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

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

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 went on to 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 add 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. As these teens are too young to have credit cards or mobile phone contracts in their own names, they are left with no means to purchase digital tracks!

When and how is the industry going to address legal access for teenagers who are too young to have access to credit cards to purchase digital music legally? What are the models? Is the only model the industry can come up with ad-funded? If so, from these kids responses, we are doomed. When I asked them if they would be prepared to listen or view advertisements before having access to stream or own a digital track, 100% said “No”. Why would they waste time listening to advertisements when they could access 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 there would be significant revenues as we all know that 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 kids has a mobile phone but it is their parents who are named on the mobile contracts. Each had purchased one or two ringtones but that was it, as almost all of these teenagers also used an MP3 player. Less than 20% of them used the MP3 player in their mobile phones.

I replied to the music promoter posting by agreeing that perhaps not only should artists be prepared to give their music away for free in exchange for an email address but they should also collect the fans mobile number as well. I query whether attaining an email address alone is a valuable exchange. We are all over inundated with email spam. Experience has showed me that after a successful live show, fans are 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 in a cottage industry. I agree with this, to a point.

Only what sort of cottage industry is it if you are giving away the core of your product range for free? Companies have to turn a profit and it can be a long time 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 have to give away their assets (i.e. recorded music) for free. If artists devalue their music by giving it away for free, what’s left for the music companies to buy? Not a whole lot. Certainly doesn’t sound like smart business to me.

It is important to note that each of these young teenagers I spoke with agreed that artists really had no choice but to give away their music free. The practice provided good exposure as well as increased listener expansion opportunities. I do take heed and accept these arguments. But on this point I would like to ask whether live music promoters would be willing to give a higher percentage of ticket sales to new and upcoming artists if they agree to give away their music for free at concerts? My suspicion is that the promoters who are currently advocating free music give-aways would not themselves be willing to give away free tickets to the live music shows they promote. They probably wouldn’t all leap up to support the idea of offering artists better percentages of live music ticket sales in exchange for the give-aways either. The irony is that whether it be recorded music or a live concert, both models rely on giving away the asset of music for free.

Given that new up and coming artists already give away their recorded music for free in the digital realm via the likes of sites like myspace, why increase the pressure on label investment by further devaluing hard copy CD albums? It is clear to me from 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. Perhaps keeping tracks in the digital realm free to an extent and then discovering new ways of adding value to recorded music and physical sales is the answer. Think NIN or Coldplay, give digital away and add value to the physical copy with special incentives or packaging.