why it’s good to give your stuff for free

Posted on March 28th, 2012

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?

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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  • miss jodi

    Good morning, Sarah. There is so much intuition, trust, hope and inspiration in your writings about this sort of thing. It is a huge creative confirmation boost for me as I’m sure it is with many others.. Your timing is incredible. Thank you for reaching out and sharing to those who want to listen and absorb as much as possible in life through the creative process.


    Lisa Ingram Reply:

    I need read no more comments – absolutely yes. well put. Lisa


  • You’ve hit the nail on the head, Sarah! For me, money is just not the priority right now, but everyone else finds that really difficult to accept.

    I don’t monetize my blog writing because I don’t want to get bogged down in financials and, frankly, because I don’t want to take the time away from writing to understand it all yet. I’d rather work on making my writing speak to people.

    I write reviews for a couple of online magazines for free, because in return they give me free tickets. I don’t want to be a reviewer career-wise, I’m not trained to be a reviewer, I’m a young person who wants to see as much live music and theatre as possible but can’t afford the tickets, but just handily enjoys writing.

    I figure money will come when the time is right, and I’m sorted out enough with what I want to take on the responsibility that comes with it. For the meantime, I have enough, plus plenty of spare time for writing. People are constantly telling me, with a fire equal almost to anger, that “they should be paying you for that!” But I shrug and point out the situation as I see it and ask, “why would I change that?”


  • Tian

    I was schooled in and worked in the actuarial science industry. I needed more variety and an outlet to express more creativity. I would love to switch to marketing, not MNC, but for homegrown Aussie companies, where they truly believe in the value of their products.

    In the context of your post Sarah, I feel like it’s related to how I’m willing to offer what I can for free, maybe an internship, to get my foot in and learn with enthusiasm.

    Carolyn Creswell, she’s an inspiration, I’ve got my eye on her <-;


  • Mel

    Boy, what a cheerful video that is!


  • Lis

    Not quite sure about this. Whatever situation it is, we all have to start off somewhere. The only work I could find after finishing uni with umpteen degrees was volunteering. But ultimately it has lead to bigger and better (paid) opportunities. Same applies to musos or bloggers who are kicking off. The competition is extremely tough and people have to be creative in making a name for themselves. Upload a music clip for free and you’re guaranteed a winner. If people like it, of course they will pay for more.

    Sarah, I think $15 is more than adequate for an ebook. Your overheads are extremely minimal and really, apart from the work you and the graphic designer spent on it, it really is just a pdf file and not a bound hard copied book.

    As long as people do things for the right reason, not aulturistic motivations and then brag about it.


  • I don’t normally listen to music videos on blogs but you suggested to listen while reading. I would have loved a little bit of a warning about the content of the video….being from Canada I’m not familiar with the band. Thankfully my kids weren’t hovering.
    Always enjoy the healthy eating content though : )


  • Lucy

    If that is considered ‘art’, then I would be giving it away for free also. Hopefully he didn’t make videos for the 11 remaining calendar months.


    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Ooooh, Lucy! Sharp.


    Lucy Reply:

    I know I’m going straight to hell now for my comment!

    But I found it a distrubing video and morbid song and would not call it ‘art’…just my opinion.


  • Grace

    Shepard Fairey was just on The Simpsons as I started reading this post. One quote was something like ‘I don’t help posers anymore, now I just sell stuff to them’. Funny.


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    that is!


  • Ellen

    Sarah, I found you thru the IQS program and have been interested in the other topics you write on. I’m not sure on the best way to ask you a question (or perhaps one of your readers can help). Is there a previous post somewhere on this blog about “reinventing yourself”. From your bio, it appears you have had several career changes and can’t tell if one job automatically blended into the next (i.e magazines to tv) or you intentionally changed track.

    Obvioulsy when someone is in the same job/industry for a certain amount of time (like me!), it’s easy to feel pigeonholed and even harder to change the thought process. My partner was also made redundant recently and going thru the same dilemas. Perhaps I’m looking for any advice you may have written on getting thru a rut, taking risks, rebuilding confidence etc, based on your own experiences.

    I’m so glad to have discovered the IQS program, cause I have also discovered this wonderful blog as a sweet bonus.

    Many thanks, Ellen.


  • Sarah Wilson

    reinventing…hmmm….i’ve covered it off in different ways…but perhaps I’ll think about it and do a dedicated post on the topic. It’s still relevant to me…I’m about to reinvent myself again soon…


    Ellen Reply:

    Sarah, you replied – that is lovely and thanks. After posting my long winded comment, I noticed you have all your past blogs dating back to 2009. Perhaps over Easter I will get time to go thru them all and find what I’m looking for.

    At the age of 39, the idea of starting again from scratch is pretty scary (more so for my partner who doesn’t have a safety net to rely on).

    And all the best with your new direction.

    Good night, Ellen.


  • Misa


    I have bought your book yesterday and want to make refund. In your site you have 30 days money back guarantee and I want my money back. Sorry but I have read many many books primal body primal mind perfect health diet many other paleo diet many books from people around weston price and I have to admit that I was looking for something more nutritious book I can not agree with bokk that advice splenda dextroze unsproted grains that advice regular dairy not saying anything about raw goat dairy products about homemade fermented kefir from raw milk about sprouting of grains Sorry but for me it is huge different yogurt from store even full fat even goat one and fermented homemade kefir from kefir grain and raw goat or sheep milk. you have not written anything abou vitamin k2 and wultzen factor. Please contact me to make refund thanks a lot


  • Rachel Cooper

    Wow Sarah, once again you hit it! I totally agree with your post.
    Our gifts and talents should be a free gift to the world and we are doing ourselves a disservice if we hold them back.
    Love your generous spirit that comes through in everything you do.


  • Totally agree with this concept, all the successful people I follow/who are my mentors give an amazing amount of stuff away for free. But it takes courage and self-belief to do so, especially when you’ve yet to have social proof that people want your stuff in the first place…


  • Courtney

    Sarah, I can’t believe (or can I?!) that I found this post today as I am wrestling with the exact same issue at the moment.
    Thank you so much for continuing to write about experiences (with great advice from inspirational people) that are relevant to your followers.


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