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Five Reasons to Give Away Your Film's Soundtrack for Free

04.30.12 @ 4:32PM Tags : , , , ,

On Feb 1, 2008 Mark Cuban posted to his blog about a far-fetched, impossible-to-execute marketing concept that he desperately wanted film studios to adopt, in order to leverage the value of free giveaways to combat the crumbling theatrical marketplace. Digital was exploding, distribution was becoming a fractured nightmare, and studios were scrambling to adapt.

The idea was staggeringly simple: give away the film’s soundtrack for free.

Cuban suggested doing this primarily on opening weekend, using your marketing budget to promote the giveaway along with the film in order to drive the coveted opening weekend audience. Cuban also knew this would be impossible for a studio to achieve, because soundtracks are made up almost exclusively of bands with labels, and labels hate free.

I read Cuban’s post a year later, at a time when my coming-of-age comedy, The Graduates was getting killer reviews and winning awards on the festival circuit, and I remember thinking, “god, I really hope it doesn’t come to that.” Giving away something I treasured as much as our indie rock soundtrack — which my brother and I had put together over months, wooing bands with songs we loved — would be excruciating.

Fast forward three months to the summer of 2009. The Graduates had been rejected by every distributor in the continental United States. We were getting rejection letters from distributors we hadn’t even submitted to. We got the message. I guess an award-winning indie comedy with stellar reviews, awards from prestigious festivals, an active and motivated team as a marketing partner and an active online following built-in was not enticing enough, I don’t know. But I’m not bitter. I’M NOT BITTER.

We knew the film had an audience, but we had no money to reach them. As we brainstormed, Cuban’s article kept resurfacing, haunting me. Eventually I pulled the trigger and put the soundtrack on our website. What followed was sort of an indie film miracle.

In the first three months — thanks to vigorous outreach and strategic partnerships with spring break companies, travel companies, college and university-centric websites and even The USO — we had over 20,000 downloads of our soundtrack. All we required in return was an email address.

Without spending a dime we had introduced our film to 20,000 people in our target demos around the country, and they had effectively paid us for the intro (by giving us an email address). When someone downloaded the soundtrack our trailer came with it (tucked into the .zip file), along with our hand-crafted poster and production stills, and short personal intro letter from me. It should be noted that after a year — and around 40,000 downloads — we removed the email requirement in order to keep a steady flow of people discovering the film and reducing the barriers to interact with it.

Can you name one no-cost promo you’ve done for your film that netted 20,000 fans, 20,000 email addresses and free outreach on your behalf from 50-60 blogs, websites and personalities in three months? Or 40,000 in a year? That’s a rhetorical question, but seriously, if you can name one please let me know because I’m happy to borrow it to promote me new film, Drinking Games :)

Top Five Reasons to Give Away Your Soundtrack for Free:

  1. 20,000 new fans in critical three-month launch window. Cost to us? Nothing.
  2. People play & replay songs over and over again. Every time they do, they see our movie title and connect with the film!
  3. People bonded with tone & genre through the music. They become fans/advocates without needing to find/watch a trailer!
  4. Blogs and websites picked up the giveaway. Our tiny film had a global reach within a few weeks.
  5. We had automatic reach into demos we would never reach otherwise. The Graduates was promoted by music fans to other music fans, people we would never reach with film-related promos.

What about the bands?

We love indie bands, and we wanted to make sure any promotion we did would benefit them as much as the film. No artist wants to give away their content for free, but the relative low cost (1, 2 or 3 songs) combined with our ability to get our film seen, winning awards in festivals, and our sincere desire to promote the bands made it a no-brainer.Our pitch was simple: “Give us one song and we’ll introduce you to hundreds of thousands of fans. You won’t have to lift a finger. And you’re welcome to use any and all footage from the film for music videos.”

Between the free soundtrack download and the release of the film across a dozen platforms and theaters in ten cities, the film (and subsequently, the soundtrack) has been experienced by over 1,000,000 people.
So how do the bands benefit? Once someone downloads the free soundtrack and imports it into iTunes, iTunes will suggest more songs by the same artists, driving up sales. Further, if someone connects with free music, they’ll interact with the band’s website, Facebook page, buy tickets, merchandise and, of course, more music.

In short, we took one, maybe two songs, and spent two years introducing the bands that gave us those songs to over a million people, and we did it at our expense, not theirs. Pretty sweet deal for almost any indie band. Further, we’ve kept in touch with many of the bands, booking them for paid work, introducing them to other filmmakers who need composed pieces (also paid work), and even producing music videos for them at no cost. We are serious about our advocacy on behalf of those who support us.

Call to Action

Believe, LTD’s [Ed. note: Ryan's consulting/marketing company] marketing ideas will not align with the content of every film, but they’re not intended to do so. Instead, think of them as jumping-off-points, as templates that can inspire ideas more appropriate to your film.

The Big Goal of each idea are what counts, and they are, always:

It’s a crowded digital world. The greatest threat you face is not piracy, it’s obscurity. Be desperate to get people to interact with your marketing. Give away free pieces to ensure the audience will interact with your film.

Grow your email list, Facebook fans, Twitter followers and YouTube subscribers with every promotional effort. This will serve you on this film, and the next, and the next.

Marketing should entertain. This is crucial, yet often overlooked. Marketing is not about forcefeeding information to an audience, it’s about winning them over. Your press kit is probably super-helpful, but nobody’s going to forward it to a hundred friends. Entertain them and they’ll advocate for you over and over again.

Bottom Line

Know that if you are willing to put in the time and energy, you will find an audience for your film.

Prepare for your release by creating promotions that build awareness, build a list, and entertain.

Reclaim distribution from a handful of gatekeepers.

Do. It. Yourself.

Ryan Gielen’s films and have won awards in festivals around the country for writing, direction and vision, and have been featured in The Washington Post, Wholphin, Filmmaker Magazine, Gawker, and over 200 local print, radio and television outlets. His most recent feature, Turtle Hill, Brooklyn premiered at NewFest 2011, the country’s premiere LGBT film festival and won the Audience Award for Best Narrative. Turtle Hill is currently on the festival circuit and will hit art house theaters in the fall. Following a three-month college tour, Ryan’s award-winning first feature, The Graduates (2009) launched a ten-city arthouse theatrical release, playing to sold out crowds. It has gone to be one of the top 5 digitally selling indies of the last decade. Love Bomb and the Pink Platoon (Brownpenny, 230 pgs) is Ryan’s first book, and has been featured on, GalleyCat, ENewser, MediaBistro and is available everywhere books are sold online.


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 70 COMMENTS

  • Luke Neumann on 04.30.12 @ 4:47PM

    I do the same thing. I don’t have to deal with the band part since I write the music but I think giving the music away is a good idea.

  • How about we do it the other way around, use the movies to promote talented musicians, and give away th product of hard working filmmakers for free!

    • Those are called music videos.

      • Nice comeback Koo! Seriously, this idea of killing one industry to promote another simillar one with have a negative effect on the other in the long run…imagine if that happens to film where promethus was ginven away for free to promote the musicians who contributed to the score

        • Lachlan Huddy on 04.30.12 @ 9:37PM

          Allow me to respectfully disagree. The filmmakers are offering the musicians tremendous value by promoting their songs, more than enough value, in my opinion, to justify a song or two for free. It’s not a whole album, it gets the filmmakers working for the musicians for free and opens up real avenues for paid work. These are not bad things. For indies awareness-building is a massive deal and repurposing content (in this case, their songs) will always be worth it. This doom-and-gloom stuff just doesn’t hold up, in my opinion. BTW, offering your film for use in music videos without cost (as detailed in the article) is about as quid pro quo as you can get, so this is far from a parasitic arrangement, as your comment seems to suggest.

        • Giving away a free film soundtrack will not kill the music industry. Most bands make way more off live performances than they do sales of recorded music at this point anyway. Exposure to 20,000 potential new fans with no effort of time needed on the band’s part? I think that’s worth giving away one song for everyone but the most famous artists. Assuming people LIKE the song you give away, they’re more likely to buy other songs, and more likely to see your shows. This is a smart play for musicians, too, unless they’re Bono.

        • Koo- great point.

          Apologies to all, I wanted to jump in sooner but yesterday was quite busy. Really happy to see all the comments, negative and positive and will be on here today responding if anyone has more to say!

        • RCV- your premise is false, we’re not giving away a band’s entire album. We would ask them for 1 or 2 songs, and in the case of Mad Tea Party (a FANTASTIC rockabilly band out of Asheville) they chose to give us a third.

          If a filmmaker or musician came to me and asked to use 1/12th of The Graduates for free to promote an album they were going to spend two years releasing an promoting- for instance to play on stage behind them while they performed- I would say yes in a heartbeat. No question.

          In fact, every band that gave us music was/is welcome to use any piece of the film they want, cut it up, recirculate it however they want.

          Typically musicians with your perspective have bought into the old model, or are so connected to the outdated stories and tales of how the industry is supposed to work that you languish in the digital era. The fact is, online you have to give a little to get a lot. Free is key.

  • I was in fact planning this with a film I’m working on. The soundtrack is being made by us, and won’t be that extensive, but I thought it would be really cool to distribute it freely.

    Somewhat along these lines, it’s just been ruled that UK ISPs will soon be required to block The Pirate Bay. Frankly, I’m angry (I’m from the UK btw!), since I was planning to use torrents as a distribution method and TPB is of course an excellent way to get such things spread. But no, I guess the people in charge once again don’t understand the internet. What a surprise. Yes, there will be hundreds of ways to get around the block, plenty of which I can think of right now, but it raises the barrier to entry.

    • I would be really interested to hear more about how you approach using Free to lead to the paid content. Please don’t hesitate to email me if you want to brainstorm!

  • Typo: It’s Mark Cuban, not “Marc.”
    :) Go Mavs!

  • But seriously, musicians are generally treated like the rubes and chattel of the art world. They can be reliably convinced to give everything of themselves away for nothing in return save the lofty, airy dream of “exposure.”

    People die of exposure.

    How about you required the email addresses, and you gave all the musicians all the email addresses for their own direct marketing efforts? It would be the bare minimum I would stipulate if the musicians had me representing them.

    No, they are dopes, we couldn’t have those morons spamming our elite cinema opinion leader corps. So we can just give their every-bit-as-hard-earned creations away to promote our own greater glories, and tell them that iTunes will magically drive them millions of adoring fans (who we have just trained to expect their music for free).

    Yeah you anticipated the argument, and yes the beginners in cinema do free music videos for reel development, but the argument stands: musicians are provided to higher beings for exploitation. And it doesn’t seem they are ever going to wise up and stand up for themselves.

    Give cinema ten years. No, maybe just five. You will all be the same way, long having forgotten you had any chance of money post-kickstarter, and praying for some corporation to give your film away without compensation as a perk for buying sugar water and cellphones. Deal.

    • Woah. Dude.

    • Lachlan Huddy on 05.1.12 @ 12:39AM

      I can’t help but feel your points are misleading. First, this post is not about some “corporation” pinching musicians’ music and giving it away in the interests of promoting some “higher being”; it is about two independent bodies helping one another – don’t forget (which you seem to) that the filmmakers offer their film free of charge for the band’s promotional purposes too. Second, a single song does not represent equal value to a finished feature. Sorry, but more goes into a feature (a good one, anyway, and bands can judge for themselves) than a single song. If musicians were being expected to give away a whole album your argument would have legs. But this arrangement involves making a small part of your content freely available in the interests of promotion – sure, the band is helping the film free of charge but, as stated above, the film is helping the band as well. They’re not demanding everything the band makes.

      • No they did not offer the film, they offered footage for music videos, and the time for doing music videos for these songs was probably long past anyway. Using the footage and not the film as a whole would be tantamount to a corporation allowing you to give them a product placement in your film for free…wow how nice of them!

        And to your second point, there is a crucial difference between films and music, and that is the feature bundles all two or three years’ of the creators’ time into one indivisible product whilst the musicians have separable opportunities within the album for hits. Musicians face at least as high hurdles raising money to make their albums as filmmakers do, and even more as the concept of it being an “investment” has evaporated for all but major label projects. And their albums may have involved writing and recording 30 or 40 songs only to whittle down to a final 10. And only one of those may interest a potential customer like a filmmaker. You can’t split out its individual cost as a fraction of the entire production effort and say that’s all we’re talking about in terms of investment…you wouldn’t like someone saying they will take your sex scene in Act 2 and compensate you just for the day of production it entailed while leaving the rest of your feature to rot.

        But musicians have developed learned helplessness over the years; first at the mercy of labels and schemers, then as the poster children for how the Internet was changing the world via Napster and then iTunes and now Spotify, all the while enriching tech companies beyond imagination on the backs of the lowly creative type. I’m not bitter, I’m not suffering personally…but I see those who are every day.

        And sure, right now you’re thinking I’m screaming “Soylent Green is Human!” But it actually is: in five years you will go to a marketing website and there will be an article there talking about how some bright rising star used 4K video streaming as a marketing pull: hand-pick 12 feature films, good ones that got into the more respected festivals, and offer your customers free streaming of all of them just in return for their email address! And the filmmakers will do it, for no pay!!!! Do you at least offer the filmmakers the email addresses too? Heck no, we can’t let them spam our customers, but we are letting the filmmakers use our products in their next films free of charge. Cool beans.

        You’d launch an even more caustic broadside reading that. And you will. But only until you’ve developed enough learned helplessness, as an individual, as a culture, as an industry…to still kick a little. With the democratization of filmmaking that digitization, commoditized equipment production, and kickstarter-style fundraising will bring this decade, the idea of cinema as a fruitful career option will vanish…there will be the few jobs left for the few large profitable studios, and then there will be the masses of hobbyists hoping to go viral on Youtube for 15 minutes. Appreciation of any form will be craved so much that when someone comes along to take advantage of you, you will wag and beg and say thank you sir may I have another. So it is in music right now. Really.

        • Lachlan Huddy on 05.1.12 @ 3:35AM

          In terms of promotion – which is what we’re talking about here, isn’t it? – a film is absolutely divisible. That’s why you get teasers, full trailers, stills, and clips shown on everything from talk shows to Rotten Tomatoes. So I’d be absolutely fine with someone taking only my sex scene from Act 2 as long as they were promoting the film it came from alongside their own product – there is value there, and value enough to (worst case scenario) sacrifice the earning potential of part of my product. How would it be different from any other promotional clip? (I’ll tell you how – it’d be sexier). Taking a song from an album and making it available for free isn’t that uncommon to start with – so why is it such a deal-breaker to do so through a film, and to then have the filmmakers in your corner doing everything they can to get that song in front of people? Sure, if you give away every song you’ve got and ask nothing in return that’s exploitation. But that’s not what this is. Also you seem to be assuming they didn’t share their email list. I don’t know if they did and am not claiming to, but don’t assume. Anyway I guess this is a philosophical difference. You call making a song freely available for someone else’s use in return for exposure exploitation; I view it as a form of marketing. Also, if you’re saying that using film footage for music videos is just product placement but using a song in a film isn’t, that strikes me as a double standard. But I may have misunderstood.

          • The difference is no one has any expectation of paying for a piece of a film, while they traditionally do have an expectation of paying for a complete music single. Not a 30 second snippet of the music but the entire song.

            Setting a market value of one email address for 10-20 complete songs (whatever the entire soundtrack had) is just another little nail in the already long-nailed-to-splinters coffin of that expectation. The music has been devalued here in the customer’s mind as worthless…worth five seconds of email address typing and unsubscribing from the spam list. Not even for the direct benefit of the musician, for the benefit of some indie film that they were included in the soundtrack of.

            What is the value of marketing if you already give away the one song that resonated? Should we scoff and say clearly every song the musicians make should be a hit with customers and the rest of the album should sell itself the moment anyone hears it and if that’s not true then it’s the musicians’ fault? This is the thing that everyone in the record business still can’t forgive themselves for: they had moved the whole business to an album-only sales model, and Steve Jobs had such force of personality, and the Napster hysteria was so threatening, they gave in and let him sell individual songs for $1. The hit song had been getting them $15 and the rest was economically filler (even though the “filler” usually had just as much budget and hope put into it for being a hit). And now even the individual song is worthless, as if the customer better find the burden of listening to it worth the inconvenience or else it was just a lame marketing gimmick.

            You don’t get this. It’s everything to music. Most of the musicians sadly don’t get it either. The business of selling recordings has collapsed entirely, but for the highest end, and it will happen to feature films next. You will be selling popup dinners and oh by the way there’s a free indie movie after the meal. The guy above says that musicians make most of their money off live shows anyway, so who cares about songs being just given away? But did he ask if that was a welcome development for anyone involved?

            I’d dispute that anyway and suggest that most artist income in music comes from performing rights (just for compositions, recordings performances make peanuts) and licensing and synchronization for…games, video (incl ads) and film. And here we are.

            The specifics of this instance aren’t as outrageous as the publishing of this article here urging indie filmmakers to follow tech god Mark Cuban in his “Exploit the hapless musicians! Huzzah!” strategy his tech contemporaries have done so well for themselves with. What happened in this case is normal. Just everyday. And that is sad, as filmmakers will come to understand once the shoe is on the other foot.

          • Lachlan- you may already be aware of these guys, but there are a few good eBooks available from David Meerman Scott, or Chris Anderson. They have a ton of material about how brands throughout the ages (not just recently, but literally over the last 100 years or so) have leveraged Free to bring in money and grow an audience. The one that stands out is the Jell-o example: to penetrate new markets and build demand instantly they would go into a new town and hand out Jell-o cookbooks door-to-door, then come back two weeks later and go straight to the supermarket with a truck full of Jell-o. Inevitably the housewives of the town had been demanding Jell-o for the last two weeks. Within a month they had built demand where literally ZERO demand had existed before by leveraging Free.

        • One quick point- we did offer the film in its completed form, not a bunch of raw footage. Raw footage would have been fine with us, but we assumed they would prefer the completed product.

          • Well in that case if I was one of the musicians I would have uploaded the entire feature to Vimeo in HD, set a password, and then offered the password to streaming of the entire movie in return for an email address, which I wouldn’t share with you. And after three months I would have found that too cumbersome and would have just advertised free streaming of the entire movie direct from Vimeo. With enough marketing to ensure it was the top link on Google for “The Graduates.”

            After all, introducing you as a filmmaker to all the people who watched as much as they wanted of your feature would be worth it, no? And you would never complain.

            See, the musicians wouldn’t do this. It’s not only their learned helplessness, it’s the fact they are sensitive to this pain, even if they soldier on themselves uncomplainingly. It’s why they get my sympathy here, and why the hotheads and aggressive egomaniacs are not long for the creative world in general. We have to burn the whole house down to get back to the pure art, and music, by virtue of its small bandwidth requirement, was simply first into the furnaces.

          • Peter, again, you keep equating giving away one song to giving away an entire film. If you rewrite that scenario to be 1/12th of my film (assuming one song is 1/12th of an album), it would really undercut your overdramatic scenario.

            But, it would actually be a cool idea- if the bands cut out the scenes with their music and posted those and used them however they wanted or found most beneficial, that would be brilliant. Our agreement allows them to do that, of course.

          • But you didn’t give away one song. You gave away 10, or 15, or 20 (I have no idea, but every song on the soundtrack, and maybe more according to what I have gleaned). And the sum total of the costs of making all of those songs most likely exceeded the cost of making your feature, and involved more professionals, and more equipment and location rental, and more promotional efforts. As I argue above you can’t pro-rate it as song vs. album, the cost of making your feature cannot have the time spent on footage you cut or the audience found boring removed from the total budget.

            And the market value of 15 songs, let’s say, is $15 at least on iTunes. Most likely your indie feature would be hard-pressed to charge and receive $15 on iTunes. But you priced the music at $0 and continue to sell the film while I suppose not sharing further proceeds with the bands else you would have listed that as part of what was in it for them.

            Pre-internet, movie soundtracks were sold for the same prices the individual band’s albums were, let’s say $15. If you loved a particular song on the soundtrack, and in most cases, it’s just one or two songs that will motivate a purchase in practice, you had a choice: buy the soundtrack album, or the band’s album, for the same $15. You did not have the choice of getting the song that motivated the sale for free, or for $1. You had to pony up for that hit, and you chose who to reward for it with a whole-album purchase. This is what made the sale of recorded music viable as a business in that day.

            But here you in effect gave away more value, and more investment, than you yourself were selling in the film. How surprised can we be that such a strategy bore dividends? The surprise, as always, is how self-worthless the musicians find themselves that they can be relied on to agree to such terms. Go ahead and crow about it here with your film buddies, it’s an easy score at someone else’s expense.

          • Peter, I wish I had time to explain how the music business ate itself in the golden era you lament (the golden era of $15 soundtracks buoyed by one hit surrounded with filler- really? this is what you’re lamenting?? this is what musicians need to get back to??), and how wildly inaccurate your entire understanding of content valuation is, but I’ll leave you with this thought: you seem to be projecting a lot of negativity onto the musicians I love and continue to work with in many capacities. Little of what you’ve said is about them, most of it is about you. So, I’ll excuse myself from this particular conversation and get back to creating stuff with my friends, while you are free to lament record stores and wallow in some bizarre hatred for the collaborations that have led me and my musician friends to enrich our lives through creating and releasing content together. Cheers.

    • Hi Peter,

      I appreciate your point, but obviously disagree. Too many points to respond to individually, so I’ll go for big picture.

      It seems like your overarching premise is that somehow the exposure to a few million people we provided in exchange for one or two songs is somehow a net negative. With (literally) millions of indie bands in the country, you will never, ever convince me or those bands that they lost something by being on our soundtrack.

      I could provide dozens of counter points, but I’ll just revert to the absolute simplest one. An indie band makes a homemade music video- whatever they can afford. It’s charming, from the heart, reflects their persona and showcases a good song (the same song they gave us). They put this on YouTube and circulate it to their network, probably a few thousand people. Those people like it and a couple of them post it to Facebook or Tweet it. Is the band stupid for having done this? It’s free. It’s giving their material away, just like MTV used to do. By your (jaded, small, false) logic, they’re idiots and sheep for doing this. Well, I disagree. I think it’s smart to do, and if that’s smart, then giving a motivated, talented indie filmmaker that same song to introduce to a few million people in a fun, high-production-value context is VERY smart.

      By the way, we’ve spent 2.5 years now marketing The Graduates and introduced our unsigned indie bands and their music to a few million people. Can you think of a single promotion that would cost them nothing additional- no additional time, no additional money- that would net them anywhere close to that much attention? If so, please post it here, I would be happy to share it with the world and use it to promote my next film.


      • Thank you for taking the time to so thoroughly debunk this troll.
        Keep up the great work and don’t let those who are stuck in the past get you down. If the musicians you have worked with felt wronged by this arrangement, they would not be working with you today.

        Are you familiar with the website TechDirt? They go on (and on) about this very concept in great detail, with case studies and in depth articles. The basic model is CwF + RtB = a business plan. Connect with fans, then give them a reason to buy, and you have something sustainable.

        • Kyle- awesome explanation, thanks. I like Tech Dirt and had an article posted there on this very subject. I’ve never seen the equation though, I love it!

  • Harlan Ellison has a fantastic rant about why you should pay the writer. It’s on YouTube.

    I’m with Harlan and Peter. It’s very easy for someone at the bottom of the food chain to be expected to give away their labour for free, and that devalues it. The promotion probably isn’t worth it either. I’ve never heard of the Graduates before this article.

    If you want to follow Peter’s article to the next stage, the Internet giants like Google are campaigning hard to weaken copyright protection. Why? Because professional content is what drives visitors, which in turn brings in advertising. Hence it’s in their interests to weaken IP laws as that reduces an expense in their business model.

    Go read what Andrew Orlowski is writing at the Register, but if you want to make a living making film then you’re going to need legal protection to monetise it. You might have options for treating it as a live performance piece (Mike Figgis does that with Timecode), but you need people to pay for content to cover your costs.

    Incidentally, Luke, if the Pirate Bay is banned then why not set up your own torrent service for legitimate content? Figgis (again) reckons a lot of problems facing independent cinema are to do with distribution, so there’s probably a business model there.

    • Lachlan Huddy on 05.1.12 @ 7:34AM

      I’m sure there are many who’d never heard of The Graduates before this article – I was one of them – but the fact that everyone on planet earth hasn’t heard of something isn’t really an indication of a promotional approach’s efficacy. There are probably people who still haven’t heard of Twilight but you’d still want that marketing swing behind you. For the record, I’d give away a short film if it meant getting my work in front of a million eyes. I’m not saying bands should leap at any chance a filmmaker offers but it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand either just because the benefits aren’t immediately monetary.

      For the record, I’m with Harlan too – it’s an old sentiment he’s ranting – but I make a distinction between a flush-with-cash corporation like WB demanding free stuff and a struggling indie filmmaker requesting help from an indie band in the form of free song rights in exchange for all the exposure they can offer. For some – Peter, clearly, and maybe you too Graeme – that’s not enough. Which is fine – maybe it is worthless. But neither of you can say for sure. And the fact is, to make any money from your art people have to find it, and for that you need to get the word out, and what Ryan talks about in his article seems like a good or at least potentially good way to do it. Is there risk? Of course. But since when was there not? Weigh it up and decide if it’s too much for you. You may end up sacrificing the one song that resonated, as Peter said, but you might also gain some new fans who might convert to an album sale when they find other songs that resonate. I’d be interested to hear from the bands who allowed their music on the soundtrack – have they seen value? A bump in iTunes album downloads? A spike in ticket sales? Extra commissioned work? And would they do it again or is it a failed experiment?

      Any chance of that, Ryan? Make a killer guest post.

    • “The promotion probably isn’t worth it either. I’ve never heard of the Graduates before this article.” Great point. There’s a piece of content you haven’t heard of, so the promotion of that content didn’t work.

      This type of intellectual laziness comes from people who have never produced and distributed content. The arrogance behind the idea that your frame of reference is somehow THE frame of reference is so juvenile it’s almost worth ignoring, but then I couldn’t use it as an example to help others. If you’ve ever poured years of your life and capital into a project and carried it to the finish line, through distribution and marketing, you don’t say stuff like this because you know what a herculean task this is.

      If you’re a content creator out there, and you hear someone say “Your work isn’t real because I haven’t heard of it,” dismiss that person out of hand. Walk away. They have not created, nor will they ever. Their mindset is fixated on tearing down, not building up, and they are the death of creativity and inspiration.

      On a lighter note, a few million people would disagree with this guy about the efficacy of our promotions, as would the teams of producers who have brought scripts and financing to me since The Graduates hit the marketplace. Those teams include the guys behind Turtle Hill, Brooklyn, my award-winning LGBT feature coming out in winter 2012, and the guys behind Drinking Games, a college-set thriller based on an off-Broadway play, which hits art house theaters and online outlets this summer.

      So, Graeme, I would say the promotion has been working pretty well. But, of course, I’d be willing to take a look at your films and your marketing plans- I’m guessing you have some pretty sophisticated concepts in place funneling money back to your team and spreading your work to literally everyone. Please post about them here:

      • I wasn’t clear in my original post, but my main criticism is that the bands’ IP is being given away for free, whereas Ryan’s film is out to make money for a different group. (Admittedly the bands might be a minor stakeholder in this.) In short, the costs (loss of sales, studio time, etc.) are being borne by one party, and the benefits largely accrue to another.

        My comment about not hearing about the film wasn’t intended as a slight, Ryan, but rather that the musicians are being promised exposure, but there wasn’t necessarily a sufficiently large audience to guarantee this, and this makes the deal somewhat worse for them.

        I’m not knocking the efficacy of the technique, and Cuban is a sharp operator. I’m glad to hear that you’ve leveraged the Graduates into further projects.

        • Thanks for clarifying, but to suggest that the expense is being borne by one party is dead wrong- 100K production budget + 50K finishing/distrib expenses is a hell of a lot more than any of those bands spent on any two tracks combined, guaranteed. Plus 2.5 years of marketing and promoting. I’d say for 1-3 songs they’re getting a fair deal, and they didn’t have to sign their life away to a label to get it. I’d put our expenses and exposure provided against what any of their labels has done for them, any day.

  • Apologies to all, I wanted to jump in sooner but yesterday was quite busy. Really happy to see all the comments, negative and positive and will be on here today responding if anyone has more to say!

    • Thanks for the article. It is very well thought out. Unfortunately there are a few idiots here that are obviously angry that they don’t have the talent to make millions from two hours of work a day (failed musicians).

      During my misspent youth, I learned to write lyrics and music from real professional musicians… and went on to play in my own band (which I left when everyone else was too lazy to learn new songs because all they wanted to do was covers). I learned that a lyricist and a musician can write a song in thirty minutes. Back in the days of eight tracks and AtariST/Amiga sequencers we were able to record songs in another hour. Practice… what practice? Even live cover bands spend less than a few hours a week practicing in my experience.

      And failed musicians believe it is a fast way to fame and fortune. The money has to roll in from the studios even before they finish their first album.

      The failed musicians here obviously do not understand that a GOOD film takes a script writer 12-18 months of 8 hour days to finish, then a producer, director, storyboard artist, dp, lighting specialist, costume designer, machinist, set designer, location scout, set builder months or years to do the preproduction, then a team of two dozen people in front of and behind the camera to shoot need days/weeks/months, and then you have sound production and editing that can run for months… before you finally have a movie. About the same amount of work that many musicians put into their craft during their entire careers.

      I also never had any musicians complain about the free lyrics I supplied them, the free audio recording sessions, the free stage lighting (no REAL failed musician wanted to do the lighting, so people like myself had to do it for them for FREE).

      There are professional musicians out there that do not spend their time on video boards whining to us about being ripped off if they do something for “FREE”. I suppose they are too busy with their successful careers. I for one would not deal with people like “Peter” here. Even if he were to offer his work for free. I just do not have the time. I know how people who believe they are deserving come back to try to renegotiate every little detail after you have the project running. The more successful your project the more these people demand after your project has promoted their work… a small part of the entire project. This is why I now write some of the music for my own show. If I can, I also try to buy ALL the rights for songs I want outright (full ownership). Best pay up front before the licence holder gets greedy.

      • boybunny- thanks for the comment! It looks like you’ve been at this a while. I, too, have noticed that the more open-minded artists who give a little get a lot in return. Would you agree that it makes both parties better artists, enhances their networks and their careers, etc?

  • Lachlan Huddy on 05.2.12 @ 3:42AM

    Peter – the amount of songs on the soundtrack is 24. You could at least bother to look that up before posting since you’re so hellbent on letting everyone know how right you are. And we get it – in your view giving away the soundtrack is exploitation of the downtrodden musician because the only value you recognise is monetary. Having Ryan and his team working hard to promote the bands involved and getting them connected to paid work could never compensate for the “theft” of one or two songs from each band. You want it to go back to the old days. You can’t deal with the way it is now. Fine. But the way it is now is the way it is now – and Ryan and the musicians he partnered with are trying to find (or have found, depending on your POV) a way to make it work now.

    Ryan – yes, I’d heard of Chris Anderson’s work before but haven’t dipped into it yet. Would you suggest The Long Tail, FREE, or both? Leaning toward FREE right now for obvious reasons. I hadn’t heard of David Meerman Scott but The New Rules of Marketing and PR looks good, as do many of the free eBooks, so thank you very kindly for pointing me in that direction. I’m just now figuring out awareness-building strategies for a web series we just finished shooting, so this comes at a great time. Anyway, great post, great discussion – really looking forward to hearing from the musicians who got involved if you’re able to get in touch with them about it. Koo, if you’re reading this, how about allowing Ryan another guest post?

  • Never got Mark Cuban..he just go lucky and sold before dotcom crash.
    Otherwise no-one would know him…quote…or listen to him.

    This idea is too weird.
    Let’s give away free candy bars on the street and hope
    people come to eat a steak at our restaurant.

    It could only work for a movie like Easy Rider and Purple Rain.
    Wati…it did work for those films.
    And they didn’t have to give away songs for free.

    • Sammy- google “jell-o” and “free cookbook”. Companies big and small have profited for decades from the philosophies included here.

      Great point about Mark Cuban though, you’re totally right. I hear people get lucky and stumble into becoming billionaires all the time. He’s probably a totally average dude.

  • pretty soon you’ll have to give the entire product away free for people to be bothered at all.

  • What about projects that don’t have a soundtrack, just a musical score (not bands)?

    • Cal- great question. My gut reaction is that it would be hard to get people excited, but if you have a strong enough hook, it could work. What makes you score the absolute must-have score? (is the first question you have to answer to start marketing it well)

      • Luke Neumann on 05.5.12 @ 3:22PM

        Isn’t the fact that it’s free the hook? The majority of soundtracks out there don’t feature bands so much. Most of what we hear is a composers orchestral arrangement. When I saw the title of this post I assumed it was referring to an actual soundtrack. Not a playlist of songs from various bands.

        • Hi Luke- I think you misunderstand what a soundtrack is. It’s the music used in a film, typically different from the score, which is generally music composed specifically for a film. Depending on the film, the released soundtrack can include both scored material and songs used in the film, or one or the other.

          So, referring to it as “a playlist of songs from various bands” is a little bizarre and dismissive, considering so many soundtracks are exactly that. I’m guessing you don’t have a lot of experience in filmmaking or releasing, so I’ll use an accessible example.

          Here’s the link to the Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990) soundtrack:

          You’ll notice it’s collected music, all of which was used in the film. Or, as you would say, “a playlist of songs from various bands.” This is the “actual soundtrack,” but maybe you know more than Scorsese and he got it wrong, and doesn’t have an actual soundtrack, I don’t know. You tell me.

          In responding to Cal, my point was that a score is less interesting to a potential audience than a soundtrack is, for the same reason than classical music is less interesting than pop. It may be beautiful or well-composed, but most people don’t pop it on their iPod to work out or walk around the neighborhood. Therefore, if you have a score- and not a traditional soundtrack- you need to be smart and aggressive about isolating and exploiting any hooks you have.

          And, no, “free” is not the only hook. It’s one of them, but if all you advertise is “free soundtrack” that’s pretty short-sighted and unexciting to people. We focus on the fact that it’s a free soundtrack, filled with party music from amazing undiscovered indie bands, and that it will become the soundtrack to your summer when you download it. These hooks are much stronger because it’s more specific and the promise of entertainment is bigger and bolder.

          If you approach my posts and comments with an open mind and a willingness to learn you’ll benefit a lot more than if you just want to attempt to poke holes in helpful info.

          • Luke Neumann on 05.6.12 @ 5:46PM

            Umm, right. The majority of soundtracks are the musical score. I realize there are films that have songs from different bands. Most have a composer do the score and that ends up being the soundtrack. I’m not exactly sure what point you’re trying to make.

            Calling orchestral arrangements less interesting than a soundtrack composed of various songs from Indie artists is just ridiculous. Don’t talk to me about an open mind when you just get done saying that, ha ha! I know PLENTY of people that have orchestral songs from SOUNDTRACKS on their iPods and just saying that they don’t makes you look like a complete buffoon.

          • Luke Neumann on 05.6.12 @ 6:33PM

            In the soundtrack genre there are four types of recordings:

            ***Film scores which showcase the background music from non-musicals
            (Examples: Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings)

          • Luke Neumann on 05.6.12 @ 6:41PM

            This is a site that is primarily for Indie Filmmakers. The majority of us will spend more time working with composers and not Indie bands. Plain and simple.

          • Luke, I’m an indie filmmaker speaking/writing to other indie filmmakers about the realities of releasing indie films based on my experience creating and releasing indie films. I’m trying to help you, the indie filmmaker by sharing what I’ve learned through my experience not just creating, but selling my indie films.

            Further, I’ve seen a few thousand indie films, and I have no idea whether “the majority” use composed music or not, and I have no idea how you would have that information. And, I’m baffled as to why it’s so outrageous to you that indie films would contain songs as opposed to compositions. One is no more “indie” than the other.

            Re the iPod comment, do you honestly believe as many people listen to composed music as listen to pop music, or songs? That’s insane. The market for songs is EXPONENTIALLY greater than the market for composed pieces. No one is riding to work listening to the 1812 Overture, they’re singing along to Flo-rida. That’s my point- it’s harder to market a score than a soundtrack.

            In my experience, the know-it-alls are usually young wannabe’s and not actual creators, because the act of creating forces you to realize how little you know. It’s humbling and educational. I look forward to hearing more from you when you’ve put a couple films together and released and marketed then.

            I wish you the best of luck in your career and with your films, and encourage you to listen more and comment less (until you have some real world experience). You’ll grow as an artist and be a better collaborator.

            Until then, cheers.

          • Luke Neumann on 05.7.12 @ 12:06AM

            So, in your reality, other people will have to deal with the issue of whether or not to release a free indie rock soundtrack for their coming of age/frat boy comedy? I, for one, can’t think of one other filmmaker who has had this problem. This is not a real world situation any more. This was singular to your film and failing to see that other people will probably deal with something else (a single composer and an orchestral soundtrack) shows a lack of common sense. The post that inspired your strategy is 4 years old! Do I need to go on?

            PS. I have built my company up from the ground (Neumann Films) and it’s now self sufficient to the point that there would only be a handful of job offers that could take me away from it. I create everything in my work (corporate, shorts, and doc) from the music (which I compose) to the Visual Effects. Don’t talk to me about marketing successfully or real world experience.

          • Luke — I don’t think Ryan “failed to see that other people will deal with something else.” This is a post about giving away a soundtrack with material from bands. I think it’s easy to extrapolate that giving away your soundtrack, if it’s from an original composer, could also gain the film exposure. Maybe you give it away in exchange for someone’s email address. Or a facebook “like.” Even if the composer thinks there is a market for the original score (on an indie film, you’d have to take that on a case-by-case basis), people are probably going to listen to it free anyway on something like Spotify. I think the strategy of giving away a soundtrack in return for a fan is sound (no pun intended), regardless of whether it’s a band or composer or mix of the two.

        • Luke Neumann on 05.7.12 @ 2:31AM

          I totally agree with that part. I give away most of the music I write for free.

          The only problem I had with this was in the comments section.

          “That’s insane. The market for (pop) songs is EXPONENTIALLY greater than the market for composed pieces. No one is riding to work listening to the 1812 Overture, they’re singing along to Flo-rida. That’s my point- it’s harder to market a score than a soundtrack.”

          • I think it’s best if we all agree to disagree here… we all have different opinions — and they’re just that. As I say in the comment policy, “you don’t have to agree with us to learn something.”

        • Luke Neumann on 05.7.12 @ 2:47AM

          Agreed. I throw in my vote for not having another blog post from the Marketing guru with 5 Facebook likes and a superiority complex. I couldn’t resist :)

          • Luke, apologies for my tone throughout. Keep up the great work and continued success to you on your feature films.

          • In fairness to The Graduates, just want to point out that we have over 14,000 Facebook likes (not “5″), were in the top five comedies on Hulu for over two years, and the success of that film has led to the two new features coming out this year. So, it’s a little disingenuous to suggest we have “5″ facebook likes and no marketing ability.

            But other than that, thanks for the spirited debate. Best of luck with your videos.


  • Luke Neumann on 05.7.12 @ 7:11PM

    I apologize for my tone as well. Differing opinions, that is all. I want to also make it clear that even if I do disagree with you on other stuff, the fact that you are sharing your techniques for free is something I very much believe in. If it helps even just one person it’s a great blog post.

    Seriously though, I apologize. I could have handled my responses in a more constructive manner.

  • Extrapolate the idea. If you have a score and people aren’t chomping at the bit to download it, or perhaps you don’t like the idea of giving away other artists music, consider something else. Maybe you get a load of one-sheets made up and you get a free poster when you sign up for our mailing list.


    Look at the website you are on. I downloaded the free ebook and still read the nofilmschool emails to make sure I didn’t miss any of this week’s articles. Whenever I have a friend that is starting out with their new DSLR, I always send them to this website to download the ebook. Effectively driving new readers and email subscribers. And you can be sure that I’ll be buying Manchild on DVD when I get the chance.

    All of this started because Koo was willing to give something of value away for free. If I never got the eBook, I would likely have read the single article I got linked to and been on my merry way.

    So, I guess food for thought.

    Great article by the way

  • ok..the graduates movie has 14,000 likes on Facebook and was on HULU but
    what does all that mean.

    How much did the movie cost and how much revenue
    did it bring in ? How much before free music and how much after ?

    Bottom Line is if giving away the music was so great…the movie
    had to have made a profit…otherwise the free music marketing did not work.
    And oh Yeah…Did the musicians make any money…any at all..?

    • Those are good questions but I also think they’re a bit outside the scope of this one article… the main point is the free soundtrack was/is an effective tool of promotion.

      Many times distributors will not let you publicly share your numbers; I’m not sure if Hulu, Netflix, etc. are different.

  • Hi Sammy- unfortunately the standard agreements with digital outlets and our distributor/aggregator precludes us from talking about most specifics, and our agreements with investors precludes us from going into details, but our investors and musicians are happy and the success of the film led to two more features paid for by other teams of producers, both of which are coming out in 2012.

  • Ok..but this is always how it is when I ask people numbers.

    One their movie played Sundance and aired on Sundance Channel.
    Other film had article in American Cinematographer and played
    on IFC. In both cases the films never came close to just breaking even.
    The numbers I sensed from their expressions were so depressing I did not have the heart
    to press either of them further. Just leads me to wonder if anyone can make a dime in
    Indie film. Or is it all just on new producers to fork over money to dream another day(film).

    Thinking better plan is to buy bulldozer and goldmine in Alaska and wash gold
    out of the dirt.

    • Hah, I know you’re joking, but gold mining is extremely difficult, and takes a tremendous amount of money before any gold is even mined. If you’re a new operation, you are likely going to spend a few hundred thousand dollars or more in your first year, and you rarely, if ever, get any gold the first year since you have to develop the land and prepare it properly (and since gold is near bedrock it takes a long time to dig to it). Mining costs a couple thousand dollars a day in fuel costs alone. Way off topic, though.

      Most independent films don’t make money, it’s true, but part of the reason for that is the market for the films is not identified well enough in advance. I’m all for making art for art’s sake, but if you don’t have a clear audience defined well in advance (and some possible extras like names in your cast), it’s going to take a lot of accolades (like winning Sundance), and a lot of advertising money to approach breaking even (or even making a profit). The bigger problem with these films is cost. Businesses spend a lot of time and effort forecasting future revenue, and they have to be realistic because shareholders rely on this information. FIlmmakers need to be the same way, as hard as it is, if it’s a long shot that your movie will make its money back on a budget of $250,000, then maybe you need to figure out how to make that movie for $100,000. There are a lot of variables that affect the success of a film, but by using a strategy like Ryan Gielen has outlined above, it can give your independent film a better chance of survival.

      As independent filmmakers, we have to realize that trying to do everything just like Hollywood is a huge mistake, because Hollywood spends millions on ads. We’ve got to be realistic with budgets, and also target our prospective audience a lot better.