The Internet and file-sharing networks like BitTorrent have shifted music promotion from the labels to the people. Increasingly, record labels are losing control over what music the masses are listening to, and according to some musicians this is is actually a good thing.
Meet Chris Zabriskie, a full-time musician whose career started roughly 8 years ago. Like many other artists, Chris has decided to give all of his music away for free. This isn’t down to Chris lacking a desire for money, but because he thinks that his music should be heard – and that it’s pretty much impossible to sell music nowadays without giving the public the option to “try before they buy.”
Zabriskie, himself an avid BitTorrent user, said he has leaked all of his albums on torrent sites ahead of their official release date. And he’s not the only one doing this. “I can tell you from numerous conversations and firsthand experience that there are few artists left, even in the big leagues, that do not. You wonder where the early leaks come from? Don’t be so surprised.” he writes.
People are not going to buy any albums before they’ve had a chance to listen to them, or before they’ve seen the artist perform live, Zabriskie reasons. Indeed, the top 1% of all artists might still be able to sell an album based on their previous performances, but the average artist has to be heard first. Much to the dislike of the RIAA, file-sharing networks are the preferred way for many people to sample music.
Zabriskie doesn’t see file-sharing networks as a threat to musicians though, quite the opposite in fact. “No one should ever be upset that people are downloading their record for free. They’re listening to it. And chances are they will buy it someday if they like it. Someone who doesn’t buy it still wouldn’t have bought it if they didn’t download it, so what’s the worry?”
In fact, much like radio, file-sharing networks are a great way to promote music. Zabriskie discovered this himself, as one of his tracks appeared on the famous Indie/Rock Playlist torrent in February 2008. Many artists have seen an increase in their fanbase after one of their tracks appeared in these playlists, since they were downloaded by tens of thousands of people.
“It’s really cool, just one person’s mixtape, but a great way for people all around the world to see what’s going on in music that month. So, very suddenly, tens of thousands of people from around Portland to Poland had that song on their computer. How did Criznittle find it? I don’t know, exactly. But he did, and he liked it, and he shared it, and I found a lot of fans because of it’,” Chris points out.
So what does this mean for the music industry, one might ask. It is hard to predict the future of course, but it’s clear that consumer to consumer promotion will be much more important than the marketing budgets of the major record labels. Music is being freed from the corporate stranglehold, and although it’s a challenge to find the right distribution method for the future, the artists and fans will come out as the winners.
Zabriskie’s final words sum it up nicely.
“Bottom line: if you like something you listen to, support the artist however you can. If that means buying something, great. If that means going to a live show, great. If that means sharing it with a friend, great. If that means blogging about it, great. If that means requesting it on your local college radio station, great. If that means just scrobbling it to Last.fm so people can see that you’re enjoying it, great.”
“That’s the future of music. It’s completely in your hands, not mine, not anyone else’s who makes music. Yours. Don’t let anyone judge you for how you choose to find and experience music. The soundtrack to your life is up to you. All music is free, everywhere. Don’t take that for granted. Share it, disappear into it. It’s yours.”