It was the summer before my senior year of college. Like many other independent musicians, I was sitting on a pile of music with no idea what to do next. Of course, I had a Facebook page and a SoundCloud account. After all, if you build it, they will come… right?
So I began toying with the idea of giving my music away for free. If I printed CDs, sure, my friends and family would buy them to put in their cars. And I might even sell as many as 50 of these right off the bat. But then what? Set up an online store? Not many of my 125 Facebook followers would be likely to whip out their credit card and actually buy music.
The free option started to look promising.
If gave away my music for free online, I might not make those first 50 sales, but at least I’d reach a bunch of people...right? But who were they? Where were they from? Would they tell their friends? Would I ever see or hear from them again?
Then it hit me.
It’s so simple! Right now, music is hard to sell; and you need to be lucky and a genius to benefit from no strings attached-free. Meanwhile, what you really want is promotion from your fans, connectivity with your fans, and information about your fans. So why not let fans download your music in exchange for these things?
3 simple steps.
So, I contacted a programmer friend of mine. We built a simple web page, with my name, album art, and a player so people could listen to the whole album as many times as they wanted. No barriers to entry like some of those super annoying Facebook apps (“Like my page, then hear my music!”). After all, nobody wants to Like an artist they haven’t even heard yet! On my page, not only was listening unrestricted, but if you liked what you heard, you could even download it for free by following three easy steps. First, I asked listeners to log in with Facebook, which automatically gave me their name, email address, and location. Then, I asked them to Like my Facebook page so they could stay up to date on my new music. The third, and final, step required these new fans to enter the email address of a friend, who would then receive a personalized recommendation to check out my music and download it for free!
The results were astounding.
When I released my album on December 3rd, 2011, I posted the download link on my Facebook page. On the first day, over 100 people had downloaded my album, Liked my page, and Shared it with a friend. The next day, 300. Then, on December 5th, I posted the link to reddit.
Before I knew it, my fan base had grown to 2,000. In 72 hours.
This Like-and-Share system had worked just as planned. It created what I now call “a social media splash” - a virtual, viral wave that permeated the Facebook community. And over the next few months, that wave continued to grow.
Suddenly I had a real fanbase.
But how could I be sure that they were true fans? I decided to take down the website and try my hand at distributing my album to my new fans through traditional avenues: iTunes, Amazon, Pandora, Spotify - and, yes, even physical CDs. To my surprise, hundreds of these new fans (fans who already got my album for free!) purchased it at full price anyways. I sold tons of CDs, made it to the top 3 folk artists on Amazon, and even got some media attention.
This could seriously help a lot of musicians,
Independent or otherwise. Music isn’t selling like it used to. Giving your music away for free risks no returns. This concept could help level the playing field.
With musicians wants and needs in mind, I set out to design a simple and powerful platform for musicians, entirely based around this hugely successful system.
Learn more about the redesign process in our next post, Back to the Drawing Board.