NEW YORK (Hypebot) – As part of a week long exploration into the meaning and value of "free", Hypebot asked some of the music industry's most forward thinkers the value and future of free music. Here Jim Mahoney, the vice president of indie label trade group The American Association Of Independent Music (A2IM) shares his perspective on "free".
Is “music for free” a viable alternative for artists and labels who invest in the creation of music as the economy of music evolves from a purchase consumption model to a time spent listening consumption model?
It’s important to understand that free is not new to the music business. Labels traditionally used free performances by their artists and free goods to retail (referred to as “cleans”) to drive early sales or create a buzz for a new artist or album. Of course, at a certain point the free goods would be discontinued, or the single would be cut out after achieving a certain level of success, with the goal of driving album sales and creating profits for the artist and the label.
Artists or labels who give away work for fee today must have a similar plan. Know why you’re offering your music for free, get something tangible in return in terms of special, unique, and focused attention (from a select and limited group of partners who reach your fans), and know your exit strategy (i.e. how giving away your music is going to turn into real profits) because the old model that says “promotion will result in sales” is now a fairy tale.
Know that if you waive performance or other royalties in exchange for “promotional value” you may be putting the final nail in your coffin (at worst) or allowing others to profit on your music (by building their own business models and taking your audiences and selling advertising or subscriptions) while you make nothing tangible in return (at least). The emerging and growing income streams presented by, for example, SoundExchange for performance rights of your music on non-terrestrial broadcasts, minimum per stream royalties, ad rev splits, and other alternative income from licensing the use of music is no longer ancillary income but rather is replacement income for the shrinking sales figures that are affecting many independent labels (it’s a myth that declines in music sales are only impacting major labels).