The music industry is changing. While the record labels are desperately trying to protect the revenue stream from album sales, a new generation of artists is starting to realize that they are better off when they give away their music for free. By now, we’re all familiar with the industry’s view, but what drives these artists?
Giving away music for free might not sound like a very solid business model to most people, but it is. Most artists make most money from concerts and merchandise, not so much album sales. Even more so, the key to success are the fans, and what better way to introduce people to your music by giving it away for free?
A whole new generation of artists, most of who grew up with Napster, Limewire and BitTorrent, are starting to utilize the power of filesharing networks. This year alone, thousands of albums were released online for free, and this number is growing at an increasing rate. The possibilities are endless. Some artists use sites like Jamendo, others go for mainstream BitTorrent sites like The Pirate Bay and Mininova, and yet another group prefers niche BitTorrent communities such as What.cd.
On What.cd, one of the larger music communities with over 60,000 members, artists have found a particularly successful outlet. In fact, the free albums are particularly popular, and often among the most downloaded. The music minded members, of which quite a few are artists themselves, are very appreciative of every new album. This August a compilation CD was released with tracks from 19 artists who uploaded their music to the site. This CD, titled “The What CD” is the most active torrent of all time on the tracker.
At TorrentFreak we have now reached a point where we can no longer mention all the artists that give away their music for free. While it was a rather exceptional thing to do three years ago, it has become mainstream today. It is, however, worth talking to one of these new generation of bands and artists who decide to share their music at no cost.
The Pragmatic is such a band. Today, the 5 member band, which was founded in 2006, has released the album ‘Circles’ on BitTorrent and Rapidshare. André, one of the band members, who plays an analog synthesizer from the early 80s, explained to us why they chose to give away their music for free.
“With this first release we really wanted to try out giving it out for free and just see what happens,” he said. “Bands like Radiohead and NIN come out and release stuff for free and have success, but that’s largely because of their already established careers. They’ve built that up the traditional way and they’ve reaped the rewards of that, but their success in file-sharing is more of a perk of that status.”
“Growing up, every musician dreamed of that big shiny record deal, but I don’t think it’s relevant anymore. Labels have had to sober up and re-think what their roles are. It used to be about music, and I think file-sharing has brought that to their attention. By releasing it for free, I guess we could be losing money, but in the long run I think we’re (hopefully) making fans.”
Similar to most other people, André is part of a generation that grew up with file-sharing. It is part of the music industry now, and it exposes people to more music than they would ever hear on mainstream radio. It is probably not what the RIAA wants to hear, or will ever admit, but music is more popular than ever thanks to file-sharing. André agrees, and told TorrentFreak:
“Fans go to shows, buy merch and support bands for all the right reasons. I think that our generation grew up with an almost insatiable need for more and more music. I know I did. I’ve downloaded lots of albums I loved and bought physical versions. I’ve downloaded plenty of albums I hated and deleted. I can’t begin to count how many bands I know and love because of Napster/Soulseek/Bittorrent. File-sharing was never really about stealing music, it was about finding music you loved.”
“Labels will complain and sue their very core audience just to make a dollar. I can’t blame them, it’s the way they’ve built their company. Change scares them, especially when they don’t control it. I honestly believe that I wouldn’t be a musician today if Napster hadn’t appeared. I think Napster fostered the incredible current musical culture and nobody gives them credit for it. I find it very hard for an upcoming artist to get any exposure without being willing to promote their music on p2p networks.”
The clash between artist and labels, and the ever increasing piracy statistics are forcing the big labels to rethink their business models. Nowadays, BitTorrent has the power to promote artists based on their music, not on the advertising budget. It is hard to deny that the music labels are in a crisis, however, music itself is more alive than ever before.