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Give to Get - A "Free" Music Philosophy

Aug 17, 2007
Musicians, FREE YOUR MUSIC!!! This means literally and figuratively. Modern copyright laws and DRM (Digital Rights Management) bind the artist more than ever. Free music means not only offering digital music free of charge and unrestricted from duplication in non-commercial forms. However, if listeners derive pleasure from the music, they should always be encouraged to donate to the artist. But of course, if the music is being used in a commercial form (remix or sync context), there should be a mechanism in place to compensate the artist BUT, these situations should be encouraged by the labels.

The Album format is dead. There was a measurement of time before the advent of the internet. However, at the current rate of innovation, time is an even more precious commodity as attention spans shorten. The past practice of one album release by an artist every 2 years is suicide for any indie. Personally, I'd advocate a 2-3 song release every 4-6 months. This puts the artist in closer contact with their fans because of its greater frequency. It reduces expenses for the artist experimenting in a particular musical direction. If the new sound is rejected by fans, there's not as much time and money wasted. There's greater freedom to experiment with new themes, sounds, styles without much significant investment. Plus more frequent releases provide a better picture of an artist's musical growth over time. With more ala carte download services coming online, the 10-12 song album format is becoming irrelevant. Although I don't like the bigger emphasis on "singles" the breakdown of traditional formats is a step in the right direction. However, artists should still be encouraged to put out "bodies of art" or "clusters" of material.

CDs are also dead. MP3 players, especially the IPod, are now the player of choice for the most important demographic and as such, digital music is king. Owning music is over and so should buying it be.

We are all standing on the shoulders of giants. No style, song or singer ever developed in vacuum. All music is the product of everything else before it. Things must be borrowed in order to create something new. We encourage and promote derivative works made from our releases. Whether it's a guitar lick, a vocal hook or a remix version of a complete song, new art from old keeps the art alive. If these are done in the name of creation and development, there should be NO restriction. But, if the "adaptor" receives compensation for the new work, then the "adaptee" should, in part, be compensated for their contribution.

People, make ake money where the money is! Music fans are the lifeblood of the art. But, for too long they've been preyed upon as the sustainers of the music industry because the music had become "the product". However, if you remove the music as a thing and think of it as more of a marketing device, you empower the artist and simplify the business plan. The small money is in live performance and merchandising. The BIG money is in sync licensing and strategic partnerships. Envision a record label as more of a strategic partnership between artists to create more value for themselves because of the collective catalog. In having one unified point of purchase, the catalog increases in value because of its proximity to teach other. This concept is almost like a music "co-op".

What is even more liberating about this concept is that artists can be encourage to adopt a B2B mindset when it comes to servicing their "business" clients in the form of licensing while offering consumer music free of charge.

Here's how this "free music" scenario may turn out for one artist.

In speaking with my friend the songwriter, we discussed the success of his last album selling it off the stage at shows. Although he loves to play gigs, he has primarily done in order to connect with more new fans and sell cds to sustain his career. With that said, the numbers fell like this:

$1000 - studio time $1500 - cd replication and printing

His album has been out for 3 years and he has sold 600 copies at $10 apiece out of an original pressing of 1000 units.

So this album, so far has made a net profit of $6000 MINUS the $2500 in costs for a grand total of $3500.

I put it to him like this - if we take a modest number of internet listeners - for sake of argument we'll say 5000. Let's say that only 14% of those listeners chose to pay only half the suggested price for his new cd according to the SPEAK philosophy. That means that only 700 of those 5000 new listeners chose to pay $5 for music that they loved which made the artist the same $3500 he made on his last album.

But now his music has 5000 NEW FANS and a monster mailing list on which he can market his merchandise, his fan club, his tour and his future albums. Since he knows these people already dug his music, logic would dictate that he will get a greater return percentage on his next album - maybe 25% will then pay that same $5 next time around!

Also, there is something else to be noted here: since SPEAK encourages listeners to copy this music and distribute it to their friends (encourage send to a friend section - incentive) there's even more people listening!

Here's a further break-even scenario using the SPEAK method using this artists same timeframe:

5000 users over 3 years = 139 downloads per month 14% purchase rate each month over 3 years = $97.22 how many people need to buy this album at $5 apiece? Just 19

(According to other data, this number has been as high as $9 per release!)

Now this is all just to achieve the same monetary result. Apply your own release numbers to this scenario and discover what you can do with your album based on these modest estimates.

About the Author
As an experienced studio and touring musician, producer and writer,Aaron Trubic has proudly garnered numerous commercial recording credits for both major and independent labels spanning 16 years.
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