Should music be free?

 Does giving away music for the sake of publicity help or hurt an artist?

guitar case with cashPhoto curtesy of

This question has been on the minds of artists since online radio stations like Pandora and Spotify became the preferred way for listeners to consume music, especially since listeners can hear the artist’s music without paying a dime. I have made several observations on this argument over the past 17 years that I have been a professional musician. One, I noticed that my most of my older musician friends (musicians who have been in the game since the 90’s) seemed to overwhelmingly frown upon giving away music for free. Some sources such as Music Think Tank support this position by stating for example, “unless you already possess quite a large fan-base along with the subsequent reach, giving your music away will be the last you hear from most of these new fans.”

On the other hand, a number of my younger musician friends (millennial 20 somethings) have no problem with sharing music for free. Many music bloggers, share the general consensus among this camp that, “since people can generally find music online for free, then why bother putting a price tag on it?”

I understood why my old-school friend protested giving away their music, because they had become accustomed  to being paid for it. But why were my younger collaborators so eager to give away their hard work for free? What’s in it for them?



Some artists call “industry abuse of musicians”

The exploitation of artists and their work is nothing new. However in the early to mid 2000’s the music industry experienced a historical business model shift. In the previous model musicians made a living off of record sales and supplemented their income with merch sales, royalties and touring. In the new model take away the record sales and all musicians have to live off of is their supplemental income streams in hopes to sell a few downloaded singles. That business model shift created the impression that music should be free, which sounds cool to the consumer but what about the artist who used to make a living creating that music? Why should everybody else get paid for their work but not musicians? Major corporations have jumped on the bandwagon and claimed “budget restrictions” as an excuse to not pay artists for their contributions, calling it an “opportunity for exposure”. Instead of paying a band for performing, some music venues charge bands to play giving them “the opportunity to sell their merchandise”. To read more about this side of the argument check out the article entitled Pay Everyone But The Musician by Andre Calilhanna.

For more information on the history and the foreseeable future of the music industry check out this short video:


Some artists say “Just give it away”

blackwomanlisteningtopodcast_zps7d408fc5photo coutesy of Shine

The vast majority of musicians nowadays agree that it’s ok to give away music, in fact nobody will know you exist if you don’t give away music. The majority of post found on this subject leaned towards giving away music as a necessity to establish a fan base. In the article The Value Of Giving Away Your Music For Free, Farah Joan Fard brings up the very valid points that giving your music away for free can help you “taste test your audiences ears”, give music bloggers access to your music via their audience, and points out that “free isn’t forever”. Online you will get a lot more published articles supporting this new stance on free music and its value to publicity and exposure.


Giving away “some” music is ok

I have noticed that if you research this subject on the internet what you will find is a lot of blogs and articles that favor towards giving music away for exposure’s sake, however most of the responses towards these articles object to giving away music. My conclusion at this point is that times have changed and it is necessary sometimes and in certain situations, to give away music  for free. However, artists should be very selective and strategic as to when giving away free music is actually in the best interest of their careers.  For example you might be a new, undiscovered artist in need of exposure. In this case it would make sense to give away some music for free to create a demand for your work. On the other hand you might be an established artist and you have a major corporation requesting the use of your music without paying a dime. In This case it would not make sense to give away music for free.


What do you think?

“Let us know what you think! Do you agree with Andre Calilhanna of Echoes , or do you side with Farah Joan Fard from the Sonicbids Blog?  Tell us why you feel this way in the comment section. Do you have any family members or friends that have a strong opinion on this topic? Share this with them.”
















16 thoughts on “Should music be free?

  1. I agree that in today’s world that giving a way a little bit of music can go a long way in being discovered. One of my favorite producers, Pretty Lights actually gives all his music away for free now. Of course you can make a donation if you want and hard core fans normally throw out cash to their favorite artists in support of what they do. 🙂


    1. It’s true; a lot of people are using this donation model. I hope that fans continue to support their favorite bands especially right now while everything is so up in the air with the music industry. Thanks for the comment Anthony.


  2. Great post! This is always an ongoing debate within the industry. I agree that as a new and upcoming artist, it’s not a bad idea to give away “some” music for free, but limit what you give away. Once you start building a solid fan base you should be more selective on what you’re giving away. It’s tougher for musicians these days to make a living at their craft, so we all have to draw the line at some point. Great video by the way! Moby really nails it!


    1. It’s kind of a complex topic to discuss , but Moby explained it in such a simple and clear way. It’s fascinating how passionate people get about this topic. I once brought this topic up with some sales guys at Guitar Center and things got really heated between them.


  3. I think that some music should be given away by the artist for promotional purposes but most works of music should be paid for. Artists generally do not receive a substantial amount of income for the work they do after deductions for recording costs and business expenditures. It has become increasingly problematic for artists to maintain steady sources of revenue due to “freebies”.




    1. As they say “You got to spend money to make money”. Also, I have found that in an environment where everyone is willing to play for free it is hard to demand to be paid for your services. I feel that one should be selective about what they give away for free. Thank you for you comments.


    2. Your right, especially when you are starting out. I will say this though, especially in a town like Austin where there are so many talented up-and-coming musicians eager to get their music out for free…it is difficult to make any money when you are competing with free. My main point is, one must find a healthy balance between performing for free to publicize their music and getting paid for their talent, hard work and sacrifice. Good luck in the future!


  5. I enjoyed your blog on free music. I’m personally a fan of free music all around. When it comes to the already popular artists, I don’t see a problem with free music since most of their profit is from concerts, merchandise, etc. I feel guilty though when it comes to the unknown or underground artists, but I tend to go to their concerts more & buy their merchandise to support & help promote them.


  6. In my experience, and I’m one of the Old School guys having signed my first record contract in 1992, I have to disagree with the point that the old model relied on music sales to make money. Because the record labels paid so much up front for the recording and promotion of the records, along with the advances to the band, unless you were fortunate enough to put out a gold or better album, you never saw any of the revenue generated from retail album sales. We made almost all our money from live performance and fees and ticket sales, with records sold at gigs and merch being the second largest income stream.
    With the new model of primarily digital single songs being sold, and the increasing trend of not having a record label, or if a label is involved, it’s much smaller than what was prominent 15 to 20 years ago, it seems like the artist needs that income from song and album sales even more just to recoup the money spent recording, mixing, and mastering the product. However, I also see that so little money comes in from 99 cent downloads, we aren’t losing out on that much.
    That said, playing live for exposure, or paying to play is ludicrous. Even if an artist is willing to do this just to get exposure and gain popularity, they shouldn’t, because it hurts every other band and artist out there trying to make a living.

    The bigger issue though, is the question of 360 deals, which cut into what little money the artist does make, and traditionally was strictly hands-off to the labels.
    Also, the free streaming services like Pandora and Spotify may be free to the listener (much like terrestrial radio), the artists do receive royalties for their songs being played- only the sponsors who buy commercial time pay for the royalties. I think once the majority of music listeners out there come around to streaming and figure out that paying a subscription fee is a good deal, digital stream royalties will increase for all musicians. Even if those services never paid the artist, that wouldn’t be all that different from traditional radio play,, but live performance and downloads should still be paid for.


    1. Thanks for your comments.Your right, I didn’t even get into 360 deals. That will be another post. One thing is for sure, the way musicians get paid for there work is being restructured as we speak. It’s going to be interesting to see how this all pans out in the near future.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Things are moving so fast now due to the digital age, and prosumer quality gear being readily available and affordable for the average musician, Things are going to be in flux for a while. But the direction we take in the future is largely going to be decided by the public and what form(s) of delivery they latch onto best.
        When I was a kid, there were VCRs and BetaMax machines (for those too young to remember, they were video tape machines) Betamax was arguably better, but VCR was more affordable and more than one company produced them so Beta went away and we were left with VCR format for 15 years or so until DVDs came out.


    2. Good Afternoon Psionic Research Records crew!
      Last semester you left a comment on my blog stating that you would like to know when we get up and running…
      well, that day has finally arrived. We will be receiving our 6 color screen press within ten days and we are going to hit the running. We have all the supplies and equipment save the press itself, which ships on Wednesday (2/24) or Thursday (2/25), and the shirts and other substrates, as these have to be custom ordered to meet your specifications such as size, color, and quantity.
      If you’re still interested in having shirts and/or other merchandise printed, please get in touch and we will discuss your needs and get you a personalized quote.

      Have a great week!
      Owner, Quartz Merchandizing


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