The Business

Free downloads = More money?

There is a lot of debate going on in the metal community over the viability of free downloads and whether bands can survive while giving their music away.  Naturally, there also is a lot of misinformation fueling people’s opinions on the matter.

So, let’s try to weed out the RIAA talking points bullshit…


“I buy CD’s because I support the artist.”

One of the main fallacies about this statement cuts to the heart of the problem — record labels.  The first thing wrong with it is that record labels retain most of the profits each time you buy an album.  Unless the artist is independent, they’ll be lucky to get even $1 from each album sold due to the lop-sided terms they were forced to agree to for their record deal.  To put it another way, you’d be “supporting” the artist more if you bought them a $2.50 beer than if you bought their $10 CD.

This illustrates the greater problem of the business model that most of the metal industry is still using.  When it comes to funding a band’s album, record labels determine their advance based on past sales numbers. (as opposed to social media numbers, show attendance numbers, etc.)   This model is completely flawed because the artist usually ends up not recouping their advance due to their record deal’s accounting practices, which leads to them collecting approximately $0.00 in earnings and — since many record labels don’t provide tour support anymore — makes it that much harder for them to go on tour or do anything else to further their career.

In other words:  The system is stacked against bands from the beginning.

You may not even know this, but a lot of record labels force bands to buy their own CD’s from the label in order to sell them at shows.  And we’re not talking CostCo wholesale prices either — labels charge upwards of $7 per CD to their own artist just for said artist to keep a dollar from each disc they sell.

If you want to continue supporting these exploitative business practices, then continue buying CD’s.
If you want to actually support the bands and allow them to keep a bigger share of your money, go to their shows and buy their merch.

Album Sales vs. Merch Sales


“Give music away for free?
But then how will artists make money?!”

Fact:  Piracy is gonna happen, no matter how much you kick and squirm or preach against it.
So, you can either allow people to download your music directly from you or get it from a rando pirate site.

If you create a BandCamp page and setup a “name your price” donation option, you can get valuable data to help your band run a much more efficient operation.  If you set your downloads to require an e-mail address and ZIP code, you will get something back from each “free” album you give away; you’ll get an address to add to your e-mail list and — perhaps more importantly — you’ll get location reports for future tours.  (market research!)

That last bit is huge — having locations of where people downloaded your music can save money come tour time because you’ll know exactly what cities to hit and skip.  Going to a town where you have no fans will only serve to kill gas, sell zero merch, and give your band a collective headache.  Instead, knowing exactly what cities are full of the most fans can make for a much more efficient and profitable tour via merch sales and better attendance numbers.

USA Tour Map

Of course, there always will be fans who don’t want to fork over their e-mail address on your BandCamp, and instead will download your music from other pirate sites.  Nevertheless, even in those cases, you still will get more people listening to your music and potentially becoming your newest die-hard fans!

What would you rather have — more people buying your album, or more people buying your merch?