Some musicians, record labels and a few others involved in the music industry are not happy at the moment. Album sales are decreasing and new records are leaking like a broken faucet that hasn’t been fixed in months. One major concern that’s causing artists to angrily cry out is the marketing plan other musicians have adopted. The “pay what you want” scheme is said to be damaging the music industry and with more artists using this strategy, the situation is just going to get worse. However, this proclamation could just be a false assumption.
The Beginning Of Something Different
The whole outcry started in October 2007, when Radiohead, the innovative rock band from England, announced the release of their album. As far as releases go, there’s nothing really surprising. People rush to record stores on the release date and try to get their hands on a copy before it’s out of stock. But instead of sticking to tradition, Radiohead went digital on us.
Their new album, titled In Rainbows, was released as a digital download where customers could choose their own price. The “pay what you want” sales alternative was featured on the website for the CD and messages promptly stated that the album could be bought for any price. Purchasing it for free was even acceptable. With no retail price and no record label, the strategy was seen by other musicians as a failure and even a disgrace.
Even Gene Simmons, bassist for the rock band KISS, took a shot at the British musicians. Simmons stated that their marketing strategy was contributing to the demise of the music industry and was influencing fans to download music and file share even more.
Despite the criticisms, In Rainbows was a huge success. When the album was physically released, it charted at number one in both the UK and the U.S. The record’s success in the U.S. marked their highest chart placement since their album Kid A, that was released in 2000. The new album also received astonishing reviews . Rolling Stone surprisingly gave the album a rating of four and a half stars.
The Influence On Others
With such great success, the album and marketing strategy became a major influence on other musicians. Trent Reznor, the lead singer of Nine Inch Nails, followed suit with the “pay what you want” idea. The band released several albums where tracks could be downloaded for free or bought for a certain price. The interesting thing to note is that Trent Reznor recorded, and distributed the album Ghost I-IV without any record company involvement.
Younger bands are even hopping aboard the “pay what you want” train. Just recently, musician Greg Gillis released an album under the name Girl Talk, for no set price. On the download site , customers can download the album for free, for $5 in the form of FLAC files or for $10, ultimately giving you all of the above and a packaged CD when it comes out. This is just an example of how the marketing strategy is influencing younger musicians. Some bands have stated that they might not be creating albums anymore. Instead, they’d rather release music singles as digital downloads.
Is "Free" Really That Bad?
Despite all the criticisms, the “pay what you want” strategy might be good after all. They can affect record stores in a negative way, but as we’ve seen with Radiohead, it could be positive. Even though most people who use the strategy purchase albums for free, it doesn’t mean that they won’t physically buy the album in the near future. One can’t forget about the diehard fans that are also willing to spend $20 or more on a digital download.
The marketing strategy is affecting the music industry, but it’s like most of the technology today. DVD’s have ultimately taken over VHS tapes and even CD’s dominated cassette tapes at one point in time. File sharing and downloading is hurting the music industry, but until record stores start going bankrupt, the musicians who are making criticisms are just crying wolf.