Monday, July 19, 2010

The New Album Price = Free

Since the dawn of the digital and iTunes age, a subject always up for discussion is "What should I charge for my album?" For the most part, I am not even sure this is a question that the record labels can decide on an exact answer. As industry professionals, record executives recognize that sizable income is really attained from almost anything but that actual sale of the physical record itself, and we have watched the prices waffle back and forth over the years as these professionals settle into the new business model: digital delivery (of music.)

Although there were multiple factors leading to this discussion, I believe the reasoning for this "waffle" is fairly simple: In retrospect, listeners were a fairly simple audience to market (or sell) to. A painfully simplified example might go as follows: Listener hears about musician on the radio, MTV, live show, etc. and listener chooses to "try" the new artist out. But at this time "trying" an artist meant buying their whole album, and praying to god that the rest of the album was somewhat decent. I am sure there were a just a few disappointed "Chumbawamba" and "Eiffel 65" listeners out there. Needless to say, the process has since become more complicated with more advanced resources that allow listeners to become their own "A&R" (or artist scout) so to speak. The new variables include Illegal and legal downloading, websites with enhanced content, YouTube, Pandora and so many more. These variables allow the listener to know everything about the band before spending a cent on their albums or concert ticket. Essentially making the need for each marketing and PR move to be extremely minute in order to generate new band excitement. Long story short, nowadays, the "mystery" of a new band is diffused long before a physical album leaves the shelf.

Lately we have seen bands or artists (even those with large major label success) to offer a free digital single or even a full digital album for free. This new trend for album pricing, I believe, stems from this evolution. 

In thinking about this strategy, it is important to ponder the benefits of this strategy for new bands and established bands alike. This strategy focuses on a "freemium" approach to marketing music. In essence, this is to offer something free in order to bait a customer to purchase the full product or another product. In this case that might be concert tickets, another album or simply a sign up on your mailing list. This can be an extremely effective approach in generating the interest of new listeners or even listeners who were previously familiar with your music. A band must understand that a listener can be in multiple stages of interest in your music (or product.) They might be a die hard fan on one end, or a brand new listener on the other end, but never forget there are thousands of shades of gray in-between and that any certain listeners personal experience or connection to your music could be completely different from that of the next. The 'freemium' approach helps to eliminate those shades of gray by inviting them to take an interest in you with no perceived risk or prior commitment. Most importantly, a free track or album allows website traffic and generated interest in your band to be 'on your time.' In other words, you are in further control of your own public relations.

Remember that with any strategy, it should be followed with more strategy and planning. If you choose to do a free single or album, be prepared to follow with a full album, big concert or other event of interest soon after. Also, keep your website clean. Now that you have them there, what other information would you like them to know? How will you make that message clear to your potential or existing fans? The luxury of capturing a fans attention on your own turf is extremely monumental, how will you make their visit work towards your own benefit and assist in creating a long term fan? In general, these are unique questions a band must answer for themselves.

'Free' is a strategy that bands can make work in a major way. The evolution in this model is sure to be exciting over the next few years as the labels and artists adjust to digital distribution and free Internet music resources. For now, this is a niche all aspiring bands should be experimenting with while it is still fresh.