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Can New Up-And-Coming Artists Or Labels Afford To Give Away Music For Free?


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With the proliferation of large megastar artists giving away their music for free, think Prince, Oasis, NIN Radiohead and Coldplay, is giving away music a just a brief trend or is it here for the long-haul? Where does it leave young new artists who have not had the benefit of large marketing budgets to build national and international audiences?  Will young up and coming artists be able to derive an income from other income sources if they give their recorded music away for free? Where does this, leave record labels in terms of investment in new talent?

This last year has witnessed numerous free or quasai free music giveaway models where large globally recognised artists primarily of megastar status have given away their music for free. Quite often these artist were actually paid and it was a brand whether that be a newspaper or a radio station that paid the artist a fee to give away the music to their customers for free. So to the consumer it appeared as a free giveaway but in reality the artist was paid a fee. Prince was a hardcopy CD give away with the aim to drive footfall at concerts, whilst Oasis was a digital giveaway by a radio station, NIN was a straight digital album giveaway and Radiohead was a set your own price mechanism for a digital album with the aim to release a high cost physical album at a later date. 

Now are any of the above variations feasible for new and upcoming artists? I seriously doubt it, as all of the above artists had seriously large marketing budgets put behind them at the beginning of their careers to which played a significant role in the international audience levels they now command.  To gain exposure and build an international career in the music business requires serious marketing budgets, none of which, new and upcoming artist have access to. New artists, have none of the income streams available to massive megastar stature artists. Subsequently, I personally believe that giving away recorded music for free will actually lead to a further downward cycle in the sale of recorded music. 

Implicit in the giving away of music for free, is a direct association with the devaluation of recorded music in the eyes of the consumer. So are these megastars playing a direct part in the devaluation of music in the eyes of the fan? Reluctantly, I would state that they are, as whilst it increases there own income potential, on the flip side it adversely effect’s the income streams available to new and un-established artist’s. If new artist do not have significant marketing budgets behind them to build and grow an audience base from which they can afford to give away their recorded music for free, obviously larger artists giving away their music for free is detrimental to new and upcoming artists career potential.

Does creating the perception of recorded music being given away for free even if that is not the case ie. It was paid for by some brand so it would be free to the consumer do artists, songwriters, labels and publishers any favours? If anything it reinforces the perception of music being valueless in the eyes of the music consumer. The argument follows that if consumers are expecting their recorded music for free where is the money for a label to sing an artist or a publisher a songwriter, going to come from if that label cannot sell that recorded music to music consumers? Faced with ever-receding incoming revenue labels cannot afford for music to be given away for free.

If free is the model of the future, how will labels and artists make their income? Flogging artists to endorse other consumer brands may be one option. But realistically, how many artists would even consider such tie-ups? As obviously, if brands are paying for a release they are going to want to have a much high level of control not yet seen over artistic creativity and style of the artists they are funding. Is such a model sustainable in the longer-term? It may have a part to play in large manufactured pop artists careers, but apart from that in my mind it has limited viability. 

Sadly, I do believe that due to the increasing number of megastars demonstrating the appearance of giving away their music for free that it may be a model, which is here for the long haul. My main concern is that it is the 360 deals artists are doing with the likes of Live Nation that are driving this freebee model. Perhaps they can sustain it, yet the record labels certainly cannot. If recorded music is being given away for free, what money will labels have to invest in new artists? If labels have less to invest in artists due to recorded music being devalued in such a manner how can an artist expect to have a reasonable chance at a long-term career as an artist like the megastar artists. What happens when these massive global stars pass away? What will there be left for the industry and artists if the music we all love is unsustainable as a business?



  • 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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