Many musicians are looking to stop piracy but some bands are finding ways to use free music, illegal downloading and so called “piracy” to grow their audience. In a recent interview on Forbes.com Joy Williams from successful indie band The Civil Wars said:
“Sure, piracy has its drawbacks, but it also has positives, we’ve had people admit to us before that they were given a burned CD of our record from a friend. They’d go on to say that, once they heard the music, they bought tickets to the nearest show. And there, standing in line afterward to say hi – wearing a band shirt they bought that night – they recounted how many friends they’d turned on to our music. In short, we try not to be curmudgeons about piracy, but to embrace this shift in culture.”
Even veteran musician Neil Young recently said:
“It doesn’t affect me because I look at the internet as the new radio. I look at the radio as gone. Piracy is the new radio. That’s how music gets around. That’s the radio”
These artists realise that there are benefits to piracy as well as negatives. The problem at the moment is getting heard above the noise online, all the other bands that are desperate to be heard. Here are some benefits to people torrenting and sharing your music online:
- You sell more gig tickets – If people hear your music online and like it then they will generally want to see you play live. The Grateful Dead used to allow fans to tape gigs for non commercial use, trading of these tapes helped the band to grow their audience. Torrenting is the digital equivalent of this. One musician who didn’t want to be named said on Twitter “It never hurt us as far as we could tell and helped get us some amazing international gigs.”.
- You sell more merchandise and high value products – If someone likes your album then buys a t-shirt or a signed limited edition item, you can benefit from this fan for years to come. In time hardcore fans can spend £1000s on bands! You sometimes need to play the long game.
- It is free marketing – A fan on twitter said “I have bought albums I never would have known about had tracks not been included in torrents I’ve acquired.” Another fan said “I’ve bought loads of albums and discovered bands I’ve spent cash on after first ‘acquiring’ their stuff via torrents”. Do all people downloading music illegally spend money as well? Probably not but if torrenting gets your music heard that has to be a good thing, surely?
- Pirated copies cost nothing to make – Are you gaining fans or losing sales? If you put out your album via a label how many free copies of your album will they give away? Probably hundreds. Sometimes it’s better to look at “illegal” downloads as free promotion.
Obscurity is the enemy, not piracy. Fans only share music they love and you can’t monetize an audience you do not have. Once you have an audience it may be worth worrying about piracy but in the initial stages of your career when you are trying to gain the first 1000 or 10,000 fans then it is a really useful marketing tool.