STEP 1:  Create

STEP 2:  ?????

STEP 3:  Profit!

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Starting the experiment, using "Free".

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I've been a singer-songwriter since college in the early 90s. I've been in a few bands and we've recorded a few demos at various studios and for the last few years have been doing solo stuff or working with a cellist / other-stuff-player as well.

About 4 years ago I started recording with a local company who had grown out of a combination of a local promoter / live sound firm and a studio who needed a new home. They started a record label and I recorded (at no personal expense) an EP and an Album with them.

Unfortunately their business plan wasn't really anything more than the steps 1,2 & 3 on the right and in January this year they called it a day.

Because they were good people I still own all the songs and we've agreed that with the recordings we can all use them however we want and, if something comes of them and we actually start making a profit, we'll revert to our previous 50/50 split that we agreed at the beginning.

But I'm now on my own with a very small twitter following, a facebook page, blogsite, an all-but-dead myspace and a whole stack of CDs in the garage.

My plan is to change my bandcamp set up so that downloads are available on a pay-what-you-want basis with an e-mail being required if you want to pay nowt. My hard copy CDs are a limited run (and I've yet to make a profit) so these are going to remain at a fixed price. The album in particular is a unique package and the feedback I've had selling them so far is that they're something special and worth the £10 I'm asking.

My music is never going to be chart-topping but it's not particulary obscure or unaccessible. I think I have a good product (thanks to the studio time) that will appeal to a small number of people across a broad-spectrum, my challenge is getting the music out there.

So starting next month I'm going to kick-off the pay-what-you-want experiment and see if I can start using this a method to increase visibility. My hunch is that I can sell a little bit more music if I can get a lot more people listening.

I'll post back here with updates on what I'm doing and what affect it's having as things go on. Any suggestions, criticisms, questions, etc, please fire them up in the comments.
initiated Nov 18, 2011 in Business Models by drew stephenson (3,370 points)   3 10 22

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I'm just about to publish the following article on our blog but I thought you might be interested in reading the results of our survey since we have been doing  'name your price', free for no email, and free for emails, with CD's, Vinyls, PlayButtons as what you could call a premium offering for a while now.

We have just over 1200 people on our mailing list. We started asking for emails at the end of 2009. 100 of our fans agreed to participate in our survey, so enough to see some patterns and draw a few conclusions I think.

Here's the article.

We ran a survey recently in which we asked people who had purchased and / or downloaded our music to answer a few questions.

The purpose was to get to know our fanbase better, to try and understand how they had found us and what had motivated them to download and/or pay for our music. We also slipped in some questions to see where Spotify fits in with all of this. Here’s what we found out.

1) Where did you find out about us?

Other: 36%

On a music blog: 32%

Music Industry or tech blog: 17%

From a Friend: 13%

Comment: We probably should have provided more choices here but we wanted to keep it simple. We think that a majority of the Others are Aaahh Records and other Creative Commons music related sites.

2) Was that via a social network, by email or in person?

Directly from the blog / website: 59%

Other: 15%

In a real life conversation!: 11%

Twitter. 5%

Email: 3%

At a concert: 2%

Other social network: 2%

Google+: 1%

Facebook.  0%

Comment: It’s interesting to note that no one discovered us on Facebook. Facebook is a great place to interact with people when you already know them, but it seems that it’s probably not a great discovery tool.

3. Did you listen to our music online before downloading it?

Yes: 89%

No: 11%

Comment: we didn’t ask if people thought they would have downloaded it without listening to it first. Perhaps we should have.

4. If so, where did you listen to our music before downloading it?

Our website (bandcamp): 81%

Music Blog: 8%

Other: 8%

iTunes: 2%

Spotify: 1%

Deezer: 0%

5. What made you decide to download the music?

I wanted to sample the music before buying a CD/Vinyl: 28%

I wanted to sample the music before paying for the MP3’s.: 22%

I wanted to own the music but couldn’t afford to pay for it: 22%

I don’t really know. I just clicked the buttons!: 19%

I wanted to own the music but I don’t think music is worth paying for: 4%

I wanted to write a review about your music: 3%

6. Do you have any idea how many times you have listened to our album(s)?

More than 5 times: 45%

2-5 times: 30%

More than 50 times: 15%

Once: 7%

I have no idea: 3%

I didn’t even get past the first couple of songs, you guys suck! 0% (thankfully!)

7. What made you decide to pay for our music? (multiple responses ok)

(Only people who had made a purchase were asked this question)

I wanted to support the band: 100%

I wanted to own the music: 61%

I wanted to own a tangible version of the album (CD/Vinyl): 61%

8. Do you have a Spotify account?

No: 65%

Free Account: 31%

Unlimited Account (4.99): 2%

Premium Account (9.99): 2%

9. Do you have any suggestions for us? 

1) Keep up the good work. :)

2) You guys are awesome! Suggestion: Come to America to tour :)

3) You guys are a pretty rad group and I really appreciate your enthusiasm at getting your music out there.

4) I didn’t recognize me in that survey : I discovered you with aaahh records. As I only listen to free music (ie under CC or Art Libre license), I download a lot, delete a lot too… and when I love an album I give some euros to the band or artist, but I can’t do that more than 4 or 5 times per month :-( … and it’s your time soon !! ;-)

5) Made me feel guilty that i haven’t paid so far:)

6) Put more songs into Rock Band, that’s where I first heard about you guys, the song was “roll over” and it made me check out more music by you guys!

7) Keep interacting with the fans just like you’re doing now!

8) stay as you are! your music is beautiful!!!!!!! :)

9)Keep product such a delightful music and come back to Paris!!! (Not at the International.)

10) it was me who filled out the wrong survey, i wrote that you’re great and that I bought the beautiful vinyl. sorry :) but you’re great!

11) congratulation ^_^

12) Keep up the good work! And thanks again for sending me the missing CD.Yes, I’m the annoying guy from Bordeaux. ;o)

13) Keep up the great work. I’ve turned some friends on to your music.

14) Keep making music

15) can you make more music! Love Storm eye and The black box.

16) Keep on rockin’ :)

17) I found you in Aaah Records

18) Keep doing that great work!

19) Keep on doing what you do! The pay what you want/can is a great example of creative ways to reduce piracy and still get paid for the music!

20) Just keep the good work! It is difficult to find really good music today and I was very pleased when I find your band.

(I had to cut some out because the max length is 20,000 characters. See our tumblr article for full list)

So as you can see, there are several really important pieces of information here.

Being able to listen to the music before buying it is really important.

Facebook and Spotify have not been discovery tools for us.

People do go to music blogs to try and discover new music.

People who buy music do so to SUPPORT you.

So the interaction with fans is key. In today's business, you need to 'deserve' people's support and just making good music is not quite enough.

The value is in the relationship not the MP3 file. 

response added Nov 18, 2011 by Andy Richards (1,100 points)   4 8 14

Thank you for sharing this.

The level of detail is amazing.  

Most bands I know just keep track of everything loosely in their heads, which filters and distorts the information.  These cold-hard-facts sound quite a bit different from what my friends *think* is happening, but your conclusions sound very reasonable.  I'm going to bug them about keeping better records.
@uniformmotion Thanks for the stats, I'm going to do a trawl of my various sites this week and grab all the stats I can find so I can do some pre and post comparison. With the survey I assume that was a direct-mail to your mailing list rather than something you published and waited for people to drop by the site?
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Here's my thoughts from a perspective of a music fan.

Using pay what you want to collect email addresses is probably a good idea as long as you use those email addresses wisely. I've picked up a few albums that way and some have used the email for nothing more than the occasional blast of tour dates, etc., which while helpful, is very impersonal.

I don't mean that you need to write targeted email, just something more personal. A guy recording under the name Just Another Snake Cult does this perfectly. In addition to his blog, he has also started an mp3 club where he sends out demos and rough ideas occasionally, along with some notes about what's going on in his life, which adds a human touch to a mass emailing. Here's a bit of his most recent email:

"Time is flying.  I thought I would be doing these much more often.  It's not a good year.  (The last half-year has been especially bad.)

I wrote this one quite a while back and had forgotten it until I came across the lyrics sheet sort of recently and subsequently had the melody stuck in my head for a week -- so I decided it was worth pursuing.
I really wanted to record this one as a band, so I arranged for the current line-up and recorded a demo.  But then I got impatient, so I cleaned up the demo a bit and here you go.  I really liked the calm looseness and abrasiveness of the original demo, but had to redo a lot of it since there were a lot of wrong notes and sometimes the rhythm was way off.
The lyrics are a fiction.  I'm not in love with anybody, but this is vaguely what I remember it being like.

PS -- I'm looking for some place to live.  And ideas of what to do with my life.  Keep 'em coming!"

I think this sort of openness, along with the demo, makes the receiver feel like a trusted acquaintance rather than just a name on the list, even if the latter is more true than the former. Because of these personal touches, along with the gifted mp3s, I am much more inclined to pick up (pay for) his next album, whenever he gets around to releasing it.

From my persepective, a judiciously used email address can be a great thing for turning fans into paying customers. On my own blog, I have reviewed several tracks by several different artists. A few times, I have been personally contacted by the artist, who has thanked me for the review and suggested other music (not necessarily theirs) that I might like and have even engaged in some give-and-take over several emails. Because of this brief thank-you email, I've gone on to purchase their other releases.

Now, if you're looking to connect with new fans, other music blogs are probably your best friend. There's a right way to do this and several wrong ways. Targeting here is just as important as connecting with your current fans. Culture Bully has a couple of excellent (and huge) writeup explaining the do's and don'ts of contacting bloggers to promote your music:

Almost all new music I've been introduced to has come from various music blogs or recommendations from friends or other artists. Facebook is a great way to stay connected with your fans, but I think you've nailed it: it's relatively worthless when it comes to reaching new people. Fans of yours can "Share" your stuff, but word of mouth via actual conversation, IM, email and other one-to-one interactions seems to have a much higher success rate (with me, anyway) than yet another post in my news feed.

response added Nov 23, 2011 by Tim Cushing (310 points)   1 1 2
@capitalisliontamer Thanks for the comments Tim, I'll have a shufti at the links over the weekend. I've always been pretty open and direct about what I think we're doing musically and why (or why not) as well as how well (or otherwise) we're doing. Generally it appears to be appreciated (even when there are disagreements) because, I think, it shows that we give a damn about what's happening to both the music-related-world and the wider internet.
I've never really gone for the direct mailing option much so this is going to be one of the challenges for me, there's a fine line between solicited updates and spam and I've always been careful to stay on the right side of it. Possibly too careful.
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It's cool that you're up for doing this experiment, and I'm excited to find out what you learn as you go.  I've always been a little ambivalent about pure "pay what you want" experiments, but many people swear by them.  I think that it, alone, isn't enough to get people that excited.  However, in combination with really figuring out ways to connect with fans, it can be quite powerful.

There's also a study that suggested that a charitable component can lead to higher overall payouts (and higher net revenue) for pay what you want:  I'm not sure I fully buy the methodology in that study, but it is interesting to think about.  At the very least, I think the point is to see if you can think creatively about pay what you want to give people more reasons to buy, rather than just "here it is."
response added Nov 18, 2011 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
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I haven't personally done a "pay-what-you-want" model for selling music. However, I have done plenty of gigs at art galleries, nonprofits, and other venues that have various flavors of "pay-what-you-want" to see the show.

In my experience, the best model is one in which people aren't required to pay any particular amount, but a "target price" is still given. That is, you say, "Please pay any amount for these downloads - the suggested price is $8" or something to that effect.

Of course, many people will pay less, much less. But overall, if you give people some idea of what the music is worth, they are much more likely to shoot for that price point.

Of course, that price has to be within reason. I think the best price is one that is slightly below what iTunes or Amazon charge for music (say, $.89 per track instead of $.99). In addition to the effect I've mentioned above, it makes people even more likely to pay that price, because they believe that they're still getting a bargain even at the "full price."

On the other hand, simply saying "pay whatever you want" usually doesn't work out so well. Without giving people something to shoot for, they'll just aim as low as their guilt will let them. And sometimes, for whatever reason, it gives the impression that you'd give your music away for free anyway, but are just charging people so you can get free money.

I know, there's not really much sense to this. But especially with intangibles, perception goes a long way towards determining value.
response added Nov 23, 2011 by Karl Giesing (180 points)   1 2
@karlheinz Karl, having a suggested price is something I'm thinking about, but there are a couple of challenges to it, the first being the technical implementation. I'm not sure what options are available on bandcamp and I don't have the IT skills to create my own alternative. The other issue is determining what price you suggest. Currently my standard price works on the undercut-itunes-by-a-bit but for a full album this still comes out at a "hmm, how much is in my music budget this month" amount of £7.
I've been reading about the success some of the self-published authors are having by dropping their prices to a don't-need-to-think-about-it 99c or simimlar and wondering if this is an alternative.
Possibly that's the next experiment?
Hmm. I don't use Bandcamp myself, but I looked on their site, and it does not appear there is any way to have a "suggested price" option.

First thing I would do is email them and ask for that feature. I'm betting it would be fairly popular.

In the meantime, you can edit the "blurb" under your download link to tell people what the suggested price is. I don't know the technowizardological details, but I imagine it's fairly easy. A quick Google search revealed a bunch of bands who do this.

Being a fledgeling website designer myself, I would NOT advise trying to roll your own, nor would I advise trying to "hack" the Bandcamp site. Implementing stuff like this is not trivial, to say the least, and one man simply does not have the time or skills to do it as well as Bandcamp's team does. If you choose to do this, I can give you some PHP pointers (I'm in charge of the woefully under-updated Discogs module for Drupal). But, I'm telling you right now, it's a dark and dangerous path to go down.
@karlheinz Trust me Karl, I don't do use anything that isn't out-of-the-box-ready. I have too many hobbies and demands on my time as it is to start thinking about trying to learn how to code!
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I have a suggestion and then a rant:

Suggestion:  If you can market your work in a higher-dimensional manner that thoroughly engages people, you will win.  Maybe a competition to remix your work and have fans give feedback and vote for the best.  The winner gets to work with you to produce something unique.  You video the process and make a little doco for free download when you buy a CD.  Or just give it away too.

Rant: Forget about profit and re-shape your thinking in terms of value.  What have you got that is of value for your fans (including future fans)?  What have your fans got that is valuable to you?  CDs are worthless to me and most people I know.  They will only continue to lose value too.  Be prepared to lose on that count.  Sorry.

At the end of the day, nothing outside of your head is unique.  YOU have to be the thing of value that interests fans, draws them in, engages them (listening is one dimensional - you have to engage in something that goes back and forth), and keeps them coming back for more.  

The experience of YOU is what will ultimately lead to profit.  Make it so that you become indispensible to your fans so that they can't live without your creative talent.  Give so much of yourself away that everyone feels guilty taking so much from you for nothing.  You won't be able to stop people from giving to you if you reach enough people and you give enough away for free.

When you get to that stage you will most likely not care too much about profit anyway.  Your dream lifestyle is the ultimate reward for your work.

response added Nov 24, 2011 by Samuel Hight (200 points)   1 2
@watchsamfly Great rant Samuel! Some great questions, most of which i don't have answers to because they cut to heart of why i play music at all. Do I write songs to make money? Of course not. If I did I would have written that off years ago. I write songs because they come to me when I play, and I play because I enjoy it.
Where I (and a lot of other musicians I know) then struggle is understanding what and why and if other people see any value in what we do. Sure, I like my songs, but does that mean they're any good? Likewise people (not many people) come to my gigs, but is that because they like the music or because they're friends (and friends of friends)?
This is why I'm starting this experiment. Who am I to say what the market value of my music should be? I'm not Universal or some other gatekeeper, I'm a tiny fish in a massive ocean. The market value of my music should be determined by the market so, in the most direct way I can, I'm letting them choose.
The market value of ME is another question, and one I don't have the answer to either. If I think of the artists I admire and make the most effort to go and see (and buy their stuff) it's always the music gets them onto my radar and it's what I go and see them for. That they might be engaging and personable is always a secondary consideration. But being a musician I may be guilty of applying my assumptions incorrectly to a wider audience.
Or, and I can never get away from or forget this, I just might not be as good as I need to be.

P.S. on the CDs front, when I say a limited run, for the album I'm talking about 100 CDs. I'm fully aware that more and more people are moving away from any kind of physical format but I like to think that what I've done with this run is a sufficiently special format (metal tin, vinyl effect CD, full 12 page leaflet) and sufficient scarcity that they have an intrinsic value. I need to sell a handful more to cover my costs though so I may be completely wrong about this...
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I guess before you start your "pay what you want" campaign, it'd be a good time to revive those dead blogs / myspace pages / twitter etc and start connecting with fans?

Pay-what-you-want only works if people know it's happening and they know what they're buying. You could also put up a few taster tracks online to get peoples' curiosity up?
response added Nov 23, 2011 by I B (700 points)   1 1 5
@inf Thanks I B, with the exception of the myspace (which appeared to be turning into a ghost town long before i abandoned it) the other sites are active (at the risk of being accused of self-promotion they're at the bottom of this comment), but they have very few followers.
As you say, PWYW only works if people know it's available and it's getting the message out that, I think, will be the biggest challenge.
As for teaser-tracks, all our stuff is available to listen to in full on our bandcamp site (and a couple of other places), I'm a firm believer in letting people try before they buy!
Main website:
bandcamp page:
Facebook page:
Twitter: @blinddrew
Twitter friend! It's easy to use and you can build a lot of followers very quickly! I see you already have your Twitter account, but unfortunately not many followers. You have to work on increasing that. Yes, it's hard. Then, tweet about a giveaway being on and that'll attract quite a lot to your site. After a few giveaways, organize your pay-what-you-want event and see what happens. Good luck!
@inf Yep, already on twitter and use if fairly heavily but I'm really not sure how to go about building up followers. I tweet about the music and things that interest me and retweet interesting stuff from other people but i appear to have topped out in terms of followers. Similarly with facebook and my mailing list. Further thinking required.
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Well, the experiment has started and I'm trying to pump out some notifications and the like but I'm very fearful of spamming people. How much is too much? Anyone got any real experience on this?
response added Dec 1, 2011 by drew stephenson (3,370 points)   3 10 22
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Have you considered selling signed CDs/posters/other stuff? The signed stuff always goes much faster than regular CDs. After all, who wants to own a generic item?
response added Dec 7, 2011 by Abhijeet G (240 points)   1 1
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Hi Drew,

We use MailChimp to send out our newsletter. First of all, it's free when you have less than 2,000 email addresses and send out less than 12,000 emails per month. So there's room for growth when you're starting from scratch.

What's great about their service is that it allows people to unsubscribe from your list really easily so if you're annoying them, no problem, one click, and bye bye. You can see how many people open your emails, how many click on any links you put in them, etc...

You can compare your results with industry avarages and they provide all sorts of tips on how to improve your results. 

If you have postcodes for the people on your list, you can send an email to all your fans from Accrington when you play one of the local pubs up there!

MailChimp provides ratings on your fans based on how regularly they open and click, so it's a great way of seeing who your biggest fans are as well.

So I would suggest importing any email addresses you have of people who have opted in to receive information from you (this is really important as being put on a list you didn't ask to be put it can be a real turn off) and then go experiment! You should also use their newsletter subscription widget to pick up new emails, and import emails of people who download or buy your music from bandcamp (if you're using bandcamp. 

I'm sure there are other services out there but MailChimp has been great for us. BTW, I have absolutely nothing to do with them, my best friend's cousin's dog doesn't piss on their CEO's car when he goes for his morning walk or anything, they just provide a great service!

As for how much is too much, it all depends on what you're telling them. If you send out an email every other day telling people you have a record out, then they'll get annoyed fairly quickly. If what you're saying is of interest to them, they'll tolerate frequent emails. Perhaps they won't read all of them but they won't hold it against you. But once again, MailChimp will tell you if you've messed up because you'll get a bunch of 'so and so just unsubscribed from your list' emails just after sending out your newsletter.

Good luck!





response added Dec 3, 2011 by Andy Richards (1,100 points)   4 8 14
@uniformmotion Cheers Andy, that sounds like a good start, and way more professional than my current efforts.
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Thought I should come back and give a quick update on this and share a couple of thoughs. Firstly the experiment has been slightly flawed, unfortunately around about the time that I started this my workload at my day job started climbing and has been pretty much manic ever since. Couple that with a year that's going to make last year's look like a walk in the park and sadly i've been doing less music (and less music promotion) than probably any previous point in the last 3 years.

Not a great way to follow up a relaunch of anything really.

But I have been able to make some interesting observations.

1) Visibility is still the biggest problem. Mike's post on the techdirt home page drove about 120-odd visits to my bandcamp site and from that a couple of sales and a couple of free downloads followed. But numbers dropped off again pretty much immediately. If two people out of 120 like my stuff enough to buy it then that would be amazing if it scaled (i know it won't!) but how do I get the message out wider? DIfficult i think.

2) For every 4 people who've downloaded, 3 have bought, paying between £3 and £5.

Most importantly

3) PWYW is not always a comfortable experience for fans. A couple of people at work (where i've obviolusly been pimping myself as well) have mentioned that they've listened, liked the stuff, but were completely stumped on how much to pay because they didn't want to insult me. I told them to download it for free and worry about that later but they weren't comfortable with that either (cause sharing is theft right?...)

Reading about some of the self-published authors who are doing quite well there was one chap (can't remember who I'm afraid) who's pricing all his stuff at 99c because it almost takes it below the point where it's a purchasing decision. Even at $2 or $3 that's enough to make someone who doesn't know the stuff hesitate, but 99c appears to be low enough to gamble.

So i think the next step might be a recommended price approach (or move back to a fixed price) of £1 and see if I can similarly move it below a decision point.
response added Feb 9, 2012 by drew stephenson (3,370 points)   3 10 22

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