Since releasing my album I have done several experiments. Sometimes my album is available as a free Pay-What-You-Want download. Most people download it for free, some people give me money. And mostly it seems like it works out okay.
A few weeks ago I put the minimum cost for my album at $5 and most of those who have chosen to download it have given me $10-$15. But most people have actually just not downloaded it at all and I have seen my download numbers drop off. Interestingly enough I have made the same amount of money.
But what does that mean? Is it more valuable for me to have more people downloading my music? Or is it better to place a value on my music so that people respect it?
Are people more likely to enjoy music they pay for? Or are they more appreciative of a gift from the musician?
They say that music is free now. But what the hell is free?
The freedom for more people to create? Or the freedom for more people to starve?
I can set a price for a CD or a vinyl record because those cost money to make. But it is expected these days that digital downloads are available for free. Sometimes the musician offers the music for free and sometimes you have to steal it. But either way, if it's music, and it's been recorded, it is yours for the taking.
The good thing about being an independent musician is that I can do these experiments without having to pass the idea by some committee of suits worried about the bottom line. I also don't have to find answers to all my questions above. Because the answers change for each person. A few weeks is not enough time to really know what the effect is, but it has made me think about the question of value in music.
Do you value my music because I offered it to you for free? Or do you value it because you paid for it?
Am I engaging in a culture of openness and sharing? Or am I devaluing all music by being one of the problem musicians offering my music for free and making it harder for other musicians to charge if they wish to?
What it comes down to is that it is ridiculous to me to place a value on my own music using a monetary system. I can say my album is "worth" a minimum of $5 for you to download. But in reality what $5 means to me and you is different. $5 could be a meal, or an entire day's food, or maybe it's just the morning latte.
I got an email from someone who found my album online and loved it, and even though it was free when he found it he did not download it because he valued it so highly that he didn't want to take it from me until he felt he could give me what it was worth to him, but as he has no extra spending money he decided to go without.
You might make $100 an hour, in which case giving me $5 only costs you about 3 minutes. Or you might make $7.25 an hour (which is the US Federal minimum wage,) in which case giving me $5 is almost an hour of your time which you most likely cannot afford because life is expensive.
And maybe you only listen to one of my songs occasionally. Or maybe my entire album is on repeat and it has changed your life. But how can we even begin to quantify that?
I have decided to end my experiment of having a minimum cost to download my album, because I don't want to decide the value of my music for you. My music has value for me regardless of how many dollars it makes me. And whether you make $100 an hour, or minimum wage, my music could be the background to your bus ride, or the anthem which helps you make it through another day.
Maybe I'll do another experiment with charging for my album. Or maybe I'll decide I need to value my music using dollars. But today, and for the foreseeable future, I'm happy to offer my music to you for the price you can afford: be it $0 or $1000.