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Ease of recording and communication technology has made rip and burn, download and share, all for FREE, the default settings when it comes to media.

With nothing but the cost of the internet connection to download this week’s number one single and nothing at all to make unlimited copies of a friend’s CD, users have come to expect their music for free.

According to the IFPI Digital Music report 2009, 95% of music shared online was done so by people who didn’t pay for the music. Thus, this market became illegal.

Increasingly, artists are recognising that people aren’t as willing to pay for music, at least not for their weekly mp3 fix.

Ben Walker, musician from Oxford says, “When it’s so easy to make and share music, you’d be an unpopular person if you charged for music.”

Robin Pecknold, singer from The Fleet Foxes, was quoted by the BBC as saying, “I've downloaded hundreds and hundreds of records - why would I care if somebody downloads ours? That's such a petty thing to care about.”

Artists are instead taking the decision to allow fans access to music that’s as free and as easy, if not easier, than file sharing. Although they make little to no money off it, they find other value in free music - it's also free advertising.

“If people can download my music and share it with their friends, it means more people are listening to my music, and that’s important,” says Ben.

But Sally Gross, Head of Music Media Management, University of Westminster says, “There’s no idea that giving away music is a way to popularity at all.”

Free and freedom

Some artists have taken the idea of free music beyond just the promotional download. The music is not only free of cost to buy or listen to it, but also free of copyright, freely available and freely shared.

“I find that copyright is a barrier for what I do,” says Ben who distributes his music under Creative Commons licenses.

Music released freely under licenses like the Creative Commons means that it can not only be downloaded but also shared on blogs, played at college concerts, played on independent podcasts, used in projects, remixed – many of the uses that could normally be a rap on the knuckles or a hefty fine for copyright infringement.

Bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead have been hailed as pioneers of the free music initiative.  They've also shown that freely offering music doesn't mean it always has to be distributed for no money.

Their success however has not convinced all artists and industry representatives of the viability of such initiatives.

“Offering your music for free is sustainable if you’re a large enough band,” says Dr. Gross. “It doesn’t help you with your standard of living, with your bread.”


Next: So if music is free, where do artists get the moolah for their bread?

Previous: Music 2.0 and the digital download


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