My Advice to You: Don’t Give Your Music Away (Yet)

by Winston "Stone" Ford


Update: British site Gigwise has reported that Radiohead sold 1.2 million copies of In Rainbows.

I was going to preface this post with a review of Radiohead’s new album In Rainbows, which dropped today, but as of 4:15 PM on October 10th, the site is still down, which probably means that Radiohead’s pay what you want promotion was a success, or that their servers are running Windows 98. Update: Just got my hands on a copy of In Rainbows, and its one of the best albums I’ve heard all year.

If you didn’t know, the UK band Radiohead has started offering digital downloads through their website at a “name your own price” rate. You could also purchase a digital discbox for $80, but that won’t ship until early December. This music model, which Rome described as, The End of the Record Industry, is making the traditional music players nervous, especially since such groups as Nine Inch Nails, Oasis, and Jamiroquai have all said that they will emulate Radiohead’s business model.

But before you start dropping all your tracks on the Internet for free, ask yourself this question: Radiohead will make the bulk of its money selling a $80 special edition Discbox with a vinyl copy, a CD, as well as a digital download. Would your fans pay $80 for your sh*t?? Probably not.

Bands like Radiohead take the gamble of asking fans to pay whatever you want for their music because they have benefited from all of the millions of dollars in marketing, world tours, radio play, MTV, and movie licensing deals over the past 20 years, which has established the band as a brand name. I wouldn’t doubt the fact that some dude in Iowa would drop $200 their way because he lost his virginity while “Fake Plastic Trees” was playing in the background.

So what is the aspiring Rapper, R&B singer, wanna be rock star to do? Do what you’ve always been doing. Get on your grind, record, network on MySpace, set up shows, etc, etc. Yes, the record industry will be fundamentally different in the next 5 years, and yes, I know that now there are so many ways for artists to bypass labels completely to record and distribute their own music, but the core aspects of Music business won’t be changing for a while. I’m not saying that trying the Radiohead approach to selling music is a bad idea, but unless you have a fanbase, it doesn’t really matter what you put out.

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  • Tarik

    Artists are now realizing that the money is not in music sales. It is in touring merchandising, and owning the publishing rights to their own music. Artist and independent labels are getting this. This is what will be the final nail in the coffin in the Music Industry: True Independence.

  • dj eurok

    Actually, I have to disagree with you. The best thing you can do is give your music away.

    Most artists who are ‘on their grind’ are basically trying to pass off a slightly polished demo for $5 – $10. They would be much better served by giving away as much as they can until some traction hits and they can have a hit. for real.

    Read this:

    Its like when cats step to me on u street or wherever hustling, and I’m like, for real, the best thing you could do right now is give me that CD for free. Not on some jedi mind trick, but on some like, yo, I don’t know who you are, you have my attention for a brief moment, and I’m about to walk away without spending my money or taking any info from you. Those $5 to $8 in the artists profit would be better spent on promotions to a dj/tastemaker like me. Opportunity costs…

    Granted its on some different shit if I see you perform or hear your music and get at you to buy that.

    I never really understand cats who sell their music on the street – unless they are performing it or you know who they are or they are playing their music so people can hear it and draw a crowd. if you are going to stand on the block for 4 hours, you better be passing out as many flyers as you can instead of randomly trying to russle up 4-8 sales. you like hip hop? please homey, get a job.

    Plus cats be hella salty when you dont buy from them. Like oh fuck this dude, I’m not even going to give him something for free.

    Watch when my next joint drops. watch. I’ll be caked up from Upset The Setup shirts I sell to complete strangers who don’t even like hip hop, and giving away 100,000 copies of my album.

  • Stone


    I def. know what you’re sayin’, and I actually saw a couple cats wearing Upset the Set Up shirts on U st. the other day…

    I got to agree with you on people who try to sell you a un-mastered demo on the street for $5. I’m not opposed to people giving music away to gain listeners, in fact, I’m all for it. The more people who are exposed to your music, the better.

    But this post was more geared to cats who expect to MAKE money off of having people name their own price and EXPECT a people not to download for free. I was approached by someone who was hella confident that people would drop $10-$15 of the bat when he never laid the groundwork for people to connect with him as an artist. That dude would’ve had a rude awakening when a majority of his people took his shit for free.

  • Stone

    Oh, and I’ve been all over that 20 things book, and I’m about to cop The Long Tail.

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