You might not lose out on as much as you think.
For the vast majority of people looking to make the move into professional entertainment, the main problem is that of visibility. While established creators can launch to millions of sales, beginners might pour their hearts and souls into something that sells only a few dozen copies. This can be massively disheartening, and can negatively affect how we treat our next projects and how we approach the artistic expression of a business as a whole.
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With this in mind, we want to cover the idea of offering projects for free, at least as an option alongside, or before, regular paid releases. This might seem a doorway to failure, but it can be a far more viable choice than you might think. In this article, we investigate how giving away projects for free for increased visibility might be accomplished using modern examples, and why it can it a modern path to a successful paid career.
Why Go Free?
The most obvious answer to this question is that free offerings will instantly allow a much larger reach. It is true that spending money online no longer has the stigma it once held, but we also need to factor in that many people can be reticent to gamble on an unproven avenue. In this way, free media could be considered as a promotional demo, in the same way that software leans on limited open access trials.
A less obvious but just as important reason for offering free releases comes from the realm of licensing. As soon as you start charging for a product, you become party to a wide range of rules and regulations, some of which can be a major hurdle to jump through. Add these hurdles to an unproven product, and many potential customers will be instantly turned off.
If you've ever been blocked from a video on YouTube by a "video is not available in your country" message, then you've come up across one arm of these licensing difficulties. In this case, the use of VPN software to unblock YouTube videos can easily and effectively allow a user to circumvent these blocks and gain access to the content others watch for free based on where in the world they are located. But many instances of online limitations are not so easy to deal with.
In other words, by going free, you not only give far more people access in a monetary sense, but you do so whilst avoiding issues which might arise, in a legal sense. From this starting point, you can then expand your project in a way which can both start bringing in cashflow and map potential areas of interest.
Making Money on Free Projects
As long as you own a project, you get to say what is going to be done with it. This can be a powerful tool, as it can allow creators to offer a project for free while simultaneously also allowing various forms of payment from those who enjoyed your work. Although this sounds contradictory, it's actually a very well-established part of modern media.
One method to accomplish this goal is to implement a pay-what-you-want system for your music. The music website Bandcamp is a popular example of this, with many artists giving their fans a way to pay as much or as little as they want. True, in some cases, those looking for something new will try, find it not to their taste in move on. In others, however, people can download for free, find something which unexpectedly appeals to them, and return later to express their appreciation financially. This system also allows new-found fans to "tip" you by paying more than you may have charged in the first place, if they wish to. Other side-payment methods, such as advertising and sponsorship deals, can also work - but these tend to require a base level of popularity first.
Use as Metrics
The other side of this equation is that free projects, even when not leveraged for eventual financial reward, can still be incredibly helpful in terms of gauging interest. If you're looking to make money off of creative work, then a big part of it is understanding exactly what your audience wants and appreciates, and what within this sphere your skills are suited to. In this, free projects can also serve an important place as performance metrics - for instance, when published on YouTube or Soundcloud.
How were individual parts of a project rated, what was it that most engaged commenters, and which elements still need work? Paid audience testing can be a very expensive thing, but such free versions can be just as helpful, and benefit from the open attitude that comes with online commentary (for good or bad). It will require investigation and likely some degree of statistical analysis to derive useful information from this data, but the result could easily be worth the effort.
Rome wasn't built in a day, and the same general idea is true for the building of any entertainment project. While there will always be some who succeed through massive initial financial investment, nepotism, or luck, it's important to remember that very few are lucky enough to receive this advantage. Fortunately, we now live in an age where releasing free projects initially is not only viable, it can also come with significant potential advantages. Approach this idea with an open mind, and there's no telling what the future might bring.
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