Music as ancillary?

So, back on track – onto the task of unpacking the notion of our music being given away for ‘free’, the story going that it’s great publicity, that we’ll develop a degree of ubiquity (or localised ubiquity – is that an oxymoron???) and it will serve us well in the long run.

A lot of the talk about new ways of getting music out there has revolved around established bands ‘giving away’ their music, with the aim of spreading the word about their tours, and making it back in the live arena, the two main ones being Prince (who gave his new album away in the UK with copies of The Daily Mail – a heinous newspaper, inexplicably read by a couple of million people a day…) and The Charlatans, who gave theirs away to downloaders on the XFM radio website.

Now, what’s happening here really? Is anyone being altruistic? Prince was paid handsomely by the Mail (just been trying to find out exactly how much, but can’t – it was over a million anyway…) the Mail circulation spiked by almost a million, and you can bet your ass they charged more for advertising in that issue, knowing that they would have that many more copies out there.

No, what happened was that the CD – and the music on it – became an ancillary product to the Mail selling advertising space, and getting people who wouldn’t normally buy it (both those who hate it, and those who would normally buy a rival paper like the Sunday Express). No-one was ‘giving away’ anyway. The mail sold it as part of the cover price, and Prince sold it to the paper.

I know less about the Charlatans deal, but the XFM website is advertising driven, and they clearly benefit from increased traffic, both in terms of new listeners and click throughs to their advertisers. I wonder if the Charlatans are on for a cut of that. I also wonder what they’ll do when everybody’s doing it.

See, advertising space in newspapers is REALLY expensive, so if you can get the jump on the rest of the market, and are a big enough band to make a splash by announcing something like this, or the Radiohead deal, you’re getting serious amounts of column inches for free, or rather, for the cost of the album. Right now, it pays for a band like the Charlatans or Radiohead to be seen to be giving it away, but it’s a trade, and for the people doing the giving away, the music is ancillary to their primary business – it’s just there to generate traffic.

This isn’t a new thing, as I’ve blogged in the past about Carling owning loads of venues, with the purpose of selling more beer (wow, it was over two years ago that I wrote that!), but it is something that we REALLY need to be aware of in all the talk of ‘free’ – we need to ask the question, ‘is this ‘free’ idea just about someone else making money out of me giving my music away?’

It’s already happening – Myspace, for example. You get free hosting of a few music files and a page, and they make billions in advertising. We’re providing the content that fuels Murdoch’s empire (yeah, when you put it like that, it’s pretty seedy). However, it’s a knowing agreement, and in return WE get the traffic too – it’s our content, we can get the click throughs etc. and hopefully the increased audience…. hopefully.

So there are two models here – symbiosis and exploitation. Trying to sell indie musicians on the idea of giving their music away for free because Prince and the Charlatans think it’s a great idea is utter bullshit. It’s heinous. There is no parallel, as we won’t generate either the column inches or the fee for licensing our product to whichever media outlet wants to distribute it…

And unless someone comes up with a far far better workable scheme, the same would be true of whatever globalised collection agency was needed to distribute the fees collected when music is made downloadable for free in exchange for a ‘tax’, possibly collected by ISPs. The music would be ancillary to the company behind the agency making money and branding it. The kind of size of operation needed to do such a thing online means it could only really be handled by one of the online giants – Google, Yahoo, News Corps, Microsoft or Macintosh – I really don’t relish the thought of trying to contact Google’s new licensing department to get my share of the license cash… Still, I have a couple of chapters of The End Of Control that I’ve not read yet, so must go and find out how Gerd has been expanding on his ideas…

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