Giving away all your music for free and trying to make your living via other revenue streams can be a valid approach. Except that I don't know of any musicians actually doing that. The ones who do make all their music available for free are also selling it and some are doing just fine without touring at all. As a one size fits all solution, it still seems to be the fantasy mostly of people in the tech world, which is weird because one size fits all doesn't work in their world either.
There are a lot of reasons it's ridiculous for people in the tech world, in particular, to say that you should just give away all your music for free and make a living through live shows. The reality is that tech business models run the gamut from free with ad support or premium options to straight up selling the core product.
The New Music Industry Is Showing Us How To Sell Music
Though some try to make it sound like it's a new music industry thing to stop selling music, it's actually the new music industry that's showing us how to sell music in today's world.
For example, Alex Day gives all his music away for free on YouTube and makes a living selling the same songs through iTunes. He does not tour at all but he's doing just fine.
Topspin and PledgeMusic have both shown that hardcore fans still want physical product and are willing to pay for it when presented in the right way. They are business leaders in the new music industry.
Pretty Lights, who has long given his music away for free, has also made it available for sale. Because the freebies have been available from his website, he's also asked for donations to cover the expenses of free pricing. And recently he's started offering bundles of music and merch.
Why exactly should they stop doing what's working?
Going On Tour Is Not Always A Great Way To Make Money
If you actually talk to people who tour, you know they don't always do that well and that sometimes it's the CD and merch sales that keep them going. I just saw a Facebook post by a group who was on the road, played an open mic for free and sold out the rest of the CDs they had at the open mic.
Any working musician knows that you've got to do free things to make it but sometimes those free things are the shows and selling the music in a physical format is what helps keep them going.
And any musician that tours will tell you that just because you're a competent performer and have fans doesn't mean that you can get the number of bookings you need at places that pay well enough to earn a living.
One Size Never Fits All
I admit, I haven't constructed the strongest argument here.
I don't have any fancy charts or visions of the future.
But I know a bullshit claim when I see one and they usually include the words "everyone" and "should" with the underlying assumption that one size fits all.
[Thumbnail image: cover of James Powell's Give It All Away.]
Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch/@crowdfundingm) also blogs at Flux Research and Crowdfunding For Musicians. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.