Monday, October 15, 2007

Free Music

There is an ever growing number of bands who are giving their music away in one form or another. In the last few months Prince, Radiohead and more recently Ray Davies and Ocean Colour Scene have given away lots of music that would normally sell for millions.

Various blogs have interpreted this behavior in different ways.

Many see the move as a fad, an effort by has been artists to get more attention than they otherwise would. While this is accurate I don't feel it to be the whole story. For one thing Radiohead aren't really has-beens, while not my cup of tea it is clear to see they are massive.

A particularly good opinion piece offered by Seth Godin, a bestselling marketing guru, describes the move by the big name artists as the second stage in the overall revolution.

Most industries innovate from both ends:
  • The outsiders go first because they have nothing to lose.
  • The winners go next because they can afford to and they want to stay winners.
  • It's the mediocre middle that sits and waits and watches.

In this situation the outsiders are the small and unsigned bands who have been giving away music on garageband.com for years. Now the winners are moving in to share in the success. The final step is for everyone else to jump aboard and the record industry is revolutionised.

I we are a long way off reaching that stage because there is a crutial element still missing: Marketing for the "Mediocre Middle". There are no methods at present that substitute for the big lables. Without the big lables radio would never know what to play and new bands would have trouble gaining traction or the money to fund records.

Once the media adapts to the new world, where they have to find the stories and music instead of waiting for some record company rep to call them, there will be no need to pay for downloads. Bands can get the money they need for hosting and production from gigs. Madonna has realised that she no longer needs a record company to fund records. A concert promoter can foot the initial bill and, since she is who she is, the promotion takes care of itself.

On a side note, the record industry must now move to non DRM downloads. This new front in the music industry will take some fighting/resisiting and if they are still trying to push crap products they have no hope.

Just in case you haven't heard any of prince's latest output here is one of the better tracts from "Planet Earth":


If you can't see the player <a href='http://www.dur.ac.uk/michael.smith/blog/music.html'>Click Here</a> to listen to the song.
- from Squeeze-box Blog.

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