HomeA Cappella 2.0 and the Age of Free - New models of Sales and Marketing

musicjunkieg's picture

One of the things that constantly amazes me about the current time that we live in is the number of things you can get for free, legally and illegally. From music to movies, to games to software to everything else, people are either illicitly providing it for free or explicitly making it free. Now, these people have many different reasons for doing so, from the Free Software Foundation's belief that all software should be free, to the owners of  The Pirate Bay enabling people to share whatever they want, legal or illegal, because they disagree with "corporate greed" or any other number of reasons.

However, the most interesting development is in the music industry where we have seen file-sharers sued for millions and entire companies taken down for enabling filesharing. On the other hand, we have begun to see, in small numbers, major artists offering their music for free in some way, from Radiohead to Imogen Heap to Trent Reznor and the bands he represents. Also, with the music service Spotify launching in the UK (and hopefully soon in the U.S.) where you can get all-you-can-eat music for about $100 US dollars a year, and Pandora, where unlimited music tailored to your preferences is available to listen to for less than $50 a year, the music industry is undergoing a rapid transformation, and it's natural to wonder where a cappella fits into all of that.

I have some ideas, and I want to throw them out, and see what ideas everyone else has as well. First, let me make it clear that most a cappella groups, especially collegiate groups, have it rough, as their bread and butter are covers. Cover songs present much more of a problem for the "freemium" model than original songs, due to licensing issues. Does that mean that you can't have success with them? No. It does mean, however, that you may have to get creative.

Ask yourself and your group the following questions: How little can we sell our music for while still covering costs? Will the songs we can give away for free (original songs, covers of unsigned artists with their permission) drive people to buy our albums? How can we add value to our listener experience so that people may pay for things like t-shirts, posters, concerts, etc., which allows us to give more of our music away?

A sidenote: the reason you give your music away is to get people to buy things from you, at the core economic level. I am NOT advocating running on nothing and just giving EVERYTHING away. However, as the music industry changes, and a cappella is thrust into the mainstream, as is currently happening, we need to find ways to capitalize on that visibility and capture as many fans as possible. Below are some of my ideas on how a cappella groups can a) be in the position to give away their music and b) gain as much visibility as possible. I hope you will add yours and critique mine as necessary!


1. Partner with local indie artists.  Almost every single college campus and city in America has some outstanding independent local acts, as well as amazing independent acts that travel regionally. Partner up with them! if you like their music, cover it! New artists may love it when you cover their music, especially if you have a following, and they don't. Work out a deal where you can give it away, or develop a revenue share agreement with them that works for you! No labels to fight with! You guys can do things however you want!

2. Write your own songs, or get them written for you! Any community worth its salt, whether collegiate, or simply local, will have some singer/songwriters in its area. Find one or two really good ones, or find your favorite indie artist, again, who writes their own music and ask them to write you a song. Most likely, unless they are signed or make a LOT of money from their music, they will do it for free, for the exposure, which once again gives you the opportunity and freedom to use that song in many different ways, including giving it away for free. Also, write your own songs! As a group, you can probably come up with something pretty cool! Do it, and then use it however you want. Witness Straight No Chaser and "Facebook Stalkin".

3. GET YOUR MUSIC INTO ITUNES, AMAZON, RHAPSODY, etc! I CANNOT overstate this one enough. Getting your music into these services and providing links to the albums on your website, and pointing people to those services as the primary purchasing outlet for your music, is essential. Not only is it cheaper than having CDs produced, you can include liner notes in digital booklets, add special features such as music videos, etc., and get more exposure through the iTunes charts as well as iMixes and reviews.

4. Submit your covers for use on TV shows. I have NO idea how you do this, but there has to be a method or a mechanism by which all that music gets on TV shows. A Cappella has the opportunity to be appropriate for so many shows due to the unique quality of the sound, and is just one more way for exposure to SKYROCKET.


1. Create an a cappella radio iPhone app: I actually really want to do this one! Look at Pandora radio, or other radio stations! I know that CASA is working on getting our a cappella radio station up and running again, but let's get that station into an application on the iPhone, and get it in the app store. Then, if enough people start to download it, it shows up on the front of the app store, and suddenly, many more people are downloading the app and listening to a cappella music!

2. Create the Pandora for a cappella music. One of the hardest things for me is to find and listen to new a cappella music which then leads me to buy music. Pandora, the amazing service created by the Music Genome Project, has taught me about so many new artists, whose music I have then purchased. We should be doing the same with a cappella! Someone should either get the Genome project on the phone, or create our own! I'm on board! Who else? Also, Pandora is founded on the idea that artists get their fair share when music is played, and there is a minimal fee for those who listen to more than 40 hours a month.

These are just some of the ideas I've had. Do you have more? I know most of mine are technology-focused, so I would love to see some other ideas not necessarily focused on technology. Let's keep brainstorming and see how many we can implement before 2010 starts!

Also of interest: http://www.casa.org/node/5424

About the author:
Bryan Guffey has been singing since he was old enough to talk; 1983, to be exact. A bass/baritone with a fierce falsetto, Bryan has performed all across the United States and around the world for the last seven years. Currently living, in Cleveland, Ohio, Bryan started his first a cappella group while in high school, and a cappella has been his love ever since. A graduate of Kent State University, Bryan holds a BFA in Musical Theatre and is a proud member of Actor's Equity. Most recently, Bryan sailed around the world with such luminaries as Blue Jupiter's Tim Foust, singing in the a cappella group Full Sail.



"Submit your covers for use on TV shows. I have NO idea how you do this"

You do this through agencies such as Taxi ( http://www.taxi.com/ ) which provide libraries of recorded material, song cues, ditties, etc, to production companies to use in their shows and advertisements.  TV pays Taxi, they take a cut, and then you get paid every time your cue gets played, based on how long it is and how high profile the exposure is.  I'm not sure how they'll respond to the licensing problems of covers, but it's worth investigating.  At the very least, any original material would be game. 

Steve Ryan Sympathetic Vibrations 2004-2007 • Taal Tadka 2007-2008 Breakdown (Sound Engineer) 2007-current

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.