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Try a little Patients

November 13, 2009

Maybe the only way to sell music is to give it away for free.

Of course, giving a sampling to sell the whole is no revelation. Grocers and drug dealers have been onto this for centuries.

A decade after the MP3 became vernacular though, bands, artists and labels are still trying to find the right formula for giving their stuff away. How much is too much?

MySpace keeps itself  viable by streaming thousands of full albums by artists big and small. With its full-song and full-album previews, is becoming worthy challenger to iTunes. And Post Rock readers know there are tons of free, legal MP3s all over the Internets.

radiohead_in_rainbows2Honestly, as much as I enjoy all that free-dom, that is probably too much. But smart artists and bands are showing us it’s not enough to just throw something up there on the Web.

You need a stunt that gets people far more influential than me to pay attention.

Radiohead’s In Rainbows is a classic example. Going digital-only without a label was interesting. Giving it away seemed insane.

People did actually name their own price higher than $0 (I paid 6.99 USD) and the band sold a bazillion hard copies when they were finally released.


I presume this is Paul.

It didn’t work because they were the biggest band in the world. Radiohead’s fanbase of millions didn’t hurt the profits, but a lot of the attention came from the viral blogging that fueled the sheer disbelief and intrigue.

Perhaps this concept has lost some luster, but it’s still a good idea. It’s an even better idea to couple it with an interactive component like Paul and the Patients, a Brooklyn band I featured on a podcast a while back.

Paul and his pals plan to upload a song each week to a blog that allows fans can listen to, comment on and download at a name-your-own price.

That’s an interesting hook that someone might want to write about. Oh look, I just did.

In similar fashion, Beck has been uploading video installments once a week to his Record Club for the past few months.Vodpod videos no longer available.

Without Blakroc‘s weekly webisodes,  I’d be tempted to write off the Black Keys collaboration project as a clumsy collection of artists that look good on paper, but fail IRL.

These few examples point to some strategies that work well for the artists and the fans. Any other good stunts that are catching your eyes and ears?

— Shane M. Liebler

2 Comments leave one →
  1. insidetimshead permalink
    November 14, 2009 6:39 pm

    What The Damnwells are doing by raising $20,3000 from fan donations on Pledge Music, while giving out premiums ranging from the finished CD to house concerts, is an interesting new strategy, for sure. Since they are, as I type, 85 percent to the goal, it will be interesting to see if others try as well. That all donors receive the ability to download demos — and leave comments to influence the final produce — invites even more participation.

    With the Radiohead deal, I remember how much it was savaged by columnists and shaded articles in the mainstream media. Oh yeah, did we mention that same mainstream media is also owned by the same conglomerates that own record companies and wanted nothing more than for Radiohead to not create a new business model? Not that I’m a conspiracy theorist or anything.

    Curiously, there were two Wilco mentions during the Stamats SIM Tech, talking about how they started posting albums online after Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, yet their sales have climbed with every album. Showing that free can indeed lead to greater profits, if done correctly.

    • November 16, 2009 9:52 am

      Good call on the Wilco thing. I completely forgot about that. They really were pioneers in the field.
      Thanks for reading!

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