Over the last few weeks, there has been a bit of a discussion brewing about “piracy” within the musical theatre/Broadway community. It’s primarily centred around sheet music and cast album sales, two of the most tangible products for composers, actors, and musicians.
EDIT: Hey, you! Reader! After you get through reading this post, make sure you read my follow-up comment. I think there’s a lot of value there, and it clarifies the fact that this post is (a little bit) flamebait, in an effort to shift the conversation a bit. Considering the heat I’m getting on Twitter, I guess mission accomplished?
I could go on a long tangent about how the approach is—at best—misguided, because it demonises and guilt-trips huge swaths of would-be Broadway fans. I could write a long rebuttal of the idea that fans who pirate are somehow worse than paying fans, even though the fans who pirate are often putting in more work to get your stuff.
Instead, I’ve decided to offer ideas for Broadway artists who want to combat the “piracy” of their stuff. These are ideas that I came up with a few minutes on a train ride into NYC, so I make no guarantees that they’re fully thought through, feasible, etc. This isn’t to illustrate the path that Broadway artists need to take; it’s just about showing that there are possibilities out there that don’t involve silly “anti-piracy pledges” and demonising fans.
1) Make music more easily accessible for free. Why not offer a two-week “Spotify exclusive” in the time before a cast album is released? I’ve seen a lot of cast albums “leaked” and pirated before their official drop date; this approach preëmpts those leaks.
2) Offer exclusive irreplaceable free content with sheet music sales. The cult of musical theatre composers is going strong, so why not capitalise on that? For instance: why not offer a free 10 minute Skype chat to someone who purchases two or more pieces of sheet music? Good luck replicating that, would-be pirates!
3) Lower prices. This one will probably rile people up just as much as the pirates, but it should be said. If people are stealing your stuff, you may need to accept that your product is just out of reach for the average customer. Either provide more value or decrease the cost.
4) Everyone loves contests! Why not come up with a prize of real value every month (an hour-long Skype call with the composer; a free ticket to a show or concert) and randomly pick a winner from your list of purchasers over the previous month? Much like #2, it’s creating experiences that can’t be replicated, and it’d only be available to someone making a purchase.
5) Make the distribution mechanisms suck less! Maybe a Broadway cast album record label could offer a “virtual jukebox” online (with a companion smartphone app) that lets you listen to the music you’ve just purchased—yes, even if you purchased a physical copy—and adds additional material along the way? Perhaps follow-along lyrics, or select photos from the production that sync up with the music. Or perhaps a “composer’s commentary” that can be activated or deactivated at the listener’s discretion.
6) The same with sheet music. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen sites that only let you download your PDF copy of a song a certain number of times. Seriously–why the hell is that?! Yeah, I’m probably going to download an illegal (and DRM-free) copy of your song, if you (or your sheet music sales service) add all kinds of arbitrary restrictions to the file. Once I purchase something, make it easy for me to download any time, anywhere.
7) I love music by several new musical theatre composers (and several not-so-new musical theatre composers too). Why can’t I give them money every month for access to an “insider’s area,” where I get a weekly email from the composer, along with raw/unedited demos, news about upcoming shows, signed postcards, etc.? Maybe once a month, you’d receive a free piece of sheet music of your choice, and an invite to a mixer with other fans every 3–6 months. It’s a 21st-century take on the official fan club. Again, it’s about creating value for your fans, so they want to pay you money.
These are just a few ideas that will get you on the way to hooking potential customers and making your stuff worth their investment, which is your number one job as a content provider. If you can’t deliver unique value, of course people will steal your stuff.
Make it worth their money. The guilt trip alone is lazy, and doesn’t cut it in 2014.
Now that you’ve made it this far, you should read my follow-up comment, for the full story.