Let’s face it—the likelihood of someone buying an album from an artist they have never heard before is extremely low. Music Strategist Andrew Dubber of New Music Strategies breaks it down in the simplest of terms. He says that fans interact with music following the golden order of: Hear/Like/Buy. People hear music, then they like music, then they buy music. Always. They need to hear your music before they can like it, and they need to like it before they will buy anything. Obviously, this is not an overly difficult concept to grasp. It's essentially common sense, but young artists still constantly question whether or not they should sell their music or offer it for free.
Music is different when it comes to media consumption. It’s not the norm to buy a movie ticket because you already saw and liked the film and you don't normally buy a book because you already read it and enjoyed it. Regularly, you purchase first then consume...but music is unique. The most reliable way to promote music is to have people hear it repeatedly and eventually, if you’re lucky, people get to know and like the music. Sooner or later, they’re going to want to own it.
Giving your music away for free allows potential new fans to get a chance to hear your music —the first step in the process. Hear-Like-Buy. If you try to do it in any other order it probably won’t work. You can’t skip a step and there are no shortcuts. People will not buy the music, then hear it, then like it. They just won’t.
However, that doesn’t mean that the only option is offering your entire music library for free. Music fans need to hear more than a 30-second preview of one single — they need to hear enough to connect with the music and find the personal value. It takes more than an impulse purchase, based on a quick preview of one song, to create that connection. Yes, put your album up for sale but offer up EPs for free download. Post (high quality) live performance videos of original songs, allow a free download of your album’s first single, etc. The simplest way to promote music and build an economic relationship with a consumer is to let them hear it. Repeatedly. Without restriction. For free. Let them grow to love your music, and then they will want you to have their money.