why it’s good to give your stuff for free

I like this story: Trevor from Youth Lagoon recently told my friend Tim (who told me) that back before he was Somebody he decided to release his first single “July” on Bandcamp for free. Everyone told him he was mad. That he should monetise his efforts. But then the track went viral. And he got fans. And Youth Lagoon got big.

We know this kind of story, yeah?

advicetosinkinslowly27 why it's good to give your stuff for free
by Lee Basford via advice to sink in slowly

It’s The New Creativity. Give first. See what happens next.

PS: you might like to listen to “July” while you read the rest of this:


Seth Godin first explained the beauty of this concept to me early one morning on Skype. We chatted, quite literally, about the point of existence. He told me it’s about “shipping”.

“Real artists ship,” he says. You can fiddle and perfect and rehearse for a while. But then – fire up! – we have to press send or call in UPS to pick up our contribution to the planet – whether it be a report, a love letter, a meal, a blog post. That’s the point. Which is not far off my “quit the rehearsals, skip to the play” theory from last week.

Art is something we offer as a gift to humanity, Seth tells me.

But we offer it for free first.  You don’t put it/yourself out there to make money or be recognised. The money and recognition comes after.

And by art he doesn’t mean just paintings and music. It’s anything that reaches out and connects.

This generous creation and delivery is the new creativity, the new way of doing business, he tells me. It’s where life is heading.

I’ve shared this anecdote before. The night before we chatted Seth had been to Shepard Fairey’s art exhibition in Manhattan.

Fairey created the Obama Hope poster. He gave away 500,000 of the posters – at his own expense – during the US election campaign. He had no idea how it would be received. He just gave anyway. But as a result he’s become one of the most influential artists in America. Seth tells me a 4000-strong crowd attended the show and his work sells for $US30,000 a pop.

I’ve watched bloggers experiment with this notion. Some gently request donations, instead of using advertising to fund their efforts. Some offer their podcasts on a “pay what you can basis”. Blogging, in general, is mostly about giving for free…and then seeing what happens. But to do so takes faith. You can’t give “on the proviso”, or while expecting something in return.

You jump first. You grow your wings only after you’ve jumped.

And this is the bit where I get to my point…

Why it’s good to give away for free

* it means you don’t get bogged down in money crap, which places parameters and expectations on things. Ever noticed how when you’re paid to do something you often stall? The pressure! I write really differently when it’s for a newspaper, as opposed to here on my blog. I prefer the latter. Money is a bother, I find.

* it keeps life simple. No hedging of bets. No waiting for deals. You can get on with shipping your expression. Expressing remains your priority. And your spirit isn’t bastardised.

* it trains you in the very refined art of letting go. No gripping. Jump. Trust the wings will come.

* it fosters fairness. I blog for free. And when I charge $15 for an ebook, everyone knows that’s fair. This factor has just come up recently as I released the ipad/kindle etc version of IQS this week. I gave these new versions to those who’d already bought the old pdf version for free. I received a bunch of comments from people saying I was mad. No I wasn’t. It was fair. And I know I’ll be supported in this. Some people contacted me to say that the fairness saw them buy another copy for a friend, rather than emailing them their own. See?

Finally, as a bit of extra reading on Youth Lagoon, this from an interview Trevor did a while back:

“In recording, one thing I’ve learned is that the things that are meant to happen shouldn’t be forced. They will happen on their own time. Also, I’ve learned that when our minds are too preoccupied with fears, we never have time to focus on our goals. It’s like when an archer shoots an arrow, he would never focus on the areas he doesn’t want to hit. “

and his thoughts on the music industry:

“It’s always evolving and because of the constant advancements in technology, it’s much easier for people to get their hands on music. That has caused countless changes in the way each area of music works now. With how easy it is to get music now, it’s all the more important to spend time with it. We live in a world now where many people only listen to a record once before moving on to the next thing. I hate that. It should never be that way. When the only way to get music was walking down to a record store and buying it, people cherished it more. It may be a bit romantic of me to wish that on everyone, but I really think the only way music speaks to you is when you spend time with it.”

Keen to see Youth Lagoon?  Tour dates here.

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