Saturday, December 10, 2011

OPINION: Free Music

by Mark Gillis 

Yet again I’m writing an answer to another awesome question from The Needle Drop. This time it’s about something I care a lot about, the issue of free music. So like always, for a little bit more context give this video a watch and we can get to discussing the good stuff.

I think Anthony is dead on by saying that listening to music is basically free right now. You can find streams of albums all over the internet and basically any song you might want it listen to is on YouTube somewhere. I’d even say that owning mp3’s is pretty much free even if you are downloading them through illegal means. So In my belief, they only kind of music that is actually worth paying for is a physical copy of an album on CD or vinyl. It’s not like I’ll buy everything I listen to though, that would be ridiculously expensive given my music listening habits. So I have to pick and choose what I buy based on how much I like the music. If a band wants my money, they’re going to have to earn it.

I think that music will eventually be totally free, legally that is. With so many bands floating around the internet right now it’s a challenge just to be heard by people and one way of being heard is to make your music accessible to anyone who wants to listen to it. I’d still love to see bands release physical copies of albums so fans could support them and get something back in return. I do think that selling physical copies will become more of a donation with the a gift in return rather than a primary means of distributing music. In reality, that's probably what it is right now. I guess that it really all depends on what artists want to do with their music too. I just personally believe the making mp3’s free is a great way for artists to just get their music out to a wider audience. If they really are making great music then the money will hopefully come from various other places.

In fact, a few of my favourite albums this year have been free releases. Bodysongs by Born Gold, Exmilitary by Death Grips and I Wish My Brother Rob Was Here by Milo all made my top 25 albums list for 2011, and they were all free online somewhere. I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t have checked these albums out if they cost money but I can say that I checked them out a lot sooner than I would have just because they were free. Being able to get good quality audio files from a reliable source for free is something that would benefit music immensely.

While mp3’s are really what the music world revolves around right now a number of music streaming services have come into prevalence recently. Some of these services are free and others cost a small monthly fee to stream just about any album you could ever want. I’ve actually tried to convert to using one of these services but I just found it really difficult to do. Maybe it’s because I’m a dinosaur because I don’t have a smartphone yet but I just love having songs available on my ipod anytime I could possibly want them. I also think that streaming services remove us from the listening experience even further than mp3’s have already removed us from it. I honestly still take some pride in having my itunes organized with all the proper cover art. With streaming services that all goes away though, the music is just there ready to listen to anytime you desire. I really like what is happening with Google Music though. Even though I can’t use it yet (living in Canada has a few downfalls) it seems like a perfect situation for me. Being able to keep 25,000 songs in my own personal cloud for free is massively appealing to me. I’d really love to see music head more toward this direction.

Another site that I’d love to see come into prevalence more is Bandcamp. For anyone who doesn’t know, Bandcamp is basically a site where any artist can create a profile to upload their music to, and then name their price for the album (they can even makie it free). Once a song or album is uploaded to Bandcamp it can be streamed there for free or downloaded for the named price in a number of file formats. To me this has to be one of the best tools for artists to get their music out to people. It’s way less bloated than any other online music store I’ve found and artists can decide exactly what they want to get back from their music. I think that maybe before music become completely free this is a model that we’ll see a lot more of. To me a name your price format is genius, I think a lot of upcoming bands should thank Radiohead for really pushing that idea into the mainstream with their release of In Rainbows.

Now if music does eventually become free artists will still have to make money somehow. That’s one reason why I think physical music will still be around for a while. It’s just another way for artists to support themselves. I’m not totally sure of the logistics of if a band can support themselves by just playing shows and selling t-shirts and albums at the merch table but I certainly hope that they can. I’d really like to think that people would recognize since music is free they should try to support bands in different ways, whether it be by going to a show or buying a t-shirt.

In summary, I think music will eventually be completely free. Whether it’s through streaming services or bands just decide to hand out mp3’s like candy, it’ll be free one way or another and I think music will be better for it.

You can follow me on Twitter @Mark__Gillis

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