A few days ago I decided that it was time to ditch MP3s and move onto the flac file type. The files are larger but I also have way more hard drive space now than I did a few years ago and if I need more it is relatively cheap. I justified it by saying that the quality I gain from the space is worth it. If one of my physical copies were to be lost I would still be able to get the original back in all its glory.
I was going through my music collection seeing what I needed to re-rip from my CDs when I got back home to St. Louis. I then came across some of my music that was free, and legitimately so. I went off to websites and tried to see if these bands offered their music in a lossless format, about half of them did, and this made me happy. It got me thinking though, how many artists really release free music, and if they do, is it really worth it? I started a thread here to try and get a list of free music going and I also did some research all over the internet to see what the possibility of free music really was.
When going through sites it is really hard to cut out all of the stuff that people are just fanatical about and come up with some hard numbers that support any sort of sustainable defense. The first real piece of evidence I ran into was when I was researching the recently free released album from Nine Inch Nails, The Slip. Trent Reznor released the album free because the previous album, Ghosts I-V was released in a free edition, that only included Ghosts I, and a $5 edition that contained all of the songs, in three months time Nine Inch Nails made $750,000 off of the album. Due to the success they released the next one for free as a thank you.
To me this begged the question, could a less successful artist have pulled off something as successful? At first I thought that the answer no was going to win no competition. The more I thought about it though I think a partially free release is a good way to get yourself some money and some attention. First off if a new artist released only free albums I think that once they got popular no one would ever buy a CD because they just expect to get it for free. If they have a CD with limited songs on it for free, and then an extended edition with everything for only $5 – $10 then I can’t help but feel like they would make a decent amount of money.
If a release was done like this it wouldn’t really require a record company either, which I think is the big advantage. You could charge $5 for the full album, more than you would see from a record company, as a digital download, and if someone wants a physical copy charge them $10, or what ever the difference is for you to make the physical copy. This way you get more money per CD sold and you even make your fans happy because they don’t have to try and find the album and upon finding it realized that buying it from a retail store is going to set them back almost $20.
After all this reading I came to a conclusion that I think holds a decent amount of water. Will music ever be widely free? Most likely not, the artists do have to make money. Whether they chose to break even or if they really want to make it a life style they do need some sort of financial backing to hold it. Although not free I can not help but feel that removing record companies, at least for a newer band, could give a lot of benefits. They get more money per unit sold and they are also not necessarily attached to a contract giving them the freedom to play around with how they like to distribute until they find something that works for them. The savings and benefits are passed onto the fans, and isn’t that what makes an artist truly successful anyway, having a happy loyal fan base?