This morning, I read a fascinating blog post at the Lefsetz Letter that explored reasons why artists should start giving their free music to those people who attend their concerts.
"As it is, you're announcing your tour almost a year before it happens, getting all that revenue up front, before anybody else does," he writes to the artists. "If you give away the music with the ticket, the audience has a long time to become familiar with it! Hell, the dropping of the album and the on sale date happen simultaneously!"
Throughout the entire post, he outlines exactly why artists should offer free music -- maybe as little as four or five tracks -- and why he believes that it's not only good for all parties involved, but a worthwhile idea if they want to make it big in the business.
But all this talk about what artists should do to promote themselves has me thinking: what sort of alternatives are available to us right now that will let us get free music, while still helping the artists? Unfortunately, there are very few.
As it stands, most consumers are trying desperately to find ways to get the music they enjoy in a package that doesn't cost them too much and is offered at a high-quality bit-rate. But when it comes to the music business, there's not too much available to us that would make our experience much better. After all, this is an industry that's controlled by a disgusting organization in the RIAA that does everything it can stop the wrong pirates.
But alas, there are some options available to artists to help them stay afloat in the age of diminishing returns and dwindling royalties.
1. Go it alone
Now I know what you're thinking -- "why should an artists "go it alone" when they can probably make more money with a major label?" Well, I'm not sold on that fact anymore.
As the music industry moves towards the online world, artists are now more capable than ever of making cash on their own without the help of record labels. Why can't an artist cut some songs in a professional studio, add them to iTunes and promote them through the best means? Sure, it may not work for everyone and undoubtedly there will be some issues getting their name in the limelight, but considering they're taking all the profit instead of a fraction, it may pay off more than you may think.
The digital world is changing and the music industry is slowly catching up. I think the independent artists are those that can benefit the most from that and as Jonathan Coulton has shown, it's certainly possible.
2. Fight back
I'm certainly not an expert on music contracts, but wouldn't it make sense for all these artists to wake up and realize that the record labels are keeping them down? Let's face it -- if the average artists is making less than $1 on a full CD and much less on a track purchased on iTunes even though that person is creating the music, shouldn't they be offered something more worthwhile?
If nothing else, the artists should fight back. Instead of acquiescing to the demands of the music industry and allowing the RIAA to run amok and damage public perception, artists should do what they can to show that they're the real talent and ensure that the record labels take note of that fact. This is not to say that the record labels should be kept from making money, but I think it's only right that the true entertainers be given a fair shake.
Do what Lefsetz says
When taken at face value, it makes great sense. Why shouldn't the artists find new and creative ways of offering free music when people come to their concerts? And although the average record label exec may not want to play the "free" game, they should.
I'm a firm believer in the value of free products. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, free products don't kill any industry. Libraries have never killed book sales and there's no indication that free music would kill the music industry. In fact, revenue at many major labels has risen substantially over the years and I strongly believe that most people who download free songs are willing to buy the song if they like it enough.
But in the current state of affairs, no one really wants to play by the RIAA's rules. And why should they? Regardless of what happens, the RIAA will do everything it can to stop the free flow of entertainment, but ironically, it'll be doing that to its own detriment.
Suffice it to say that if the music industry really wants to adapt to the changing times, it needs to create a strong free initiative that allows you to play it for free with the option of buying it. And although it may not be the most popular move, it's a move that will help the industry on the PR front and create an environment that's more conducive to its growth.