Free Music for Everyone?

By now it’s no secret that record labels are becoming unnecessary from the perspective of their traditional role of “discovering” musical acts and bringing them to the public. Who needs to pay someone a ton of money to do that when music is literally everywhere you turn? But what does this mean for the future of music in terms of production, distribution, marketing, discovery, and basically every aspect except for the actual creation and performance? Through basic supply and demand, fewer people are willing to pay for music, and certainly not the excessive fees which in prior decades have allowed music executives to drive around in Bentleys while their musical acts got pennies per album sale.

A friend alerted me to a new site with a new concept this past week. has a unique model that sounds incredible for all parties involved, but whether it proves to be viable or not is another matter. Essentially artists can put their songs up for download, and anyone can download them for free (provided they create an account at the site), and the artists (and a cause of their choice) get paid out of ad revenues for the site. Theoretically, this is brilliant. What better way to drive traffic to a site than to give away music? And what better way to raise ad revenues than a high flow of highly-targeted traffic?

I made a page for H & C here, and we’ve already had a number of downloads from total strangers (which truthfully is not something that has happened on our MySpace or iLike pages). This already seems to indicate it’s a good channel for listeners to find music with which they can connect. I couldn’t really care less about the twenty-five cents or whatever it is we end up getting per download, but I do think it’s pretty cool that Compassion International will also be getting something every time someone clicks to download, and hopefully people are finding music that points to a deeper truth.

I’m more intrigued to see how signed acts utilize the site. How cool would it be to be able to go on the release date of your favorite band’s album and legally get the whole thing for free knowing that money was going straight to them (and something they care about)? I’ve heard in numerous interviews from artists that music royalties really aren’t a significant portion of their income anymore; it’s almost all concert and merch sales. So it sounds to me like Gimmiesound is actually just cutting the administrative costs out of the picture and would only affect artist income positively. But I have to believe that recording contracts will prohibit this from happening, or at least take the vast majority of money that comes in.

So if you have some time, go check out I haven’t looked for many bigger-name acts on there yet, but it’s well-designed, easy to navigate, and the ads aren’t obtrusive or irritating – just a banner at the top and some text ads below the player, from what I’ve seen. So stumble across some new music you enjoy, get it for free, and still pay the creator.

2 thoughts on “Free Music for Everyone?

  1. Emily, thanks for the insight. I’ve only had the smallest glimpse into what “the industry” is really like. I wasn’t suggesting that Gimmiesound could become a large piece of the pie for even indie artists, but more that if it becomes a viable business model that it could nudge labels out of the scene a little bit more.

    Labels will never die (at least in our lifetimes) just how magazines and newspapers never will. You’re right that people will still see “getting signed” as an ultimate goal, but the main thing that gets to me is that it’s legitimately free music to the listener, and that’s always a good thing.

    Keep up the awesome work on the Nashville for Free site ;)

  2. Here’s the thing, very few artists make money off of records. It just doesn’t happen unless you have a good deal and go multi-platinum, or, if you’re with an indie, sell 10,000 records (which is harder than it sounds, and I work at one of the major indie labels right now).

    Remember the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest? They sold 1,000,000 records and each of the 3 members ended up with about $15,000 after everything had been recouped. That’s about breaking even.

    This ad based site, the revenues from it STILL won’t be enough to support an act. Artists make their money from touring, merch, and publishing (licensing). Selling the actual music isn’t even on that list. It’s an artist’s goal to promote his or her music enough to get people into clubs, buying merch and, hopefully, making fans in places that will allow them to get their music on TV or in a movie.

    Yeah, record sales don’t matter. They’re a nice stat, if you sell enough you get something nice to hang on your wall, but selling CDs is just promotion for the tour. Still, people will never stop recording albums and I doubt that people will ever stop trying to sell with major labels who will just rob them. Hell, sometimes indies aren’t even that great. If you’re an artist or a producer no one is going to pay you if they don’t have to. Even TV shows that license your song for an episode might not pay you! I just came across a document the other day pertaining to the fact that a TV show hasn’t paid the label where I work. It’s been TWO YEARS.

    So yeah, who cares about selling records anymore? Who makes that number one priority? It just isn’t.

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