Digital Audio Insider -- the economics of music and other digital content

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Digital Audio Insider is David Harrell's blog about the economics of music and other digital content. I write from the perspective of a musican who has self-released four albums with the indie rock band the Layaways.

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July 24, 2008

Giving It Away: A Call for Ideas
by David Harrell
After many delays and a couple mini-catastrophes -- we literally lost the ProTools files for the mixes of three songs (don't ask...) and a camping accident temporarily sidelined our drummer -- the third Layaways album is nearing completion. We've set a mastering date for early September and the album will be out sometime in October.

As discussed in this post from last year, while it will be available on CD and from all of the major digital retailers, we also want to give it away in some form. The question is -- how should we do it? Or, more specifically, is there something an unknown, self-released indie rock act can do beyond posting some free mp3 files and hoping for the best, in terms of attention and web traffic?

Alternative pricing strategies get the best results when they're used by acts that are already relatively well known: Radiohead's "pay want you want" experiment received the attention it did not because the idea was new (it wasn't), but because one of the biggest, best-known acts in the world embraced it. Pricing the new Paul Westerberg "album" for 49 cents was a brilliant idea (it's now sitting at the top of the mp3 album chart) because it's a Paul Westerberg album for 49 cents. And Harvey Danger received a fair amount of attention for its album giveaway in 2005, but they're a former major-label band that had a decent-sized radio hit in 1998.

Given the ubiquity of free music these days (full albums and individual tracks, both authorized and unauthorized), it seems that music acts at all levels are vying less for the dollars of listeners than for their time and attention. Every "free" or "pay want you want" music release simply adds to that competition and -- with the novelty factor declining -- free alone is less likely to attract attention, especially for unknown acts. Still, while it's doubtful that our decision to give away an mp3 album will generate much buzz, I can't think of any major downsides to doing so.

Here are a few of the approaches we're considering:
All 12 tracks are available for free download, from day one and forever.

A 12-week campaign where only one track at a time is available for download, similar to the promotion for the upcoming release by the Pretenders.

The "get it while you can" approach -- the entire album is available in week one, then one fewer song is available in each subsequent week until we're down to just one free song.
The other question is whether or not to require registration or an e-mail address before letting folks download tracks. My inclination is skip registration -- if the idea is to get as many listeners as possible, why put up any barriers?

If you have any additional suggestions, comments are open and all ideas are welcome. Not just for my band, but any thoughts relating to the merits of giving it away for artists at every level of the music industry food chain.

Is offering free music -- alone or with options to purchase -- a viable promotional strategy, the new norm for the industry, or just an economically-unsustainable gimmick with diminishing future returns? Please chime in...


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    Out Now -- "Maybe Next Year" -- The New Holiday Album:

    <a href="">Joy To The World by The Layaways</a>

    "This is a sweet treat, deliciously musical without being overbaked for mass media consumption." -- Hyperbolium

    "Perfect listening to accompany whatever holiday preparations you may be making today." -- Bag of Songs

    O Christmas Tree - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    Away In A Manger - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or Bandcamp. Listen to free streams at

    album cover art from The Space Between

    <a href="">Keep It To Yourself by The Layaways</a>

    "...about as melodic and hooky as indie pop can get." -- Absolute Powerpop

    "Their laid-back, '60s era sounds are absolutely delightening." -- 3hive

    "...melodic, garage-influenced shoegaze." -- RCRD LBL

    Where The Conversation Ends - free mp3
    January - free mp3
    Keep It To Yourself - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or CD Baby, stream it at or Napster.

    album cover art from We've Been Lost

    <a href="">Silence by The Layaways</a>

    "The Layaways make fine indie pop. Hushed vocals interweave with understated buzzing guitars. The whole LP is a revelation from the start." -- Lost Music

    "Catchy Guided by Voices-like rockers who lay it on sweetly and sincerely, just like Lionel Richie." -- WRUV Radio

    Silence - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    The Long Night - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at, Napster, or Rhapsody.

    album cover art from More Than Happy

    "These are songs that you want to take home with you, curl up with, hold them close -- and pray that they are still with you when you wake up." -- The Big Takeover

    Let Me In - free mp3
    Ocean Blue - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at, Napster, or Rhapsody.

    More Layaways downloads:

    download the Layaways at eMusic download the Layaways at iTunes

    the layaways website