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
    Gunnar, 9 Oct 2007 @ 5:40pm

    Thursday, back when they had a top song on MTV (2001?), said on their headlining tours for people to download their songs.

    "What musical act would want to pay up front for an unproven song? ect., ect..."

    Wow.

    I don't think anybody here knows how songwriters make their money. They're almost never hired by bands, they're hired by labels. Usually major labels, and usually to capitalize on other band's success or to fill out a band's ep for a full length (or for N*Sync, B-Spears and the like, write the whole album). They're lucky to get a writing credit beyond the one-time payment. The majors don't give real bands decent cuts of the royalties, do you really think they give anything to people the public doesn't see?

    "Does it seem fair to punish the artist that can only offer his song and not the performance? Doesn't that seem counterproductive if the goal is to increase the production of music?"

    Songwriters are no different than studio musicians, and they'll be no worse off. They actually make money from their music, as opposed to touring bands who are lucky to break even after selling 10,000 albums when they work for a major.

    "An up-front payment for the assignment of the rights to a song will not work because coming up with a price will be completely arbitrary."

    You pay for the writer, not the song. A new writer will make whatever the starting rate is. If they write a top-40 hit, they'll make more on the next song they sell. Same goes for screenwriters and TV writers.

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