Why free is costly.

Not too long ago, I posted about my plan to give my music away. Then, several sharp, persuasive comments convinced me to change my plan and charge for my music, using free as a promo tool only. I remain committed to this new plan, in fact more than ever, for reasons outlined here and, frankly, because I think free costs too much.

First, free can cost you credibility. Consider: if I were to send out a note to everyone on my mailing list saying my album is available for free, people would rightfully wonder how good the record was. And before even pressing play, their perception would be tainted.

Second, free can cost you the potential of strong relationships. I say this because if I simply give you something and you simply take it, our relationship is going to be very fragile, to say the least. In fact, the only bond we might have is guilt, in that you feel a little guilty for having simply taken my music, and I feel guilty for not having had more confidence in myself to charge for it. Worse, there’s no contract of any sort. There’s no obligation for me to go above and beyond for you personally, and there’s no obligation or motivation for you to stick with me. And our relationship will not strengthen with time. (As an aside, I think about this with a lot of Web services. I wish more charged, I want that relationship/contract, I want to be able to say, “Hey, fix this, I’m paying you” and I want them to say, “Hey, fix that guy’s problem, he’s paying us, and while you’re at it, what can we do about our user interface, it kinda sucks.)

Third, free can cost you your future. If I just give away my work, how long can I afford to do that? Obviously, if I’m independently wealthy or have a job that showers money on me (neither of which is the case), I’m going to have to fund my music completely by working at something else. And though this is what I have done to date and will continue to do, it wears on my motivation, not to write songs, but to record them and bring them to their full potential. Obviously, if I were using free music to draw people into gigs and toward “merch”, there would be a method to the madness. But I’m not a live act and never will be, so my concert and merch potential is slim to none.

There are other reasons I think free is expensive, but these are the main ones. Does anyone out there wish to add / subtract / agree / disagree? Please weigh in, if you have a “free” moment!