Tuesday, May 13, 2008

BAND THRIVES WITH 600,000 FREE DOWNLOADS

GLENN GAMBOA, NEWSDAY Coldplay has become the latest band to discover that giving away your music - even a little bit for a little time - may, in the long run, end up being worth more than the conventional model of only selling it. To drum up publicity for its new single, "Violet Hill," which was released last week, the band decided to give it away for a week on its Web site as a free download. On the first day it was available, the song was downloaded more than 600,000 times, according to Billboard magazine. . . According to the music social network last.fm, "Violet Hill" set a record among its 15 million members, who played the track about 33,000 times the first day, or once every two seconds. . .

Spending a fraction of what it normally would to market a new single from a new album, Coldplay landed tons of positive media attention, let people know they have a new single and a new album - "Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends" - coming, got people to listen to the new single and generated lots of goodwill among its fans, while possibly minting new ones. . . "While publishers become increasingly concerned about the cannibalization of their revenue stream, experiments by Coldplay and Radiohead, at a minimum, prove that free music downloads provide added publicity to increase awareness for album releases," said Bill Tancer, Hitwise's general manager of global research. . .

Record companies mainly concern themselves with making as much money as they can in the short-term, since the profit splits on the contracts are more favorable for them at that point. Artists, on the other hand, generally don't start making serious money until after they have fulfilled their first contract and sign another where they get a higher percentage of the profits and get more control over their careers.

That means record companies have less financial incentive to support a veteran band on its fourth album than a brand-new act and its debut, so they haven't been very interested in strategies that help bands develop long-term relationships. However, as that way of thinking crumbles - thanks to the iTunes-aided ability of fans to buy only the hits they want instead of a whole album that may have only one good song - something else has to replace it.

The "pay-it-forward" model will survive only if artists commit to strengthening their relationship to fans with free music and fans commit to supporting their favorite artists financially by buying their albums, going to their shows and buying their T-shirts and other merchandise.

Sure, it sounds crazy. But a business model built on mutual respect between artists and fans may just be crazy enough to work. After all, sticking with the currently faltering business model would be even crazier.

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