Bands will often consider giving away free music as a means of promotion. It’s hard to sell your music when you’re a relatively new and virtually unknown band, so giving your music away for free is the next best viable option. However, if your band always gives away music for free, you could be losing out on sales before you ever create the opportunity for a fan to buy your music. It’s good to know when to give away free music and when not to. Sometimes selling your music at a discount is a good alternative to giving it away for nothing.
CD Release Parties: Throwing a CD release party is a great way to get your music into peoples hands without totally giving it away. For example, you could charge a $10 admission that includes a free CD. This way you’re still making money from the door even though you are giving your CD’s away for free. You could also do this the other way around. You could have free admission but sell your CD’s for $5 or $10 dollars a piece. When people come to a CD release party, they pretty much already plan on buying your album.
On Tour: From time to time it’s okay to give away some music when your on the road. This should be done in moderation, however. Remember, money is tight on the road, and selling your CD’s may be your only way out of a tough situation where you didn’t make any money on the door split. Talk to fans at the merch table. If someone is showing interest but is sure they want to buy your CD, try to bargain with them. Offer them a reduced price. If they still say no yet also still seem enthusiastic about your music, they may just not have any cash on them. If you think that’s the case, give them a CD. You may have just made a fan for life.
Industry Pros: This is a given. You should always give your music to anyone working in the industry for free. It’s just basic networking. You never know when it might fall in the right hand. Watch out for big-talkers, though. Sometimes someone may claim to work in the industry, but they’re actually just giving you BS. Use your better judgment.
Online: If someone wants to get your music for free online, they’re going to find a way. No sense in trying to fight this. I would suggest only giving away one or two songs online, and selling the rest. Also, don’t give away your best song for free online. That might be the only song someone would actually pay money for. Give away the runner-up tunes. The songs that are still catchy, but not the “hit.”
All in all, giving away your music for free is almost always a judgment call. Just use your common sense. Don’t make it standard practice to give away your music for free, but learn to recognize moments when you should. If you’re a totally brand new band, you may as well give away a song or two to as many people as you can’ just to get your name out there. Once you start playing shows regularly and you have a full album, pull the plug on the freebies.