Bands Rushing To Ditch Labels And Embrace Free; Are The Floodgates Opening?

from the tipping-point dept

We've only been predicting that music would eventually go free for about a dozen years, but it feels like we may be nearing a tipping point among musicians recognizing this simple truth as well, kicked off by last week's Radiohead announcement. Suddenly, similar announcements seem to be coming fast and furious. Apparently both Oasis and Jamiroquai are interested in following Radiohead's lead and the Charlatan's (managed by a member of Oasis) is already doing the same. On top of that, Trent Reznor proudly announced today that Nine Inch Nails is now free from its record label contract. Will.i.am, from the band The Black Eyed Peas, announced "the new distributor is your niece" in discussing how he plans to promote his new solo album.

There are two key things to note in all of this. First, all these bands feel the need to ditch big record labels to do this (and, no, that doesn't mean that small bands without recording contracts can't succeed this way too). This is a sad state of affairs for the record labels -- because there still should be a place for them in helping to promote and market a band, even if they're giving away the music for free. It's just that they're not venture capitalists any more and bands don't need help in distributing content -- two businesses the record labels insist they're in. What's really sad here is how clueless the record labels remain to this reality. In a Reuters article about the Radiohead move, a record industry insider mistakenly claims that this trend is going to hurt the music business because bands will rush out singles instead of albums. Apparently that insider only read the first half of the details of what Radiohead is doing (as well as what others are doing). They're doing exactly the opposite. They've put together a whole "discbox" with lots of extras to make it more compelling to buy. Will.i.am specifically made his latest album a "cohesive story" to encourage people to buy the whole album. Reznor purposely tried to make his CD as cool as possible (it changes colors when you play it in a CD player) to encourage people to buy it -- even as he tells people at concerts to download his songs.

That brings up the second key point. For all the whining about "free" music, the complainers keep missing the fact that free is only a part of the business model. This seems to be the thing that people get most confused about when we discuss business models around free music. They get stuck on free and assume that if something's free, there's no way to make money. But, all of these bands are showing exactly the opposite is true. The Times Online has a story incorrectly headlined "The day the music industry died" discussing these exact changes, but as you read the details, the music industry is doing just fine -- it's just the folks in the recording industry who are in trouble. Musicians are raking in record revenue from concerts -- and the artists are realizing that the free music only helps generate more interest in those concerts. Listen to Alan McGee from Oasis and the Charlatans, saying that giving away the music for free was a can't miss proposition: "We increase our fan base, we sell more merchandise, more fans talk about the band and we get more advertising and more films (soundtracks). More people will get into the the Charlatans and will probably pay the money to see the show. I presume it will double the gig traffic, maybe even treble it."

In other words, more bands are recognizing exactly what a bunch of folks knew was inevitable at least a decade ago. Unshackle the music, give it away free, and use it to make a lot of other stuff a lot more valuable, and there's plenty of money to be made. The only sad part in all of this is that the record labels have been not just blind to the idea -- they've actively tried to discredit anyone who pointed it out to them.

Filed Under: business models, economics, music, oasis, radiohead, trent reznor


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  1. identicon
    comboman, 9 Oct 2007 @ 12:29pm

    Re: the music industry is dead.

    AOL used to send out millions of floppy discs in the mail for free. Do you think the company that made the floppies for them didn't get paid? Of course they did; it just wasn't a percentage of the retail value of the discs (which was zero).

    If the song writer is a member of the band, no problem, they'll get a cut of the money anyway (probably a bigger cut, but that's for the band to decide). If they're not, song writers are not going to work for royalties if there are no album sales to base them on. Song writers working for artists who give away free music will just have to use a different formula, maybe demanding a large payment up front or small royalty-like payment multiplied by the number of downloads.

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