Working For Free - Part 1

This morning, Seth Godin had a wonderful blog post about the merits of working for free...which largely boiled down to one's definition of the words "work" and "free".  Since I'm constantly working around musicians, this is a topic that hits near and dear to both my professional and creative hearts.  As the music industry seems to be heading irreversably in a direction where artists are forced to "give away" their music for free, I thought this would be a good topic to turn toward my clients and peers about and see what their thoughts on similar subjects are.

My first obvious place to start was with the duo Grits and Gravy (G&G) who just completed their EP "Symphony" at Blue Tower Studio.  The EP dropped for FREE on Soundcloud a mere 72 hours after it's completion.  So not only did they refrain from witholding their art for monetary compensation, they didn't dangle the free download carrot in front of the audience for long either!  It was their second release in a year, following up their album "People Like You", a for-sale venture released through CD Baby and iTunes, and also partially tracked at Blue Tower. 

I asked both parts of G&G, beat-producer Neal Titus and vocal maestro Marcus Steward for their thoughts on dropping their product for free and how it fits into their grand artistic plans.  My question was, if you had to list the three ways you think a free release provides return on investment, what would they be?

Neal: "More shows.  More exposure.  More fans.  Summed up, more recognition of the difference in this album."  To that extent "Symphony" is providing exceptional ROI for G&G.  Their likes and followers have grown by the the hundreds over the last several weeks.  Reviewers are also singing praises of the project, and more than 200 downloads of the album have already happened. 

Marcus: "It's opened up a broader demographic of fans and opportunities to gather new fans.  A free project has served as a basis to see where I've grown from.  And third, it allows the possibility to relate to experiences that wouldn't have worked on "People Like You."  Marcus also mirrored a common theme amongst musicians, especially in hip hop, that the money is still in the shows. "Hip hop is like fast food, people get what they want and they come right back for more."

What struck me as interesting is that between both of them, neither saw "Symphony" as a calling card to lure in contract work for beat writing and recording appearances.  If anything, to Neal it was an educational experience that was worth the cost: "Yes I was giving up my weeknights and incurring expenses...but I was taking what I was learning in school and applying it in ways where I only learned more.  This album was a necessity."  For Marcus as well, he felt like those opportunities will come in time: "I don't want our music to feel like a marketing company.  I want our fans to be able to tell their friends about us and have them be able to hear "Symphony" without having to buy it." 

I'm excited to play "Symphony" for friends and colleagues as well.  The EP truly is fresh, weaving traditional hip hop beats with symphonic samples and tasty R&B sounds in ways that are so easy on the ears.  I don't think Grits and Gravy are falling into the potential traps of working for free that Seth Godin warned about.  They are not afraid of what it takes to get paid for their work, and they are most certainly not forcing people to pay for their art out of fear of exposure.  G&G make their Herman's Hideaway debut on March 19th with headliner Sapient.