pirate sites and if they can convert the major, then it starts to make a lot more sense (especially in an advertising sense).

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