Free! Got Me Thinking

@Kevin | Social

On my summer reading list this year was “Free: The Future of a Radical Price” by Chris Anderson. I really enjoyed this book, it was an interesting read on the history of free, where it is going, and the different shapes it takes. While I might be a couple of months late to the fray that Free caused I still wanted to share some of my observations specifically around the music industry.

In Free, Anderson uses music in a lot of his examples. Two of the biggest examples he cites are around major artists Radiohead and Prince (or whatever his name is this month). We are all aware at this point that Radiohead put their last CD out on their website and allowed their users to name the price they wanted to download it for. Additionally they put out premium versions of the CD and on vinyl for fans that wanted extended art or higher quality recording. This led to the best selling Radiohead album of all time as well as one of their highest grossing tours.

Prince gave away his (at the time) latest CD in a London newspaper in advance of his extended stay at the O2 arena. This giveaway increased sales of the paper and powered Prince to a record number of sell out shows. (Michael Jackson was aiming to shatter before he died with an extended stay at the O2. Why I decided to throw that in here I have no idea.)

To me these examples were disappointing because they are on such the extreme end of the spectrum. Of course they had a level of success doing these different types of giveaways because of who they are. This wouldn’t necessarily work for a young band still cutting their teeth on the road. Anderson however did cite two more examples that I found interesting. At first I wasn’t sure if these models would work in the US but the longer I thought about them the more I realized they were actually happening.

One of the examples was basically a recording star completely built by a corporation. Their music would be given away free but in turn the corporation would use it to sell other products, gain concert revenue, and continually use this up and coming/soon to be popular artist on multiple advertising campaigns. While we don’t completely have free music part of this down we are kind of seeing this with the way Disney has used their music arm in the last decade, grooming artists and using them to cross promote various other Disney platforms.

Anderson examines how in Brazil street vendors give away CDs of a touring artist usually in advance of the artist’s tour leading to an increased attendance number at the shows of the artist. This model has actually been in place in the United States for a long time just without the market vendor but with tape traders and specific types of music download sites. It is very much like jam bands that allow taping of their shows by fans who uploaded to the web where they can be downloaded for free, their whole goal is to spread the music and make their money off of continuous touring. In the past hip-hop DJs have created mixes and have given the mix out looking to gain airplay or promote an upcoming show at a club. This model has been deployed in the United States for years.

Okay so where does this tie into social media? You will have to wait and see tomorrow because this is turning into the longest blog post ever.