Should music be free?

That seems to be the big question, right? Between streaming services, like Spotify and Pandora, and what iTunes and Amazon offer where you can listen to it before you buy selections, it is to just not buy any music. Dave Grohl said to give the music away and then do shows, and if people like your music, they will come and see your show. Now that’s all good and great if you are an established band like the Foo Fighters, but young bands and other up and comers, who have been trying to make it, might not feel the same way.

I’m not sure fans want it either. U2 is a great example. Their new album, Songs Of Innocence, was given free to all the iTunes users. Well, there are 500 million of them. You would think everyone would take advantage of that but they didn’t. Only 38 million users did. To put that in perspective, that’s less than 10%. Michael Jackson’s Thriller actually sold 45 million copies. Makes you wonder if free is the answer.

It always puzzles me that the stars who have made it and already have a following, think that free is the way of the world today. Well bands like U2 and the Foo Fighters will obviously do better touring if they don’t sell any CDs. But I doubt some of the smaller acts would. Let’s take a look at what the fans should know about the business, shall we?

A band forms, writes and records their own music, needs to get gigs and build an audience. Pretty basic so far. They need to record an album so fans can buy at the shows so they can get more revenue for the band. They need to sell t-shirts and other merchandise as well. Just to do what I listed they need to have money up front, too, to make merchandise and to record. Studio time isn’t cheap, getting a decent producer and engineer isn’t low priced either. Once that is done you have to get the CDs pressed, so everything is expense driven. Bands and artists take advantage of all the media they can because they want to grow quickly. Whatever small fee they get from the streaming services, or even YouTube, is worth it so they can hopefully have people find them and learn that they are out there

These bands have to market themselves (again another expense), and maybe, if they get a big enough following, they will get noticed. They may even get a manager that can help them. But until they get to where they need to be, they really work hard to get what they have. I’m sure giving away what they created isn’t what they have in mind.  After all, it is the music business. I think I have shown that making music isn’t free. So the debate still remains, should it be?

Unfortunately radio isn’t helping new artists out. Unless they belong to a major label, they won’t get on the air. At the same time, it seems like everyone is streaming music anyway. Word of mouth is the best thing a new band can ask for. There is Internet radio as well as paid formats, but they still aren’t getting out to the masses.

Maybe because I am old school, and what I mean by that, it used to be easy. A new band opened for a major headliner, or I actually learned about them on the radio and/or a magazine and you know, go out and buy the album. You would in turn tape a copy and share with your friends. But I understand with technology comes change. The industry as we knew it is done. Everyone has to come up with a way to make money in order to succeed. Be it merchandise, shows, and/or special packages.

I would suggest that maybe the streaming services should, instead of paying the artists a minimal royalty fee or whatever minimal structure they have, that all the artists get a piece of the advertising revenue as well.  That way everyone enjoys the benefits of the service. I can confess that I use some of these services to see if I like an artist or a band or not. Mainly it’s unfortunate that there isn’t a record store or very few of them that will carry most artists and I don’t have a chance to check them out that way. By using the service, I listen to them and then I go out and buy it if I like it. I definitely like the services for that purpose.

In closing, I don’t think it should be free, but because in most cases I don’t pay for music today or a whole album. We can’t complain that ticket prices are so high, because after all they  need to make money somehow.



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