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.”