Big And Small Artists Alike Benefiting From Free Music

from the a-reminder dept

We’ve pointed out in the past the fact that every time we point to a less-well-known musician successfully implementing a business model that involves free music, someone (inevitably) says “but that will never work for big name musicians.” And, then, when we point to big name musicians successfully implementing such business models, someone (inevitably) says “well, that’s fine for a big name musician, who can afford to give away music, but it will never work for less-well-known musicians.” In fact, after seeing this happen over and over again, one of our commenters jokingly referred to this phenomenon as Masnick’s Law.

However, a post by Jim Stogdill over at O’Reilly Radar, shows both well-known and less-well-known artists supporting free music in different ways. He talks about going to a Nine Inch Nails show, where Trent Reznor encourages his audience to “steal” his music, noting that Reznor has said in the past that if music is free, he’ll keep making money touring. Then, afterwards in the parking lot, Stogdill was handed a home-burned CD of music from the band Cube Head, who was giving them out at the show to encourage more people to listen to them. There, in a single snapshot was both large and small artists recognizing they could benefit from free music — though in slightly different ways.

However, Stogdill seems to imply that touring is the only business model for musicians these days, and I’d argue that’s not true at all. In fact, Reznor has shown that there are plenty of other business models that don’t rely on touring, but, instead focus on giving people a reason to buy — by giving them something scarce that can’t simply be pirated — such as exclusive signed copies of box sets. And, again, less well known artists have figured this out as well, with musicians like Jill Sobule who put in place a business model that worked well, without relying on touring for all of the money (yes, touring is a part of the business model, but not all of it). The focus, again, is always on using the infinite nature of the music to attract more fans, and then getting them to buy a scarce good that is made more valuable by the music. That can work for any artist, small, medium or large — and can allow them to make more profits since they often won’t have to rely on quite so many middlemen.

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Comments on “Big And Small Artists Alike Benefiting From Free Music”

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25 Comments
Keith Jolie (user link) says:

Great article

I think the key to free music is to get it to the right people. What I like about the band giving away their cd at the Trent Reznor concert is that they are targeting people that spend money to go to concerts, and (a bit of an assumption here) that like similar music to their style.

I think getting your music freely available to the people that influence the listening and buying decisions of others is the best use of this effort.

Jim Stogdill (user link) says:

Thanks for noticing my post at Radar. You’re right, I do imply that’s the *only* business model available now, but I don’t mean it to be taken in absolute terms. There are certainly other models (lots of commenters on my post mentioned small run vinyl packages for example). I just don’t think those models will rival the ability of traditional record sales to create “rock star” like revenue numbers.

I certainly think musicians will be able to make a living off a number of other models, I just don’t think the long tail has as big of a head as it used to, and I’m fine with that.

Michael says:

I guess the lesson here...

And perhaps Mr. Masnick will agree with me here… The point to all of this is that the idea that all types of commerce must be shoehorned into a single business model is not only potentially inefficient, but frustrating for the user. More precisely, it is inherently inefficient due TO how it frustrates potential customers.

A prime example of this is mentioned on another technology site that will remain nameless that points out that while iTunes 8 makes it increasingly difficult to “jailbreak” an iPhone, it will still be done eventually. However, with the new appstore (while still not perfect) it is becoming increasingly less worthwhile to jailbreak the phone in the first place by making the applications available in an arguably reasonable fashion.

While I am not a fanboy and the only Apple product I own is a shuffle I bought for my wife’s trip to see her sister earlier this year, I have to applaud them for this.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Let’s face it – and some of the Anonymous Coward posts bear this out – the “business model” the author likes is the one that gives him free music. To pretend it’s more than that is intellectually dishonest.

Actually, no. I would say that to make this claim would be intellectually dishonest. First off, I don’t partake in any file sharing right now, and buy all my music, which I’m fine doing.

And, let’s be clear: this isn’t the “business model I like,” but it’s the business model that makes the most sense given the market. I’m at a loss to understand how explaining basic economics is intellectually dishonest.

If you can show why the economics are *wrong* we can have a discussion. But to just declare it intellectually dishonest makes little sense to me.

Norm says:

Re: Re: Re:

The “free” music business model is not something artists really want to embrace it’s forced on them because they stop people from sharing/stealing it. No more complicated than that. These business models that are popping up are their attempts to adapt to the technical challenges of preventing their music from being stolen.

As I recall, Reznor made free the first 9 songs of the album and you had to pay for the rest. Hardly a new business model in general, as stores have used similar techniques for ages.

Reznor’s experiment of letting people download an album for free and pay what they want left him “disheartened” at the few who paid. Hardly a “free” music business model that worked.

For you to present these as better business models for artists is silly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

that is REALLY old information and not at all accurate anymore.

first he changed his mind about the results and
then he gave away songs from concerts and set up a city-wide scavenger hunt to get his fans attention

there are also other artists who have embraced this model you can’t speak for everyone saying they don’t like doing business this way. but nor is mike, he is just pointing out that they have been successful.

mike proposes a better model that is more profitable than the current one most main-streamers use, pure and simple, it is up to the individual to figure if they want to do so

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I think you’ll find that the “disheartened” comment was in relation to the Saul Williams album he produced, and he clearly changed his mind on that one, since he’s released no less than 5 NIN albums under the same model since. That includes the albums you’re referring to – he actually released 4 albums at the same time, made one of them free no questions asked and asked for a $5 payment for the rest. He made a crapload of money just off the special edition sets of those albums.

Rexnor made over $1.5m as I recall in the first week alone, just on those special sets. How is that “silly”, exactly?

“Silly” is suing the same people who buy the albums because they want to preview it to avoid being ripped off for the 50th time in a row…

Anonymous Coward says:

Mike, there are people who are really good creating music who can’t tour, it might be physically impossible for them to tour or maybe they have social disorders that prevent them from performing live. In either case, lets assume someone can not tour and they are no good a marketing, so they need someone (like a record company) to handle that for them.

You seem to argue that your “free music” distribution model is the ONLY model, and my argument is that it WILL NOT WORK FOR SOME PEOPLE. Ultimately, it should be the ARTIST who determines how his or her music is distributed, whether that is free CD, free downloads, pay to play, or CDs marketed at stores.

Musicians should be allowed to market a desired product just like everyone else does with physical objects, and since it is their creation it should be their decision how it is distributed NOT some file sharers or pirate bay.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Mike, there are people who are really good creating music who can’t tour, it might be physically impossible for them to tour or maybe they have social disorders that prevent them from performing live. In either case, lets assume someone can not tour and they are no good a marketing, so they need someone (like a record company) to handle that for them.

what is your point? they need someone like that anyway. thankfully the modern age has enabled people who can do both to do marketing campaigns and CD recordings without breaking the bank, thus eliminating the nearly mandatory record company. also, while you and other people seem to focus on it, Mike has Never said that Touring was the only way a band can make money.

You seem to argue that your “free music” distribution model is the ONLY model, and my argument is that it WILL NOT WORK FOR SOME PEOPLE. Ultimately, it should be the ARTIST who determines how his or her music is distributed, whether that is free CD, free downloads, pay to play, or CDs marketed at stores.

no has he said they they shouldn’t. he has put forward multiple model, spotlighted others, and slammed some. he openly supports Reznor’s selling of the super deluxe limited edition of CDs. stop putting words in his mouth.

Musicians should be allowed to market a desired product just like everyone else does with physical objects, and since it is their creation it should be their decision how it is distributed NOT some file sharers or pirate bay.

and nor has he supported illegal copying of files. he has pointed out how bands can use services like torrents to make more money and hit the targets that are starting to torrent the music. Stop trying to set up strawmen that don’t exist.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Re: Non-Performing Performers?

…there are people who are really good creating music who can’t tour, it might be physically impossible for them to tour or maybe they have social disorders that prevent them from performing live. In either case, lets assume someone can not tour and they are no good a marketing, so they need someone (like a record company) to handle that for them.

What you describe has never been a viable model. Selling recordings has never been a big profit area for musicians–the record companies happily take essentially all the income from that. So if your statement is supposed to be an argument against giving recordings away for free, it’s not making sense.

Music is a performance art. If you can’t perform, you’re not a musician. End of story.

magwa101 (user link) says:

destruction of creativity

Controlled distribution and ownership used to set the price. The record company owned the work and set the price for copies.

This is much like the art world there is only 1 original. Copies are licensed.

Now that distribution is free we cannot price the value of creativity.

We cannot set the price of entertainment when there are no real contols on the supply.

Artists have to go to touring because everyone is taking their work for free.

It is theft, and we haven’t created a system to deal with it. Calling it anything else is simply rationalizing.

Jonathan says:

I see a lot of posts regarding people who can’t tour or are otherwise unable to perform music live. This implies that since someone makes music it is their divine right to be payed to do so. It isn’t.

If you shift the business model of course you are going to see the new one favoring certain types of music and other types will perhaps see a certain decline.

This I feel is not necessarily a problem, because there is no perfect business model and no one way to do this “the right way”.

Saying that free music is somehow theft and should be punishable is in a certain sense right. According to the current business model it is. That is exactly why it has to change. Sharing is one of the best ways to get to know new music. That and concerts of course.

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