Prince, Radiohead, Moby = music for free?

November 15, 2007

Date: November 15, 2007 4:49:24 AM EST
To: <Undisclosed-Recipient:;>
Subject: Prince, Radiohead, Moby = music for free?

There is a trend that’s developed among superstar artists.

They’re giving their music away for free!

First Prince did it:

Prince also did it at his concerts.  He gave every single ticket buyer a “free” CD when I saw him live a few years ago.  Those “free” CDs somehow miraculously counted as “sales” for Soundscan (the cost was perhaps built into the price of the ticket?!?)– so because he had one of the biggest tours of the year, his CD charted so well, even though it wasn’t very good.

And then came Radiohead:

But, despite the hype, Radiohead decided not to remain completely indie but recently signed record deals to have their music distributed in physical CD format.

And now Moby:

Moby is giving away his music for free to independent and non-profit filmmakers, films students and others that need their music for independent, non-profit use.

Yes, the trend is that “music is free” – and if superstar artists are giving their music away, that’s fine. They have the right to do that. Just the same way that you do, as an indie artist.

What I don’t like is that it sets a precedent, yet again, that “music should be free” to the consumer.

So, no use in fighting it, right?  Consumers want their music for free. They’ll either go online and download it for free (on some illegal service) or they get it directly from the artist.

The problem is, the artists like Prince, Radiohead and Moby that are doing this can afford to. They have all made tens of millions of dollars when record companies were doing well.  They toured like crazy and made a lot of money that way. Tens of millions, if not more.  Moby licensed the $#@$# out of his “Play” album.

It makes me sad because I know indie artists aren’t in the same position. They don’t have tens of millions of dollars in the bank and the luxury of giving their music away for free.

But the future is just that – give away music for free.  License it.  Tour.  Get people to come to a show.  Maybe they will buy a t-shirt and CD at the live show, especially if you come out and sign for them after your set.

So, the future for many of you, because of everyone wanting (and getting!) music from superstar artists like these guys for free, is that you will have to figure out a way to compete.  You must learn to make music really inexpensively yourself by recording your albums at home.  Or in really cheap studios.  Calling in favors.  Getting producers to work at a reduced rate.  Because, at the end of they day, you want to make a living from your music, right?

It sure is hard to compete with free.

But you gotta do it if you want to survive these days.

So my question for you is – would you give your music away for free?
Why or why not?   (There is no wrong answer here – just curious to get people’s opinions).
If yes, under what conditions (if any) do you give your music away?

Maybe the future has been here for decades.  A great interview with Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, Nirvana) from the November issue of Spin Magazine:  “A long time ago, someone tipped Grohl off about the secret of a long life in rock ‘n’ roll:  It’s not about how many albums you sell; it’s about how many tickets you sell.  Ever since, he’s devoted much of his time to transforming the Foos from a solo studio endeavor into a well-oiled stage machine.”

“When I joined the band, we sucked live,” Hawkins recalls.  “And we’re still not Rush. We’re sloppy, rough around the edges.  That’s part of our charm.  But we’ve gotten really good, and I think on our best nights, we can take anybody.”

And if you think about it, TV shows are free to the consumer.  They are entirely paid for by advertisers.

Maybe that will be the future of music.

Only time will tell.


“Motivation and determination are 1000 times more potent than talent alone”
-Some guy online
“Be nice to everyone.  You never know if the intern will be the next president of your record company.”
-Michael Buble
“People have to learn they have to juggle everything until they get lucky. They need to work a steady job, make a living and make time for the band. They need to take all the money they make from the band and throw it back into the band”
–David Draiman, Vocalist for Disturbed, interviewed in Music Connection


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