Over at his personal blog, music artist Derek Webb has a rather lengthy post detailing why he believes that giving away music for free is actually a good thing for the artist. Besides giving some insight concerning streaming services like Spotify or even purchasing albums from services like iTunes or Amazon, Webb spends his words on arguing for a relationship between himself and his fans. While his argument focuses throughout the post on the idea that giving away an album he would make relatively little from by selling it on iTunes will net him a gain through concert tickets, t-shirts, or even other albums from a merch table, Webb does conclude by suggesting that giving away albums for free actually increases the value of music, rather than decreasing it.
His argument boils down to recognizing that value accounts for more than just money:
Music does have monetary value. But more than its monetary value is its emotional value, its relational value, its artistic value, even its spiritual value. When you make meaningful connections with people based on artistic self-expression, I think you’re actually increasing the value of that art based on the many ways it’s valued.
I think Webb is spot on with this point, at least. I can’t really speak to whether or not artists should give their music away for free, though it does strike me as wise for independent artists who play a lot of shows. This is only my first impression, however, and perhaps there is something in me that would love free albums. Then again, I also try to attend shows of my favorite artists when they come through town; I’ve also been known to buy a few t-shirts.
While I don’t know exactly how profitable it is for artists, I have seen it happen recently with a few of my favorite artists. One of my current favorites, Luke Brawner (incidentally, a friend of Webb, who appears on his album), is giving away his album for free on his Facebook page (if you ‘like’ him, which seems to add weight to Webb’s suggestions: now Brawner can advertise shows and other ways to support him). I’ve reviewed Brawner’s album here, and you can listen to an interview I was privileged to do with him here. Likewise, Kareem Manuel is giving away his album Until Then over at his website. He’s a rapper who has always struck me as uniquely honest and relatively straightforward; his writing style is one that you will likely either love or hate. There are plenty of other artists who have given away albums, as well.
The concept of giving away music to build a relationship sounds like a good one, at least to me, since I’ve always enjoyed the sorts of artists who take time to respond to tweets or e-mail requests. I’d recommend you check out the artists above, but also be sure to support the artists you enjoy and listen to by attending concerts, buying t-shirts, and, since money isn’t everything, take the time to pray for and talk to them.