Fair Trade Music’s NoiseTrade becomes Free Trade

“A great record is its own best marketing tool,” says Derek Webb, singer/songwriter and Co-Founder of NoiseTrade. “All the marketing dollars in the world can’t accomplish what one great record can, especially if it’s set free to roam around and connect with the right people.”

The music industry is changing rapidly and our tools are going to have to change with it. A couple of years ago, Derek got fans to give him five emails for a free album download. A few years later, we have a generation that hardly uses email, preferring to Twitter and send Facebook messages.

In 2006 Webb gave away his ‘Mockingbird’ record for free online, asking in return for a little information (name, email address, and postal code), and as part of the process, for fans to invite their friends to download as well. In three month’s time Webb gave away over 80,000 full downloads of his record and collected valuable information for as many new fans. In addition, Derek has since seen many sold out shows and increased merchandise and record sales, including a curious spike in sales of the very record that was given for free.

It was the massive success of this experiment that inspired Webb, with the help of a few trusted friends, to start NoiseTrade. Now any artist can freely distribute their music online, via NoiseTrade’s remarkable and embeddable widget, offering fans the choice to tell 5 friends or to pay any amount in exchange for an immediate download.

I discovered NoiseTrade being used by Texas singer/songwriter, James McMurtry and followed his lead to open an account and develop a widget for recording artist and songwriter Debra Hadraba. I had to generate and correctly tag the MP3s at 192kbps, upload them, then NoiseTrade creates the Widget, plays samples and handles the rest.”Who needs peer-to-peer when you can have artist-to-fan?” Derek concludes, “If artists and fans realized how they could help each other and started making direct connections, without a middleman, the whole industry would change overnight. It would start a revolution.”

Calling themselves “Fair Trade Music,” NoiseTrade began their concept charging a $250 artist signup fee. They celebrated their one-year anniversary by dropping the fees altogether. They did get a few complaints from some of the charter artists who paid to use the service in the first year and tried to honor this group by locking them in at 90% of profits rather than the 80% that new artists get.

“For us the most obvious reason we had to make this change was because we need to practice what we preach,” explains Joe Kirk of NoiseTrade. “We tell artists to give away music to build relationships with their fans and to find new fans. We tell them that there are many ways to make a living if you have a solid list of fans and you know who they are, where they live and how to contact them. Then we ask those artists to pay us upfront for our help. Get the disconnect? We haven’t been living by the principles we espouse. We affectionately refer to it as ‘eating our own dog food’.”