CMJ 2011 'Blogfamous' Panel: 'You're a Brand, You Have to Act Like One'
CMJ 2011 'Blogfamous' Panel: 'You're a Brand, You Have to Act Like One'

The first day of CMJ's industry panels wrapped up with an afternoon session titled, "Making Free Music Pay," during which experts discussed marketing strategies and promotional tools that can use free music giveaways to produce a paying fan base. The panel was moderated by Kevin Monty, Online Marketing Director at Razor & Tie, and included Lou Plaia, co-founder of Reverbnation, Tom Jeffries, CEO of Safe Xchange, Jenna LaMonaco, Head of New Media for Glassnote Records, and Phil Antoniades, founder and President of Nimbit.

Capturing a fan, keeping a fan, and then turning that fan into a paying customer: that process was the gist of the panel's conversation. Giving away free music, for instance, should never be done without getting something in return, such as a Facebook share or an email address that helps a band spread their brand and communicate to a wider audience. "You have to treat your music like it's a heroin addiction," said Plaia. "Give the fans a little taste and they'll keep coming back for more."

It comes as no surprise that social networks and blogs were touted as the biggest marketing tools available to new and developing bands, but while Twitter was commended for its viral qualities and YouTube for its easy accessibility, it was Facebook and its new changes that scored the highest marks for its ability to help artists. Its recent addition of block links - grouping together friends who share the same link into a single chunk of the news feed - allows popular links to gain traction among friends, while the integration of Spotify has changed Facebook into the place to go to find new music. "Facebook's changes are the beginning of the re-invention of the music industry," said Antoniades.

Artist web sites also have an important role, especially in transitioning the casual fan into a paying customer and as a protection for artists who have a large presence on social networks in case Facebook or Twitter "pulls a Myspace" and becomes largely irrelevant. Having free download links only redeemable in the artist's online store draws the fans into an area where they can buy other merchandise within a few clicks, while exclusive giveaways on the artist's web site draws more people off social networks and drives traffic into the band's own territory.

Getting creative and personal is the best way to cement a relationship between a fan and a band, with pay-what-you-want models and exclusive giveaways to loyal fans - whether through a mailing list, fan club, or any other similar group - the most effective. "Fans want to support artists, you just have to find ways to allow them to do that," said Antoniades. "Twist promotions as a privilege to fans, make them special."

Using free music giveaways as a marketing device, according to the panelists, is about constantly tweaking strategies to find one that works best for the particular artist and energizes the fan base, forming a strong enough connection that incentivizes people to go out to shows and buy records and merchandise. Ultimately, it comes down to finding out what fans want and delivering on that. "You can't ever forget what it's like to be a fan," said LaMonaco. "That's why we're all here in the first place - we're fans of music."