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?


  1. Mike Fabio April 30, 2012 at 11:03 am # Reply

    Corollary question: does an artist harm themselves by putting out a track as a free download (typically through their website or Bandcamp or such), but *not* releasing through Spotify/iTunes/anywhere else?

    Wholly agree that new artists need exposure more than they need 70 cents per track, but is there residual discovery to be had through paid/ad supported services?

    • JayFrank April 30, 2012 at 11:08 am # Reply

      Artists should definitely release thru retailers as you never know how someone will encounter your music. Artists should be doing both, as discovery occurs differently for each listener.

    • honey May 1, 2012 at 6:19 pm # Reply

      I am not sure if you harm yourself by not using Spotify. Judging from my sales reports and judging by the sales reports from acquaintances and friends, streaming per se does not generate revenue that is worth any attention. The only revenue it generates is for Spotify and the companies that use Spotify for advertising.

      Think about this:

      Sean Parker co-founded Napster. He is founding president of Facebook. He is in the board of directors at Spotify. Do you think he cares about you, the artist,…at all?

      What he cares about is new users, if they pay or not, that doesn’t matter. Spotify is based on growth, growth, growth, so they make more and more and more money. Only that musicians won’t see any of that.

      Also…”exposure”? What is this but another in our new millennium abused term?

      Exposure by self-releasing your music on the internet and make it available to everybody out there through countless online stores and streaming services?

      Nobody will find you if you’re unknown. How would that be possible?

      One simply cannot compare this new “exposure” with the former right “exposure” that exposed you and your music to the right people in the right demographic by the means of proven methods and channels. Media that those people trust and thus will actually buy your product.

      What buzz could Spotify create for you as an artist except that your music is the very tool they use to make money for them selves.

      What people do not understand is that when art met business in the old model the businessmen (labels, etc) took their cut and this cut was big. But in return the artists had a chance for decade lasting careers.

      This model is over.

      It needs a new one, but maybe a useful one, not further and even worse exploitation of the artist.

      70 cents a track? What on major label with a CD sale? (where in return the artist was given tour money, promotion money, etc etc etc)

      Streaming “generates” fractions of a penny!

  2. Christine Infanger April 30, 2012 at 3:01 pm # Reply

    Great article, Jay. I agree, wholeheartedly and wish more artists would realise that, while paying sites (i.e., iTunes, Amazon, etc) offer a great service and legitimise them in the eyes of the public, there is also a great deal of benefit in ‘free’ tracks as well. Be it a service such as Spotify or free downloads for email list sign ups, etc, there is something to be said for your fans feeling as though you understand & appreciate them, especially when many are going through a spell of not having as much disposable income to spend on music.

    • honey May 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm # Reply

      “disposable income to spend on music”?


      people go out, people drink, people go on vacations, people smoke, people seem to have money for everything BUT stuff they can get for free.

      It is only a sad and pathetic excuse for cheapness.

      How much music do you need? Well if you feel you need to fill up a terabyte sized hard drive with it then you’re in trouble. But do you really need that?

      Or would a maybe used CD (which you can buy from $1.99 up) or a few songs that you actually listen to and that cost you .99 or even $1.25 a track be enough?

      “Disposable income” for what, the people that create the very thing that gets you through the every day of your live?

      Are the artists and the art they create disposable? Because by the way they are treated right now they are being disposed.

      Please support the music you like, making it is not free.

  3. Jon Walker April 30, 2012 at 5:02 pm # Reply

    I’m finding that many more artists are finding their “single” material to be somewhat disposable and what one might interpret as a loss-leader for the rest of their product.

    Even in 2012 you still get some resistance to the thought of giving anything (even an artists time / energy) away for little-to-nothing meanwhile the world passes most of these people by.

    Spotify is currently my #1 music discovery tool allowing me to see a band name on a website, shazam, or hear of them in conversation and immediately have the ability to determine whether or not I like them. If so I’m usually a long-term fan invested on many levels.

  4. honey May 1, 2012 at 12:37 pm # Reply

    This has gotten ABSURD beyond all comprehension.

    Spotify makes loads of CA$H with every new user (free or not) and they strike deals with Coke to make even more CA$H.

    Spotify CEO Daniel Ek is laughing all the way to the bank, and grows and grows and grows his company and eventually will just sell that Spotify to some fool for a gigantic sum of even more CA$H.

    All on the behalf of musicians who give away their music for basically free.

    I am a musician and I have seen a many acts be exposed to the MAX and have tried it myself. Hasn’t worked for me or anyone I know. Just like FREE hasn’t worked.

    For who has it worked exactly? This entire freebie business?

    Spotify plays with us just like Facebook does. All in order to make more of that sweet CA$H.

    There’s nothing wrong with making CA$H and keep it up everybody and you’ll just be left with…..well a lot of music but not necessarily good music.

    • JayFrank May 1, 2012 at 12:39 pm # Reply

      I suppose you’re also not servicing your music to radio stations as well given the absurd amounts of cash they make without paying for your music.

      • honey May 1, 2012 at 6:07 pm # Reply

        What radio stations? All the self made DIY radio stations with below average mediocre hosts and without listeners or the major radio stations that once functioned as a filter and a tool to really expose an artists music to people that would then buy the music and in consequence allow those artists to have careers?

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