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Can New Up and Coming Artists Afford to Give Away Their Music For Free?


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After lecturing a bunch of 14 – 17-year-old teenagers on the future of the music industry last Thursday, I have had to revisit some of the opinions I outlined in my previous article focusing on this topic. Compounding this was a number of comments on that particular article and especially one from a high-level English Music Promoter forcefully stating that my views were very “old school”. This same industry executive also then went onto state that new and upcoming artists should be giving away their music for free in return for collecting fans email addresses.

First, I will examine some of the responses from these teenagers I lectured last week. It was heartening to hear that close to 95% of them still brought hard copy CD albums and used torrent sites to check out new music before deciding what to buy and ad to their hard copy CD collections. So where does this leave the IFPI’s premise that file sharers or torrent users are leading to the decline in recorded music sales? In Tatters in my own mind anyway. If anything, these teenagers stated that had no access in terms of buying digital tracks, as they were two young to have credit cards or have mobile phone contracts.

So, when and how is the industry going to address legal access for teenagers whom are two young to have access to credit cards to purchase digital music legally. What are the models? Is ad-funded the only model the industry can come up with? If so from these kid’s responses we are doomed to failure. When I asked them to state if they would be prepared to listen or view advertisements before having access to stream or own a digital track 100% all stated they would not do that. Why have to waste time having to listen to advertisements when they could get access to their desired track instantly via a torrent site?

My suggestion would be for the industry to insist on a revenue share from the banner advertisements displayed on these torrent sites and then perhaps their would-be significant revenues that as we all know the ratio is almost 1000:1 in terms of digital tracks consumed illegally via torrent sites such as lime wire as opposed to being purchased legally. Yes, every single one of these same kids had a mobile phone but it was their parent who was named in the mobile contract. Each had purchased one or two ringtones but that was it, as almost all of these same teenagers also used an MP3 player with no more than 20% using the MP3 player in their mobile phones.

I replied to the music promoter posting by agreeing that perhaps that not only should they give their music away for free to collect an email address but they should also collect the fans mobile number as well. On the flip side I also have to ask is attaining an email address a valuable exchange as we are all over inundated with email spam. I know already people who like your music after a live music show are more often than not more than willing to give you their email details without you having to give them a CD for free. The industry executives’ point was that record labels have stopped investing in new talent apart from the “radio 2 supermarket acts (hello Duffy and Adele),” He goes further stating that artists have to treat themselves as mini companies doing a cottage industry which to a point I agree with.

But what sort of cottage industry is it if you are giving away an important part of your saleable product range for free? Companies have to turn a profit and it can be a long time as a mini cottage industry before an artist rises to the top. To be a viable cottage industry the artist cannot afford to go bankrupt which I fear would be the case if they keep, having to give away their asset (i.e. recorded music) for free. So when the “cream of new bands start rising” to the top will these new sorts of music companies wanting a chunk of these cottage industry artists actually have a chunk to buy into if the artists recorded music has been devalued so much due to it being given away from free?

However, it is important to note that each of these you teenagers I lectured all agreed that they had no choice but t give away their music free and it did provide good exposure and increase listener expansion opportunities. So, I do take heed and accept these arguments. On this note I would like to ask are live music promoters willing to give a higher percentage of ticket sales to new and upcoming artists if they give away their music from free at their concerts these same promoters make the income from? My suspicion is that these promoters advocating giving away artists recorded music for free are not willing to come to the table and either give tickets away to the live music shows they promote for free or offer artists better percentages of live music ticket sales? Both models rely on giving away the asset of music for free whether, it be recorded music or a live concert.

As such I personally think the following is the answer. New up and coming artists already give away their recorded music for free in the digital sense via the likes of sites like myspace so why go further and increase pressure on label investment by further devaluing hard copy CD albums? It is clear to me from just speaking with these young teenagers that all is not lost in physical CD sales as teenagers place a higher value on CDs than they do on digital tracks. So perhaps lets keep tracks in the digital realm free to an extent and lets discover new ways of adding value to recorded music and physical sales. Think NIN or Coldplay, give digital away and add value to the physical copy with special incentives or packaging.




  • Wayne Rosso

    Wayne Rosso has worked in music and technology for decades. He has worked with such artists as Aerosmith, Bee Gees, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Public Image LTD., Beach Boys, Phillip Glass, Fleetwood Mac, Rick James, New Kids on the Block, Slash, Evanescence and scores of others.


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