Free Samples or Free Product? The Importance of Brand Value

A few days ago I was on the Bandcamp website checking out artists on a label based in Louisiana. What struck me was the level of variation of access to the music provided by the bands. While you could stream basically all of the artists on the label's area of the site for free (and therefore never have to actually buy anything), for those who were also "selling" their music the choices ranged from $7 or $8 for a digital download/free reign to the tracks on your device forever to $5 for the same to "name your price" (which meant basically you could put in any amount, presumably a dollar or less even and still get all the downloads/free reign on your device for effectively free).

All you DIYers (and as a DIYer myself) what I am about to say may actually grate against your sensibilities a little--but your music (and your band) is a consumer brand. Yes just like Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and M&Ms. And brands that charge have perceived value (and thus real value in the mind of consumers) while those who do not charge do not have any value. The old adage "you get what you pay for" yes--but its more than that. Brands (and bands) that charge nothing all the time may as well not bother. The message to the consumer is no one wants our music so we have to give it to you.

As importantly free just does not work in terms of supporting a living. Imagine if Heinz ketchup decided that in addition to giving away free ketchup samples at the grocery store they would just give you free ketchup too--every time. People would think something was wrong and the company would fold as free equals free fall in terms of financial sustainability.

Strategic product placement (your music) and the value in your brand (again, your music and your band) should be the thing your band thinks about more than anything else. Yes you need to be on Spotify, but not everything you have ever recorded does. Yes you should be on bandcamp in a big way, not only because you keep/make more revenue from album sales and tracks being streamed but also because you can charge money for what you just allowed customers to sample for free--and by charging you are setting and reinforcing your band's brand value. For merch at shows you should charge full price and maybe then some. Not only is it gas money but its also about capturing the emotion of the fan experience. I am a fan too and I say this without shame or guilt. I am willing to pay more to help a band that just rocked my world. Call it the awesome show premium. You are not taking advantage of me while I am vulnerable--I want you to.  I was at a show recently where the band who played and rocked the house charged me only 5 bucks for their new CD. I felt like I was ripping them off when I handed over a 5 dollar bill and said "really that's it?"

The upshot is as musicians we need to think about the situation, the retail channel, and how much to charge and what is appropriate to charge. People will reward value. You should not be afraid to ask for it.

Let Mighty City help you think through your  business strategy, brand value, and revenue model for your music. Call us at 314.326.5417 or email at