Film producer builds pre-release buzz by making soundtrack available for free download

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Readers of this blog know that a great way to build buzz and generate interest in products and services is to make select content available for free online. There's no doubt that free content sells. For example, my free ebook The New Rules of Viral Marketing has been downloaded over 330,000 times propelling my book The New Rules of Marketing & PR to bestseller status and helping to sell translation rights in 22 languages.

So it was with great interest that I had an opportunity to connect with Ryan Gielen, Executive Producer of The Graduates to learn about his strategy of making much the soundtrack of his new film available for free download. From this link, you can get a new song every week, or if you don’t want to wait, you can get the entire soundtrack for just 99 cents.

The Graduates
The Graduates, which will be released in May 2009, is an award-winning comedy about four friends who head to the beach without a care in the world, The film has been developing a loyal 18-34 year old following through a dozen sold-out festival and sneak preview screenings, advertised solely by word-of-mouth.

The film features the music of some incredible indie bands including:
The New Rags
Sonia Montez
The Mad Tea Party
Our Daughter's Wedding
The Smittens

Of course, the bands also benefit because people are exposed to their music and if they like it, may buy an album or see them live.

David Meerman Scott: How did the idea to offer the music free come about?

EPK Director Photo
Ryan Gielen: "Marc Cuban wrote a great column on why studios should give away their soundtrack to every audience member, and advertise that as part of the ticket price. I forwarded it to my producers, even printed it out and put it on my wall, it's still there (I'm not a Mavs fan, but my best friends are, and turned me onto his blog).

Studios are extremely unlikely to ever adopt this model- for a lot of reasons- but we're not a studio film. We're a very indie film, with very indie bands on our soundtrack. Both the bands and the film need as much promotional help as possible, because we're competing with studio films, major marketing budgets, stars. We don't compete exclusively with low-budget films. We compete with everyone. So what do we have to offer our potential audience to set us apart? A great film and a great soundtrack isn't enough, we need people to know about it.

The film comes out in May, and we'll launch by giving away the first 20-25 minutes, free. But for now, we can only release the soundtrack. So we felt it made sense to give away half the soundtrack leading up to the release to build loyalty, show off the product, and compensate for a zero-dollar marketing budget, all in one fell swoop.

And when the film does well, everyone including the bands will make more than enough money to ease the pain of giving songs and 25 minutes of film away."

DMS: Was there any resistance from others on the film (producers, artists, etc.)?

RG: "My producers and I all loved this idea, and when we carefully explained it to the musicians they came along. I think it helped that everyone was aware of how hard the producers and I are working to promote the film and the individual bands on the soundtrack. They recognized that we're extremely dedicated to their success, not just our own. I think the knee-jerk reaction is to get really uptight about giving stuff away, even if it's just one song, but that's so shortsighted.

I should add that movie studios will probably be very slow to adopt this model, possibly because they load soundtracks with famous music that is too expensive to give away. But anyone outside the studio system can recruit brilliant music from tens of thousands of indie bands and use the soundtrack as a living, breathing flexible promotional tool.

This model is why iTunes has turned record stores into dinosaurs- anyone can preview the product on iTunes, we never have to buy blind again. Our giveaway is really just another version of the preview. If you're already letting people preview your music, why not give a song or two away, just to make sure everyone is listening to you, instead of the MILLIONS of other bands available."

DMS: What advice would you give musicians and filmmakers?

RG: "Music licensing is an enormous headache for indie filmmakers (and probably for ad agencies?), and we have enough challenges in front of us with this tiny little film to promote. We all agreed early on that we would go out and find great bands that hadn't been discovered because that would help us license the music, and they would be excited by the exposure. I expect that if we had pitched this to established, signed bands we would've been laughed out of the room.

But that's their own shortsightedness. The media landscape is so broad that we literally had 9,000 bands submit, something like 100,000 songs to choose from. If our little film takes off, people all over the country will discover new music and buy it through our website and iTunes. The worst-case scenario for even an established band is that we just crafted a $100,000 music video for them. The Rolling Stones should laugh us out of the room, but this is a good opportunity for many, many bands.

Bands need to take their future in their own hands. Track down indie filmmakers on IMDb and send them links. I listen to everything people send because I know they're as hungry as I am. One good indie film can set you up with a brand new audience around the country. One great indie can set you up around the world. If they were really clever bands would even insist on having a thirty-second or one-minute trailer cut exclusively with their song. The filmmaker would be likely to agree because it costs him nothing, and he gets a great piece of music, and the band just got a free music video.

Which, of course, they should give away immediately to any and all potential fans."

DMS: Nice work Ryan! You, your produces, and the bands that are participating are doing the right thing. I wish you great success with The Graduates!