Can Music Be Free

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The Internet has allowed digital media content to be freely copied and moved across the world’s computers without concern for copyright. The use of digital delivery channels over the Internet to distribute free music can however be an effective marketing tool encouraging consumers to purchase goods and turn away from P2P file sharing.


In the year of 1999 a college student in the USA came up with a concept. This was to share his digital music with other Internet users with the idea that they may share their music too. Individuals running a free utility program would allow other users (also running the program) access their local hard drives and digital audio across the Internet. The program he invented catalogued titles, bands, albums and audio quality and allowed users to search what they wanted and download the audio files directly to their own hard drives.

This was the start of what has now been referred to as Web 2.0 and with his program Napster, Shawn Fanning started a revolution in the way music was distributed, opening the doors for a multitude of file sharing programs that would change the cultural view of artistic ownership of digital audio and media. Music, film, television, photography and texts had all been reduced to a collection of 1s and 0s that could easily be shared at great speed over the Internet without any regard to license and copyright.

The music industry at the time, including record labels and musicians, reacted with a number of lawsuits protesting copyright infringement. Within 2 years of its’ inception Napster was shut down, but by then the snowball was rolling and gathering speed with a diversity of the world’s society sticking to its enticingly cool and shiny exterior (beneath which may lurk something that ultimately will not enhance the music listeners experience, something that will be discussed later). It was the Industry’s misunderstanding of the situation and refusal to realize how Napster and similar file sharing software was shaping cultural ideas of property ownership that left them in some difficulty, with progressively declining CD sales and increasing piracy.

The Concept of Web 2.0

Web 2.0 application Wikipedia defines Web 2.0 (itself an example) as ‘the trend in the use of World Wide Web technology to enhance creativity, information sharing, and most notably, collaboration among users’. It seems appropriate to source a definition from an example of Web 2.0.

The World Wide Web (Web 1.0) was essentially a read only experience whereas Web 2.0 has allowed net users to read, write and file share using the World Wide Web. The term was first used in 2001 by Tim O’Reilly, the CEO of O’Reilly Media, Inc at a brainstorming session at around the time the dot-com bubble burst. An activist for open standards and open source software, O’Reilly believes Web 2.0 is a platform without boundaries that has a gravitational core at which is a set of principles and practices exist. Around this core is a solar system of sites that demonstrate some or all of the principles, at a varying distance from the core. (

The core represents the users control over data using; services rather than packaged software, architecture of participation, cost effective scalability, remixable data source and data transformations, software above the level of a single device and harvesting collective intelligence.

Some examples of the sites (in the Solar System):

* Rich user experiences such as Flickr and Google Maps

* Reviews (for example Ebay and Amazon)

* Customer self service allowing Chris Anderson’s Long Tail (niche markets)

* Blogs as participation rather than publishing

* Wikipedia as an example of radical trust

* BitTorrent as the radical decentralization of media texts

It was the BitTorrent type applications that followed Napster that transformed a large group of law abiding citizens into criminals, it seems that there was not a great deal any one could do to stop it happening. This changed way in which music is now consumed has forced the industry and artists to consider other monetizing music avenues, from download stores, fees from service providers, digital rights management, merchandise, deluxe goods, synchronization fees and advertising.

It has now become essential to understand this changing market place and to consider how it will affect existing industry, artists and record labels. Internet based music distribution can open up markets to artists without ever signing to a record label, this could have serious consequences for the major record labels as they could lose control of the market they have dominated for half a century. The musician/consumer can self manage business in a way not possible before Web 2.0 and the record companies need to look at developing non-traditional music revenue streams as part of their overall business strategy if they are to survive.

This essay will address the current situation by looking at examples within the music industry and how artists have reacted to Web 2.0 technology concluding by a look at the record labels’ steps to move into the new market place. It will consider a number of theories from media analysts and conclude whether the medium is the message or whether it is the content that is the message.

This study will provide reading material and examples for lecturer’s use and enable students on both National Diploma Music Practice and National Diploma Music Technology (and in the future Level 3 Diploma students) to both analyze and adapt to the changing market place whilst appreciating how artist recognition has changed as a result of digitized music. The material and accompanying student assignment will engage students in the use of their own experiences of media and allow them to reflect upon these experiences as part of their curriculum. This may help change opinions on piracy and invoke a feeling that an artist or songwriter/musician should be rewarded for their artifacts and music albeit in a non-traditional way.

A study of bands currently or recently using free music as part of their business model will demonstrate this alternative path that encourages consumers to invest into a community or fan-base, developing feelings of ownership over the artist and songs. This relationship between consumer and artist is the key to successful merchandise sales and income generation. Free music downloads can be the basis of a sound business model and can co-exist and be part of a larger business strategy that also includes music downloads stores (with or without Digital Rights Management – DRM).

Technological convergence has allowed cost free distribution of music over the Internet and opened the door to alternative income streams; this can be seen as a positive situation. The justification for this essay will be to identify who will be the possible winners and losers, whether record labels will adjust and modify their roles and relationships with artists, and whether individuals can be successful without them.

The Fan or Fanatic

The Oxford Dictionary definition of a fan is: a person who has a strong interest in or admiration for a particular sport, art form, or famous person.

Generally if we admire someone it is not in our nature to exploit them (slang: rip off, rip and burn?), however downloading music, perhaps with the general understanding that it’s the rich record labels that are being exploited, seems to fall outside this morally wrong situation. Essentially anonymous it is a seemingly faceless acquiring of something for free with no harm done to anyone.

Although there appears to be a cultural shift in consumers’ views on copyright it is more likely however, that it is the ease of digital copying that has increased piracy. The physical action required to burn audio files to a CD or hard drive requires little thought, it is so effortless compared to compiling cassette tapes from vinyl material, correct levels needed to be set and all done in real time. The end result of this is that so many people are now doing it that it seems implausible the individual would be caught, it is presently million to one odds and surely a case of ‘well everyone else is doing it so why shouldn’t I?’.

We can also ask the question ‘is someone that avidly downloads an artist’s material any less than a fan than someone who pays?’ The answer is yes, they probably are less of a fan and less likely to be involved with online fan communities, but they remain fans. The participatory culture of online fan communities is where the fans register their interest and this is where the illegal file sharers need to be drawn.

Media analyst Henry Jenkins ( Aug 2006) states, “Fans have been and are likely to continue to be the shock troops in this transformation of our culture – highly motivated, passionately committed, and socially networked. They are early adopters of new technologies and willing to experiment with new relationships to culture.”

It is necessary to recognize this before understanding fully the file sharers actions; they could be (and probably are) the early adopters of the future.

Ultimately there are two categories that music consumers fall into. Those that expect to get their music for free with no concern for copyright, and those who are happy to pay for music. Some consumers however may choose to purchase further goods after illegally downloading music, the ‘free’ music effectively promoting itself, a free sample with near zero distribution costs.

It is bridging this gap between the categories that requires monopolizing and this is the basic idea of free music as a business model. The next step is to offer the music as a legal download or audio stream and remove the need for the consumer to act in an illegal manner. The consumer will feel good because they are not breaking the law and at the same time they have been drawn to the bands website where they can potentially shop for other merchandise.

The fan returns to being the collector of merchandise and can enjoy all the feelings experienced by owning something they have sort after. The effect of this is a developing relationship between consumer and artists, this combined with copyright education and, in the future, a more active role by the *Internet Service Providers, the climate necessary for a decrease in piracy and illegal copying should arise.

We may eventually see the single black box that has access to virtually all music, or a service that charges for file sharing; it is a hotly debated topic at the moment with the UK Record Industry predicting a loss of �1 billion over the next five years. The Industry must educate and work with fans to develop fair systems for all.

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