Last week I had the honor of chairing the Leadership Music Digital Summit here in Nashville. We focused on Social Media and had great attendance from a cross-section of the music business. We also ran a contest for independent artists to win free passes to the event. Unannounced, as a special surprise, I was going to add a track from each artist who entered the contest into the playlist of songs in-between panels. I love supporting indie artists when I can, and this was a great way to shine a little light on new artists. I was running the playlist from Spotify so all I needed was to find a track from the artist there or get a free download easily from the artist’s site.
What surprised me was how hard this task turned out to be. Out of all the artists submitting, only 1 in 5 artists had their music either on Spotify or as a free download. At this point in digital music, either action is easy to do. An inexpensive site like Tunecore can put up a single on Spotify (and iTunes, for that matter) for $10. There are plenty of free widgets such as BandPage, TopSpin, Reverbnation and more that can distribute free downloads easily. Yet the artists who did so were well in the minority.
In the effort to gross a mere 99 cents, most acts actually cut off their opportunity to receive a little exposure. Is the loss of exposure worth the potential gain for so little money? Many people ask me why I give away all the music on my label for free? To me, the answer is easy. At the early stage in an artist, the most important goal is getting noticed. It’s not how much money gets made. Once you get to a degree of popularity, monetization becomes much easier. The reality is that there is too much music being released weekly to have any barriers if you are new to the game.
So we can argue about what Spotify pays all we want. We can talk about free downloads devaluing music until we’re blue in the face. The truth is, for new artists, the value proposition around exposure means sacrificing dollars in the short term. It’s the reality record labels have known for years, and it’s only been a greater reality in the digital era. It used to be that missed opportunities were because of a failure to convince gatekeepers to support your music. Now, acts miss opportunities because they fail to unlock their own gates. For 4 out of 5 artists last week, they missed an opportunity. Will you miss yours?