At first, it looked like it would. Saul Williams did the same thing. Paste magazine did too. Seems like a revolution, right? The early adopters are genius types, pointing with their glistening, insightful brains toward a bright alien future. Then a slew of established mega-acts followed suit, dropping their label deals, pledging to fly solo and often free. Not the geniuses, but those smart enough to spot a trend. Then, on Tuesday, Trent Reznor and his Nine Inch Nails dropped nine tracks of Ghosts I-IV for free and suddenly I'm like, "meh."
The more huge bands give away their albums for free, the more every media outlet west (and east) of Malaysia gives them front-page dotcom treatment, the more the whole thing feels like less like a revolution than a new marketing model for rich people.
I still don't see the upside for small bands. Indeed, I don't even see how it's feasible. At low levels, touring barely pays and making CDs barely pays. Doing both means you scrape by.
Though while a band's touring, CDs often sell pretty well.
Kaylee Cole presses a limited-edition tour EP, does a coastal swing and sells them all. Paper Mache plays Billings and Centralia and two dozen other hick towns and sells a ton too. Even Rocky Votolato, playing at the Service Station Saturday, made reference to selling out his CD cache on a swing through Europe. There's a degree of scarcity and hype and demand at concerts. It makes people buy things.
Freelance music marketer Seth Godin gave a talk at an industry event and told the big labels they needed to minister not to masses but to niches. He called these niches tribes. They're people who love hyper-specifics - a particular sound, a particular songwriter - and who are fiercely loyal. Tribes care about music enough to pay for it. The music industry and the mammoth bands defecting from it need to be educated about tribes because they've spent 30 years buying Super Bowl ads. Cole and Paper Mache and Votolato don't because, uh, they already have their own tribes.