Free Ride

Remember the song “Free Ride”? I used to get such a sense of freedom when I heard that song. It appears that we Americans have decided to live that Edgar Winter song as a way of life. Everything is free! Isn’t it great? I have personally heavily bought into the idea of “free” myself. I love free downloads, free iPhone apps, free software. As a matter of fact, I am growing so accustomed to getting free stuff that it makes it difficult to make a decision to purchase anything. Very few things in life hold value in the minds of this new “free generation” and especially in the entertainment world. Consumers no longer want to pay for music, art or software. Free was such a great thing in the beginning. The concept was originally designed as a marketing tactic to give consumers a sample in hopes that they would quickly return with cash in hand to purchase. Somehow many marketers have missed the most important part of this marketing tactic which is to only give a taste, not the entire product. Even drug dealers know that people will return with cash once they are hooked on your product. I love to go to Sam’s Club during the day when the food sample carts are out in force. As much as I enjoy the free food samples, I know if there is something I really like then I have to break out my wallet in order to take some home. Why do some people in the music industry think we have to give the entire product away? I recently read about a label’s marketing plan which consisted of giving away the first 50,000 cds of a new release from one of their new artist. WOW! That’s awesome. Instead of giving consumers a taste, they are giving away the entire product. I’m sure those consumers will race back to buy another cd as everyone needs two of the same cd don’t they? If there is no value in the cd the consumer was just given, why not burn their friend a copy? After all, isn’t the label sending out the message that free full length cds are okay with them? Now, the label is probably looking at making their money from touring and merch as the artist is most likely  signed to a 360 Deal but the “free generation” isn’t going to be satisfied with only free cds. They are also going to expect a free t-shirt and a free concert ticket. The scary thing is that if the cds are being given away for free then there is no money to pay the artists, songwriters, producers and engineers. If the people who create the music aren’t being paid then creating and making music technically becomes a hobby. Maybe the Hobby Lobby retail stores should begin carrying Pro Tools and Music Industry Dress Up Kits? Yes, I have heard the story about some artist who gave away his cds and his live shows became huge and turned into big dollars. That’s great but just because it worked for one artist doesn’t mean it will work for all artists. I think the important part of that story that some people missed is that his marketing strategy was unique.  Being unique and creative is the key, not the free part. I remember when iTunes started the “free download” of the week, I couldn’t wait for Tuesday to come. Over time it has become less and less special to me. I honestly can’t remember the last time I downloaded the iTunes “single of the week”. While I do believe we need to be thinking differently and creatively about marketing music, I don’t think free is the ultimate answer. Being creative and unique in our marketing is the answer!