New Record Label Will Give Out All Its Music For Free; Wants Fans To Subscribe To The Label

from the interesting-ideas... dept

Jay Frank wrote the book FutureHit.DNA a few years back, and it’s really a fascinating look into the music business. Frank, who formerly was the Senior VP of Music Strategy for CMT (part of MTV) as well as VP of Music Programming at Yahoo! Music, basically tried to scientifically breakdown what it took to be a “hit” song in the modern digital age. Of course, some might dismiss this as formulaic (and perhaps cynical), but I can’t recommend the book enough. It’s not just about “oh this is what makes a hit song,” but it takes a look at how listening habits change in the digital era, and how even that may impact what makes a hit and what doesn’t.

It appears that Frank doesn’t just want to write about this, but he’s about to put his theories to the test. Today he’s announcing a new record label, called DigSin, that will be focused on releasing singles for artists rather than full albums. But here’s the interesting bit: all of the music will be released for free. What he’s looking to do is build up a base of subscribers who will want to be pushed new great songs that he’s releasing. In effect, rather than a “label” in the traditional sense, you can think of it as a “tastemaker,” or even a filter or trusted friend.

I have to admit that I’ve been fascinated by this concept for a little while. I’ve written in the past about how I’ve paid a small label/distribution company a yearly subscription in the past for a “CD of the month” club, because I trusted the guy who ran it to find me awesome CDs. In that case, it was a small operation, where the guy who ran the label would take into account each of the subscriber’s tastes and try to match music to what they liked. It was like having the guy at the record store who knew your tastes picking out what you should listen to. It was fantastic. In this case, Frank is trying that on a larger scale… and not charging for it.

In this case, it appears that Frank is going to be looking at alternative revenue sources. If he can bring together enough music fans, that’s certainly an opportunity. I would bet there will be some sponsorship opportunities that make sense, but I could also see some more creative efforts, such as upsell opportunities for merch or concert tickets.

The timing of this is interesting, as he’s launching it at the same conference where Ian Rogers, the head of TopSpin — and also a former Yahoo! Music exec — gave a talk on the race to be trusted, noting that he believes that’s the next stage of the music business. Basically with so much content out there, finding the right content for you is key, and that’s going to be a trust issue. If you trust someone to bring you good music, that’s a powerful connection.

Of course, it’s worth noting that Rogers, in his speech, tells the record labels that they cannot be that trusted partner, because people will always doubt their sincerity on whether or not the musician that they’re pushing, who’s signed with them, is really that good. It is an interesting question. I think it’s possible for a label to be trusted, but it’s difficult. Though, I actually go back to an open letter that Ian himself wrote to then head of EMI Music, Guy Hands, about why he should turn the label giant into a trusted filter based on affinity groups around existing big name artists (i.e., build a mini label around… The Beatles, for music that Beatles-lovers would like and then build out that brand as a trusted brand). It’s possible. It’s just difficult.

On the artist side, DigSin is also focused on being a better partner — an enabler rather than a gatekeeper. It’s signing artists to very short term deals, with agreements around songs, not the artist. That is they’ll share in the monetization of the specific songs. And the songs will still be available via traditional channels — iTunes, Spotify, etc. — for people who want them that way. But the real focus is on DigSin’s ability to bring together a core group of people who are really into hearing the next great song first, and to help connect those people with musicians making those songs.

It’s definitely a big challenge — and one where there may be many hurdles. But if it’s done right, it could be quite useful. I’m intrigued that Frank is attempting this, and if his notions on what makes a hit are correct, and he’s able to execute on that with the artists who release singles through DigSin, it could become a very interesting model to pay attention to.

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Comments on “New Record Label Will Give Out All Its Music For Free; Wants Fans To Subscribe To The Label”

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freak (profile) says:

Thanks, Mike!

I’mma sign up, this sounds like a great idea!

Actually, I’mma admit, I’m spending more on music than I was before I started reading techdirt, and a lot of it is due to techdirt. Artists you’ve highlighted, (Color Theory in particular. Currently, he’s selling all his music, ever, recently remastered and put on a USB key in lossless formats. He’s currently surveying his fans to figure out a price point, and I’m figuring it’s worth about $100 to me), sites you’ve pointed out, and other little things that pop up in the comments, (Talco comes to mind; I hadn’t heard of them before someone mentioned them in the comments. And fortunately, their music is available on jamendo for me to check out).

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I am interested in this idea, but then I often enjoy seeing people try something new.
I like the concept of the artists not being bound for life to the new gatekeeper trying to cash in on being cool.
And the idea of focusing on the song rather than the album churn…

He deserves to succeed, it might not be perfect but this might disrupt the current gatekeepers even more than sharing ever did.

freak (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Somehow, I don’t think that’s a terribly accurate comparison.

I mean, a top 40 is a collection of ‘the most popular’. A label releasing singles . . . well, a label can, and will, whether it likes it or not, release more popular and less popular songs.

Similarly, while the top 40 will never veer too far from the familiar, a label must constantly veer from the familiar in order to continue being relevant and profitable.

And digsin is just a label focused around singles . . .
And in that they aren’t keeping the artists, or the copyrights on the songs, it seems to me to be very far from a top 40, and will have to be constantly focusing on new stuff.

And hey, it’s free, what am I going to lose if I don’t like the service?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

They are focused on producing only ‘hits’ – exactly the kind that make up top 40 lists. While the product is offered for free it is a subscription based model, without enough subscriptions they will go under. Just saying that it sounds unsuited to my taste, I’m sure lots of others will fell differently – my motherin-law will probably love it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

No, traditionally a record company would produce full albums where not every song on the album is a ‘hit’. Maybe there are one or two singles from the album, maybe only one song is a hit. This way you can get an artist to give you a hit but at the same time let the artist do his/her thing on songs that are not written to be hits but written for the sake of art.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I think (hope?) that this guy is going to find and promote songs that are really good, not what usually makes it into the top 40. That is, for every song that makes it into the top 40, there are a bunch of others that are just as good (take that how you want it to mean), but weren’t promoted as such, and a bunch that were even better but didn’t make it because they weren’t promoted. Had they been promoted, they would have been in the top 40 easily.

So I think (again, hope) that this guy will find the really good songs and promote them because he is relying solely on trust, whereas the current labels don’t, so they can promote whatever act they want to be in the top 40.

Andrew (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’m not sure it’s that dissimilar to the top 40. I’ve just read the linked post from Ian Rogers (TopSpin), where he says that we have gone from an era of mass media to one of niches, and he suggests we are now heading into an era of “trusted brands”, where we will all subscribe to content from a few sources that match our tastes.

Or, to put it another way, we’ve gone from an era of few sources (organised but increasingly uninspiring content) to one of many sources (some good but disorganised and hard to find content) and are now heading back to one of few sources again.

This isn’t to say it’s a bad thing. I think it’s fair to say that the top 40 worked pretty well for a while, but it has become increasingly irrelevant to the tastes and desires of many people today. Introducing a personalised top 40 (based on the tastes of people or brands I trust) sounds pretty good to me.

In a sense, the model hasn’t changed that much: we still have a small number of brands / companies / people providing music to us. But they should be working with us as enablers, not working against us as gatekeepers. Here’s hoping. 🙂

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re:

it is still selling what a few people want in order to pay for a whole lot of people getting something for nothing

You have it backwards. It’s actually “giving a whole lot of people something for nothing in order to get a few people to want & pay for something”. And that’s quite different from “give it away and pray” – it’s more like “give it away and pursue a strategy”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Marcus, it is on par with a grocery store giving away crackers and hoping like hell someone buys overpriced caviar to put on them. The people don’t want caviar, they want the crackers. When your business model is no longer predicated on selling what people want naturally, and instead is based on hoping someone decides to pay way over market price for something to make up for all your freebies, you are very close to failing.

I have yet to see anyone explain this in a manner that is truly sustainable. It all preys on a small percentage of people doing something comparatively stupid and paying way too much for the “special” product in order to support all the freeloaders.

Stepping over dollars to pick up pennies, it’s the new business model I guess!

freak (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Marcus, it is on par with a grocery store giving away crackers and hoping like hell someone buys overpriced caviar to put on them.”

You say this, but I don’t think you realize my grocery store does this. Except not with caviar; the brand of crackers that they sell (2 packs/cust/visit) are in the middle of an aisle filled with jams, and peanut butters, and cheeses and soups, and mixes like brushetta mix, and that aisle is also right beside the produce section, with all those fresh veggies and fruits.

Just an interesting note, it’s really quite irrelevant.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Marcus, when you come up with a music creator that is totally free and never costs time, money, or effort to make, you might have a point.

Until you can address the sunk costs, your “infinite distribution” deal is all bullshit anyway, and you know it.

Music isn’t infinite. I would think that a talentless schmuck like you who clearly labours for weeks to try to turn out one wretched verse of self-defeating beat poetry would know that it takes time and effort to make music – even sucky, crappy music like yours. Unless you time is someone infinite, there is always cost.

Grow up and join the real world.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

Oh Marcus, come on. You still haven’t explained why you hate copyright so much, but you make a living working for the very companies that depend on copyright to pay your way.

You can’t explain why your music sucks so bad either. Yours is perhaps the best example of why it should be given away for free, because nobody in their right mind would actually pay for it. The only shows you seem to be doing are those created by your talentless buddies, using quite names like “festival” to explain away the small rooms with 100 people in them, most of them laughing at your total lack of talent.

Go away Marcus, you are just being an asshole at this point because you don’t want to lose any more arguments here.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:9 Re:

Heh. Lose arguments? No see, the reason I am being an asshole is that I won the argument a long time ago, and everyone realizes it except you. And saying mean things to a brick wall, while still pointless, is at least more fun than trying to have a rational conversation with one.

Now, where’s your creative output? Oh right, you have none, or if you do you are far to embarrassed by it to share it. I make shitty music for fun, and I’m proud of it, and happy to hear whatever mockery you can come up with! (I wish you’d be a bit more inventive about it, though – your insults are tired.) I’m rather flattered by your 100 estimate to be honest – I doubt I’ve ever performed in front of a group bigger than 50, maybe 75. You, on the other hand, are the epitome of a coward, hiding behind anonymity to avoid admitting that all you do with your time is troll blogs and curate porn.

You seem to be having a really, really hard time getting this through your head but: some people create for absolutely no other reason than that they have fun doing so. The fact that you still don’t understand that says a lot more about your lack of a soul than it does about my lack of talent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:11 Re:

“You “create” nothing. But you do make a lot of noise.”

I wanted to come up with a response to what you said, but I felt your own words were perfect. You do indeed make a lot of noise. None of which is remotely relevant to the article. Insulting someone who creates. You’re a real big man anonymously aren’t you? It’s cute. In a sad way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Here is a hard fact, music is not the only revenue stream for a musician, selling plastic discs is no different than selling a T-Shirt from the band and today a T-Shirt offers greater returns than a disc.

So I don’t really see how giving away music has any impact on revenues, people didn’t stop buying merch, people didn’t stop going to concerts although if they keep hiking up the prices soon nobody will go, and I don’t see people not wanting access, in the age of interactive, crowdsourced, why are bands not selling access to live videos of themselves? why are they not endorsing some products?

Oh they are and they are making millions doing it too.

If giving away music was so bad, radio would have killed them long ago.

Joe Perry (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“give it away and pray” works in other industries. obviously, and it was mentioned before, with tangible products, free samples given away in grocery stores or outside of a restaurant or kiosk.
and the most prominent “give it away and pray” strategy I can think of right now is in video games. microtransactions, in which they give a game away for free, then they count on a small percentage of the users to pay money for in game items. many games are using microtransactions these days, a lot of people consider it a better way to make money than a monthly fee, they consider it the way of the future. and it’s clearly working for the video game companies that are using it.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

But I don’t really think those are “give it away and pray” situations. GIA&P is when you don’t have any idea how or why people are going to give you money, you just hope that something will materialize – the purest version of that being making everything free and then asking for donations.

Grocery store samples & video game micropayments are proven strategies – I suppose there was a little bit of prayer at the beginning, but that’s more like “give it away as an experiment”. If the experiment works, or at least hints at what might work, and you continue improving on it until it starts making you money – well, then it all just becomes a business model.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Sounds just like every product based business I’ve ever heard of… Movie producers spend millions creating a movie and then pray that enough people will pay to see it to cover the expenses; Record labels record and manufacture cds and then pray that enough people will buy them to pay the production costs; Bakers get up early to bake bread every morning and then pray enough customers will make purchases to pay the rent.

Every business model I have ever seen is based on the same premise – investing money first and then getting enough customers to cover the expenses. Making a reliable profit only happens after a customer base is fully established. And to do that it is necessary to offer ‘free’ samples. Sometimes those samples are offered to the public at large (such as bread samples in the new bakery), other times they are offered only to executives and agents (such as music samples by a new group). Always they are given away for free with a prayer.

So, yes, “give it away and pray” is a perfectly normal opening business model and they are using it to that extent. What’s your point? Why do say that like it’s a bad thing? Do you really believe customers will buy the product without a sample? Would you?!

Anonymous Coward says:

Connecting the dots ? (#Trust_Us)

If you sign-up the email you receive is from so it’s not all that suprising that “he’s launching it at the same conference where Ian Rogers, the head of TopSpin — and also a former Yahoo! Music exec” is telling “the record labels that they cannot be that trusted partner, because people will always doubt their sincerity”. Looks like bald-faced self-promotion and a power grab – “look they can’t be trusted but we can”. (#Trust_Us).

out_of_the_blue says:

It's always about MONEY not music, isn't it?

Sounded great until near the end: “That is they’ll share in the monetization of the specific songs.”

What I hope is the site is laid out so that I can easily scrape MP3s. Doesn’t take me long to decide on a tune, maybe fifteen seconds. I can go through 50 in fifteen minutes. (I frequently have: have you guys noticed there’s a LOT of legal free music out there? seems to have closed the music section, but used to have some great music.) Anyway, I figure that my speed and accuracy on picking tunes will make me a great “customer” IF I can just scrape the tunes and not have to look at ads or wade through pages. That’s the way I want it, and this new site had damn well better give it to me that way, or I’ll just go elsewhere. — But how’s it going to learn of my most excellent taste?

Anonymous Coward says:


I’m looking forward to a follow-up from mikey a year from now on the “success” of this company, based on giving away its product for free. I’m sure once it fails miserably you will conveniently forget it, or use some lame excuses as to why it didn’t succeed, and how you know better and have the magic business formula for making millions from giving away stuff, yet you never have done it yourself nor could you.

freak (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: lol

By ‘archives’, I just mean that techdirt doesn’t hide any of its old content.

It doesn’t make itself particularly navigable, going back in time, but it’s possible.


That link will put you 3150 posts back into the archives, which is actually only back to Dec 23rd, 2010 right now. Yeah, I know, that’s an insane amount of articles.
From there, just keep clicking ‘older posts’ until you’ve scanned all the stories from the year.

I suppose you could also use a good google search. Go into advanced searches, and search specifically for hits from techdirt between 2009, Jan 31st and 2010, dec 31st for whatever search terms you’d like.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Makes me sad

I also love full albums – but I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically superior or more creative about them. When did we decide that all music shall be divided up into songs of 3-6 minutes and arranged on discs of 8-20 tracks, and anything else shall be considered unusual? You have to admit, it seems rather arbitrary.

Artistically, and philosophically, I see no reason why a single song cannot be just as much of an artistic accomplishment as a completed album. I also anticipate a future in which musicians start experimenting beyond those two concepts – for example I think we’ll begin to see something I’m quite excited about which is “living albums”, where a band announces a project (like “we want to record some really bluesy stuff” or “we just bought a new synth and we want to base a bunch of songs around it”) and, instead of fans waiting for the disc to be finished, they sign up to receive new tracks from that project as they are done.

I guess what I’m saying is in part I feel your pain, because I love well-constructed albums, but I think it would be pretty arrogant of us to assume that the death of that one particular format is also the death of creativity and quality in music.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re: Makes me sad

No, he’s right. As soon as people stopped solely reciting stories, and instead started writing them on scrolls, creativity in story telling died.

Wait, I mean as soon as scrolls were dropped in favor of bound books, storytelling creativity went the way of the dodo.

Hold on, I mean as soon as bound books were replaced with ebooks, storytelling stopped completely.

Let me back up, as soon as art moved from cave walls to animal hides, art has never been the same.

Uhm, I mean as soon as art went from animal hides to canvas, painting creativity dried up.

No, I mean that as soon as art went from canvas to digital, art stopped being good.

Err…Oh I know, I’ll go with music. As soon as music went from paid court musicians to random people, quality dropped.

I got it this time. I mean as soon as music stopped being about entire concertos and more about individual pieces arranged in an album, musical genius stopped dead.

Give me one more try. I meant that as soon as music went from albums to individual songs, the artistry in the industry went on the decline.

You know, I’m going to go lie down and think about this some more.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Makes me sad

Does this concept tie the artist up in which they can’t make an album?

For example, let’s say Artist A is dipping his toes in the water, and creates a really good song. He puts it out there, it’s a hit. He feels good, and creates another, puts it out there, people going wild.

After a while, he’s got 12-15 songs out there individually. Will this service allow him to compile all of that into a single album and sell it on his own website? Would they expect a cut?

What about someone that created music in their spare time? Let’s say they have been, for the last 10 years, creating stuff at home. Let’s pretend they have compiled 3 albums on their own. Now they see this service, and send one of their songs over. Will they be bound to hand over all of their music?

I don’t think this service will make the album go away….unless they handcuff the artist….

Strawbear (profile) says:

I love the idea of this, but can only see it making money in terms of licencing very successful songs for commercial things (films ads etc) and to gain a following for artists so they get more tickets sold for gigs. I can’t see the online part of this making any money at all, even if they carry merchandising.

If the artists are on short term deals, what happens after they do well for one song here, then move over to EMI, for example. Will the site make any money off them at all then?

It is however a wonderful concept and I hope it makes the artists on it a nice living wage which their work entitles them too. If I thought any decent music had been made in the last 10 years I’d be sure to check it out.

As for the single vs album debate – I have to say I like albums. They are a work of art in themselves, tracklisting alone is an under valued art. But such is the way of things.

Atkray (profile) says:

I used to use Yahoo messenger and listen to yahoo music all the time.

The algorithms they used to suggest songs were much more accurate at picking songs I would like than netflix is at picking movies(which is pretty accurate).

If they are using anything even remotely like that this is going to be a huge success because it will match the artists to people that like their particular style.

Bill Rosenblatt (user link) says:

I think everyone's missing something here

Everyone here is talking about the label or the listeners. It’s funny how, in evaluating business models like this, nobody ever seems to talk about the *musicians*.

My question is simple: with no contracts, no artist development, and no income guarantees, why would anyone in his right mind want to sign to this “label”?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I think everyone's missing something here

“with no contracts”

Considering how contracts have been criticized by musicians as unfair for them since the begging of labels, and how most musicians are leaving the labels because of the shitty contracts, I do believe you may be incorrect in your knowledge of the relationship of musicians and labels (most of them anyway).

“no income guarantees”

There is no such thing as a guarantee, in any job. Especially these days

Bill Rosenblatt (user link) says:

Re: Re: I think everyone's missing something here

I am not as naive as you seem to think I am.

I meant why would I choose this over, say, some indie label with good distribution (say, through the Orchard or IODA) and a commitment to develop my career over the course of more than one song? Or just do the whole thing myself?

Perhaps the word “guarantee” was not well chosen. But wouldn’t I rather go with someone who is at least guaranteeing to sell my products for actual money?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: I think everyone's missing something here

What do you think musicians sell?

They are entertainers, they don’t sell music they sell feelings, they sell experiences and if you look at an MRI from the brains of people enjoying music or cocaine your probably see similar patterns.

Those things can be embodied in variety of physical products where the least of them today is a plastic disk, but they can still sell T-Shirts that incredibly give the same margin of profits, they can still deliver that music in great boxes, they can still make live concerts, people still pay for tickets.

So I don’t see how giving away music, which is basically what radio does harms them in any way.

freak (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I think everyone's missing something here

Y’know, a friend of a friend of a liar I know told me about a scientific study that DID try to compare musicians & music listeners to cocaine users in just that way!

They found out about half-way through about an unavoidable experimental error that meant the (positive) results were worthless :p

Kelsi Bohnen says:

Digital Music Labels

Mr. Masnick,

You provided a very interesting perspective and enlightening summary on the concept behind the new record label, DigSin. Considering my interest in the current transformation of the music industry, I find myself speculating what impact such a unique business model will have and the results it will generate. I am particularly drawn to your discussion on releasing singles for free and the label?s plan to ?build up a base of subscribers who will want to be pushed new great songs.? In the past, music professionals such as Bobby Owsinski have argued for the economics of free and encouraged content owners to give away their music in order to increase market size. It appears to me as though Frank will be utilizing this model as part of a larger marketing plan to expose his artists. Although the economics of free have proven to be beneficial to an array of artists, concerns have arisen regarding the overall effectiveness of the model and the results it produces for the music industry. In particular, analyst Mark Mulligan recently argued that despite recent developments, the digital music market continues to face an impasse because the ?economics of free don?t yet add up.? How do you perceive this philosophy and the role it plays in the music industry? More specifically, how do think this philosophy can be effectively integrated into Frank?s business model and used to build a loyal audience?

You also touch upon the relationship the new digital music label will have with artists stating that ?on the artist side, DigSin is also focused on being a better partner?an enabler rather than a gatekeeper.? I am drawn to this statement because artists are continuously taken advantage of by record labels through long term deals and agreements designed for the advancement of the label. DigSin have developed a more artist-friendly model that signs artists to short term deals based around individual songs rather than the artist. I believe this is a huge step in encouraging better business practices and contributing to the prosperity of artists. I noticed that the digital music labels, RCRD LBL and Green Label Sound, have been partaking in similar non-traditional deals with artists for several years now, and success stories such as Kid Cudi have arisen from them. In the long run, do you think such deals will become the norm and shape the music industry for the better? The co-founder of RCRD LBL, Peter Rojas has expressed that his company is making artists more comfortable about distributing their music, because the terms of their contracts ensure that they get paid and are ?in a way in their own best interest.? I believe DigSin will also achieve this relationship with artists, hopefully changing the way labels conduct business and influencing the music industry for the better.

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