Get fans by giving away free content

Get fans by giving away free content

Budi Voogt
February 27th, 2017

This post was originally published by my friends over at The Unsigned Guide. Check it out here. With the recent changes in the music industry, digital is quickly overtaking physical. Downloads are the future, and particularly free downloads are more common than ever. It’s what gets the fans going, and makes the bloggers happy. Free content is trending.

Now that the barriers for producing quality music are lower than ever, the competition is incredibly fierce. That emphasizes the need to consistently push out new content, much more so than in the early days, when an album a year was a reasonable pace. If you do not have the marketing machine and resources of a label or other strong party behind you, you’ll need to push out a lot of music on the regular to maintain momentum and grow your audience. The alternative is getting snowed under by the competition’s offering.

Giving away free music is a great way to do this.

After all, most of you would prefer a 1000 downloads over 50 buys. Big reach and fan engagement above a few measly dollars.

This free content is more prone to go viral than paid content, as it has a low access barrier and is supported quicker by music promoters like blogs and YouTube channels, as it’s value they can offer their audience.

The question remains though, how to leverage that content you’re giving away, into something more than just a download. How to get something tangible from it, that isn’t money, but that will lead to money, and will help you get exposure and reach more people.

Surely you’ve noticed that the people whom are willing to download your music for free, are not necessarily willing to pay for it in the future. The ones that pay, are your hard core fans. Your true audience.

You develop this true audience by building a relationship with your fans. Through adding value and communicating.

This is where content lockers come in.

Content Lockers

A content locker is a service used to restrict access to content, which unlocks it after a specific action is performed. The most common actions are giving out your email address, liking a Facebook page or sending out a tweet.

These lockers are a great way to make your content become viral, and to grow your audience.

The reason for this is because it gives you means to communicate with the downloaders in the future. This opens up new opportunities to get them familiar with your music, aiming to eventually convert them to your core group of fans.

Out of all the unlock actions that content lockers offer, gathering email addresses is by far the most useful, followed by getting likes on your Facebook page. This is because these are the most direct means you have to getting in touch with fans in the future.

Facebook posts and Tweets are less valuable because they have an air of ‘fake’ around them. If you see a post by someone that looks like something that was automatically generated, or a tweet saying “I downloaded album X by artist X, check it out here”, you probably won’t click the link to check it out as it already feels dirty.

We’re going to discuss setting up lockers for all the before mentioned action steps.

The set up

There’s different ways of setting up a content locker, depending on what type of action you want your downloaders to take.

The general idea is to set up a locker via an external website or a Facebook tab, and including a ‘free download’ link which directs to your locker on every upload of your track (on Soundcloud and YouTube etc).

We’re going to talk about the most efficient ways of setting up a locker. These are via Dropify, Bandcamp, PayWithATweet and Static HTML tabs on Facebook.

Used to gather email addresses

Using Bandcamp you can distribute your music, and allow your fans to ‘pay what they want’. If they decide to download for free, thus enter a €0,00 price, you can force them to have to enter their email addresses. These can later be used for email marketing, using services such as Mailchimp.

To do so, go to Bandcamp and set up an account. Then upload your music, and in the ‘edit settings’ tab, click ‘enable download’. Change the pricing to €0,00 and enable ‘let fans pay what they want’ and ‘require email address if fan enters zero’.

Get fans by giving away free content

Bandcamp works with a credit system, and charges you a single credit for each free download. Your account starts with a free 200 credits, and is bumped up back to 200 credits at the start of each month. You can purchase them if you run out before that time, for just a few bucks. 1000 credits go for $20.

To capture the email addresses you’ve collected, hover over your account name in the top menu, and click on ‘tools’. This will open up a new page, where you will see ‘Mailing Lists’ in bold. Click ‘export’ to grab an excel file with all the mail addresses.

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Dropify:Used to gather Facebook likes

With Dropify you can upload content to their website, and they create a special page for it where it can be unlocked. There’s pages for accounts, showcasing everything you’ve uploaded, and pages for individual pieces of content. These pages are accessible via special links, or can be integrated on your FB page.

Their focus is on creating virality, particularly on Facebook.

Dropify allows you to set up a ‘like gate’, forcing fans to like your page to unlock. You can choose not to, in which case their platform will still suggest them to like your page, but it isn’t required anymore. When not forcing a like gate, a download will trigger an automatic post to the Facebook feed of the downloader.

Both options are great for creating a ripple effect. The forced like gate will result on more page fans, but probably lead to less downloads because of the bigger restriction. The automated posts definitely create virality, but have a little air of ‘fake’ around them.

Take note that activating the ‘forced like gate’ is a premium feature. The cheapest paid account is 9$ a month, but comes with a 30 day free trial.

To get started, to go Dropify and set up an account by logging in via Facebook.

Hover your mouse over your account name in the top right corner, and go to your account and publisher settings. Set that all up correctly, and make sure to connect your Facebook page and add a tab under your publisher settings.

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Then, go to the dashboard and upload a file. Once you have it all set up, add a Soundcloud sharing link to the track that you’ve uploaded, so that fans can stream a preview. Then enable the ‘like gate’ setting in the details of your specific drop.

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You can now spread the short link that’s been generated for your drop, and lead people to your Facebook tab. The latter will display all the uploads on your account.

Once you have the tab set up, you can alter its icon and the name of the tab by clicking the ‘pencil’ in the tab icon’s corner. You need to be an administrator of the page to be able to do this.

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Used to create Twitter or Facebook virality

PayWithATweet allows you to lock content away in exchange for a Tweet or a Facebook post. You can customize the message that people will spread once they ‘pay’ for your content.

Their service is free, but you will need to host your content yourself. So either use a private Soundcloud upload with downloads enabled, or upload your tracks somewhere to a web server using FTP.

Setting this service up is easy. Go here and fill in all the forms. Instructions pop up for every form.

Make sure your ‘tweet to be posted’ message is engaging and inviting. Something along the lines of “I just downloaded Peter’s album. Crazy good. Find it here”.

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Also it’s important that you include a shortened link to the page where you will be promoting your free download. Use to generate the link and redirect it to a Soundcloud upload of your track.

In terms of platforms you want to have enabled to share the track on, stick to Twitter and Facebook. These are most relevant.

Once you have generated your button, take the linking code and integrate it on all uploads of the track you’ve put online. On the Soundcloud upload you’ve just linked through with, add it as the custom buy link, and edit the ‘custom link title’ to ‘free download’.

Static HTML:
Used to create custom Facebook tabs.

Static HTML is an extension for Facebook that you can use to create customized tabs. It has the possibility of displaying different code for when visitors of your page have not liked the page, than when they have liked the page. Therefore it can be set up as a like gate.

This is the most difficult of the methods to install.

First you will need to get an idea of how this gate looks. Check out the image below.

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What we are going to do, is add an image with a call to action to ‘like your page’ which is visible only to users that haven’t liked your page. Then, we will add a different image with a ‘click here to download’ call to action, which will link to a download of your track. We’ll code this using two simple lines of HTML.


In preparation, you will need to create two images. I’d recommend dimensions of 800 x 650. These images should present the artwork of your track, and include calls to action. One for ‘Like to unlock’ one for ‘Click to download’. Once you have these, upload them to Tinypic and grab the normal non-shortened links to the files.

Next you will need to create a download source for your track, where your tab will link once people have liked the page. Best is to host it on your own website using an FTP, or to create a private Soundcloud upload with downloads enabled, taking its sharing link, and adding ‘/download’ at the end of the link. So that ‘’ becomes ‘’.


You start by going on to Facebook, and look for ‘Static HTML: iframe tabs‘. Then add it to your page, and select the page you want to add it to.

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Then go to your Facebook page, and you’ll see it’s thumbnail icon will have appeared on your page. The default image is a star. Click on it.

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Then click on ‘edit tab’. It’ll open up a tab on an external page. This is where you customize your tab. You can do so using HTML.

Click on the ‘fan gate’ tab and ‘enable fangate’.

Clear the field in the fan gate tab, and enter the following HTML code.

<img src=””/>

Replace “” in the ‘img src’ code with the link to the image with the ‘like to unlock’ call to action, that you’ve uploaded to Tinypic.

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Then go to the ‘content’ tab and enter the following code:

<a href=” Junior”><img src=””/></a>

Replace the “ Junior” url with the address of your download.

Then replace the “” with a link to the other image you’ve uploaded, with the ‘click to download’ call to action.

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You have now set up your like gate. If you want, you can also embed a streaming player of your track to the ‘locked’ side of the gate. Do this by going to the sharing options of your Soundcloud upload, then going to embed and grabbing the embed code. Alter the width to match that of your image (probably 800 pixels).

Now that you’ve completed the set up, you can customize the thumbnail’s icon and description just like we’ve done for the Dropify tab.

Voila, and you’re done.

To conclude

Now you know the importance of leveraging your free content into something more, and how to do it.

Out of the methods provided, collecting email addresses is by far the most valuable. So focus there.

Remember that content is still king, and that you shouldn’t promote stuff that won’t turn heads.

And that the success of your free download campaign totally depends on the quality of the content, and on how well you promote it. Make it look refined, use sweet artwork and push it to the right people. Blogs are typically dying for this kind of stuff, if it’s on the right level.

You now have a hugely powerful new trick in your arsenal. Just execute it right.

Liked this article? Then you should sign up to my monthly music marketing newsletter. Also if you’re a user of Soundcloud and want to dominate there, check out my book The Soundcloud Bible.