This Is How We Do It: 'Selling' Decortica via Freemium
Author: Mathew Bosher
Before we get onto the more technical side of things, how would you explain who Decortica are as a band?
We’re a three-piece alternative rock band: myself on vocals/guitar, Antoinette Lee on bass and Tory ‘Jester’ Staples on drums. We’ve been active for around five years. We released our debut record in 2008, and our second album just recently. We’re equally interested in being recording artists as well as touring musicians and things on both fronts are looking good at the moment.
What led you to decide that the ‘freemium’ online model was the best option for the release of ‘Love Hotel’?
Our fans are internet savvy. We felt our music was being consumed mostly via the web – be it mp3s, iTunes, streaming – so we decided on a digital focus for the release very early on. That didn’t preclude physical formats, but as we researched more on the new thinking around music marketing we became more excited about the possibilities online. The freemium model is ideally suited to online distribution. We saw real benefit in the ability to integrate and leverage our social media profiles; it’s a very empowering solution for an unsigned/independent band.
The seeds were there from the start of the recording but as a fully formed strategy it came later. The focus was first just to record these songs which were an interesting body of work. Honestly, that was the reward in and of itself. Not being entirely driven by return on investment, we were more open to different options for releasing the album. It was also easier to see the intrinsic benefits of such a forward-thinking model: wider exposure for the album, increased fan base, better tour attendance and hopefully, through acknowledgment of that, new industry relationships that could take us up to the next level.
A couple of months before the release, we noted one or two examples of other musicians implementing the freemium model really well, confirming what we were thinking.
Can you explain what ‘freemium’ is?
It’s a business model offering basic services for free, as well as a premium or paid option with further features. In our case, we offered our entire album in multiple formats for free download, and a deluxe download edition with digital booklet, exclusive photos and iPhone/iPod formatted music video for a small price.
Is there anything different you have to consider when recording if you’re considering a freemium release?
When recording, no, it was our normal approach. We worked hard with a great producer/engineer, Dave Holmes, to make a very high quality album. You always want to have the best version of the product in the market; it’s certainly no excuse to say that because some tracks will be free, you don't have to put as much care or craft into them.
We’ve had really positive feedback on the album production from fans and industry people, and also kudos for making it available for free in FLAC (among other formats). We wanted people to enjoy the album on their portable devices as much as we did listening to it in the studio, so quality was key. Better they get high quality directly from us – where we can potentially form a relationship – than a lower quality torrent elsewhere. Moreover, the recorded quality is part of the perceived value of the record to some people, which may be the difference between them ‘upgrading’ to the premium version or not.
What sort of ‘infrastructure’ do you need to have in place as a band in order to make this kind of release successful?
The best thing about this is that the tools have matured to point where they are very powerful and still mostly free (or at very reasonable cost). Any band can learn them and run a freemium model very cheaply – it just takes time. A lot of time. Not just to learn what the current international standards are and master those services, but to administer them in the right way, and to continuously read and research to stay up to date with the latest developments. Someone in your band needs to be something of a super-user of the necessary platforms, but the good news is that there are abundant resources online to learn from.
Specifically, you need a great web and social media presence and a clean, highly functional distribution platform. (We currently use bandcamp for our custom freemium store and TuneCore to access the usual paid channels.) Integrating all of these, having metrics in place and building your mailing list are all vital in reaping the benefits of sharing your tracks for ‘free.’
Do you still need to ‘market’ or ‘promote’ a free release? What about art?
Of course. You still work very hard to see a return on the record – perhaps not in an immediate cash form, but long term gains like advancing your career opportunities, securing that all-important tour support slot with a next level band, publishing deals and of course sales of the premium version. If you’ve done your due diligence and understand your fan base, you’re probably well informed about where you should spend your marketing budget. For us, Facebook advertising was one area that had a huge return.
Great album art is still important, and one of the differentiators between the free and premium option. We’ve made something more special available for the paid version to encourage people to purchase it. If they get the free download and love it, we’re stoked. But if they want bonus features, there is a small fee for a cool little package. So artwork and other interesting content is fundamentally important to the freemium model: make it worth people parting with their hard earned cash.