In today’s internet age, anything worth listening to will be stolen. So make it real easy to steal” – Neuman Mannas
We followed up our blog post about artists giving music away for free by talking with Neuman Mannas, lead singer and guitarist of Head Of The Herd. The blues-rock band gave their debut release ‘On The House’ away for free in 2011.
MM: How did the decision come about to release On The House for free?
NM: The decision wasn’t stumbled upon. In today’s struggling industry, no revenue streams are irrelevant, and deciding to release your product for free will have a great impact on how you run your business.
The main thought behind the decision was that in today’s internet age, anything worth listening to will be stolen. So make it real easy to steal. If they’ve heard your music, they might come to a show. If they haven’t, they certainly won’t.
While conceptually it’s a bit jarring, with a supersaturated market for artists we knew we were playing the exposure game first and foremost. To get ahead of the curve fast, we took the route of removing any impedance to fans finding & sharing our music.
MM: Is the name of the record based on the decision to release it for free?
NM: We did choose the name around the concept. In the world of Boozy, Bluesy, Heartfelt Rock n’ Roll, it was our way of being the bartender hearing your problems, and helping you out with one On the House.
MM: What was the response to giving your full album away?
NM: The fans have certainly responded well. Being a new band publicly aiming at exposure, it has made a connection with listeners.
With a free album, asking people to share it via social media becomes less of a chore, as both parties get something out of it. Being more susceptible to fans social media affection can up your web numbers fast.
MM: Did you get any opportunities from the free release that you don’t think you would have gotten otherwise?
NM: That’s a question likely to keep you up at night! What we do know is people tell us we’re growing faster than any band they’ve seen. It’s a long-term strategy, so any artist looking to put out an album and get out, should avoid it. But if you’re playing the long ball, it’s an effective method for quick interaction with listeners.
And keep in mind, this won’t make or break your band, because what is most important is great songs. If your product is no good, nobody is going to buy your first record, let alone come back and buy your second if the first was free.
MM: What kind of things did you do to prepare for the free release?
NM: Months before the internet got wind of Head of the Herd, Clay, myself and our Business Manager Kyle (four-age.com) had strategized on how to gain and maintain the inevitable hype that a free release would gather. We were aware that we wanted everything focused and branded, so that everything we touch looks like, sounds like, and is…Head of the Herd.
When we launched online, 4 songs were available to stream, and for the next 9 weeks we debuted a song every Wednesday. The day all 13 were out, the album was available for free download.
The streaming to download shift kept new fans involved and made them want to visit the site. It encouraged social media interaction because we were consistently providing good content, with a payoff after the 9 weeks (our album).
MM: What were some of the biggest challenges in giving the record away for free?
NM: Keep in mind this is my personal opinion, not that of the entire group. But for me, the biggest challenge was the mirror. Artists should know that a free release is using your album as an advertising method for your live show, and at the same time telling the market that your recorded product is ‘worthless’ on the books.
If the songs are good, you’ll find traction regardless, but a free release is contributing to the oversupply, and downward pressure on prices in the music industry. The numbers are way down, and a single costs 99 cents today, that’s what it cost in the 1960’s.
If you’re choosing to do a free release, you need to account for that revenue stream not existing. That requires either doing more with less (which no one’s happy about), or working harder to get bigger gigs and selling more merch.
So I would say you need to be able to look in the mirror and say, “Quick exposure is so important to me that it’s worth having people that listen to my record think it’s worth zero dollars and zero cents.” If you can do that without flinching, go for it.
MM: Do you think free music is a necessary step for up-and-coming artists?
NM: No. I think attentive use of social media and ensuring that original, branded content is being produced is much more important. Atop that in priorities should always be great songs.
MM: How long do you plan the keeping the album available for free?
NM: I would suggest keeping it free as long as it’s still a valuable promotional tool. As your band grows and you have another release, new fans will look into your back catalogue, and that could be the right time. It might be tough to judge when it’s hit the tipping point, but when the free album has run it’s course from a promotional standpoint, I would suggest putting it in the marketplace.
MM: Would you have any other dos and don’ts for artists thinking of giving away their music?
NM: I think it’s important to understand its use as a promotional tool well before you decide to give it away. Do your research and see if it’s right for you as an artist. Regardless of the answer, make a proper plan for your release. If you make it available for free and just hope people find it, it’ll be as unsuccessful as putting it for sale and waiting.
Look beyond your genre/circle of artists. Hip-hop artists have used the mixtape as a free promotional tool well before bands adopted the strategy. As opposed to being the final product, it’s often used to gain attention before the release of an artist’s LP (which would then be for sale)
Keep a sharp eye on the limits of your prolificacy. Everyone creates at different speeds, and if you want to keep up with Lil’ Wayne (notorious for mixtape after mixtape pre-release), the quality can’t falter. A 10-song LP with 3 good songs is better served as a 3-song EP while you work on writing.
If you’re new and solely interested in quick music delivery, a free album can take you from a first impression with a listener, to the iPod in their pocket in seconds. The listener won’t have to think about their rent, the value of art/money, or today’s frightening disregard for intellectual property. It goes “Push play. Listen. Own product.” and if you’re doing it right, “share with friends and see a show.”
You can get ‘On The House’ from the Head Of The Herd website. Neuman has successfully released free albums with HOTH as well as with his solo project, The Neu Music. Catch Head Of The Herd on tour and be sure to check them out on Facebook and Twitter.
For more free music strategies check out our post, Giving it Up: 4 Tips When Giving Away Free Music Downloads