This is an ongoing project, and as such, I will be posting regularly about it. The live version of the list is here.
Last week I wrote that I disagreed with Michael Arrington’s perspective on copyright, which, to summarize, is that music will be all eventually be free, and that this is a good thing, and that artist can make money from touring, merchandise, etc. He also believes in light of this we need to rethink copyright, though he does not specify exactly what he thinks this “rethinking” means.
There were comments and some responsive blog posts, which disagreed with my statement that there are no artists giving away their music on the Internet and making money. Specifically what I said is as follows:
Second, there is no evidence *at all* that free music on the Internet is an effective (i.e. successful career building) marketing tool. There have been no blockbuster successes that have come from, for example Garageband availability. I don't think you could even count more than a handful – if that – Internet-based artists making a living from music.
To clarify, one point in that statement, I do believe that free music has helped bands get signed by record labels. What I was referring to was free music as a successful means of making an ongoing living, not of getting the attention of a record label.
While I am confident about my position, I must admit it is very difficult to prove, on an absolute basis, a negative. Nevertheless I am very interested in getting to a consensus on this issue. To that end, I am initiating the Free Music Success Project. The goal of the project is to find all artists that are giving away their music free on the internet, who are not and have never been signed to a label, and who are making enough money to support themselves in some reasonable way via touring and merchandise. Note that I do not consider living with family and making lunch money or in a van without a home to suffice for "making a reasonable living."
The first task in this project is to find artists/bands that might meet the criteria. To make this a bit easier I have defined some criteria for inclusion in the list which are as follows:
- Must have page on MySpace where they give away their music (i.e. mp3 downloads)
- Must have page somewhere on the Internet where the artist publishes a touring schedule that includes dates, location, and venue names.
- Must not be a cover band or wedding/event band. In other words the artist must primarily be in the business of creating and performing their own music.
- Must be a U.S. Based band (makes verification and research of venues easier)
Once the potential bands have been collected, we should be able, in most cases, to determine the maximum gross revenue of these bands by multiplying the venue size by the ticket price, and adding those together for each appearance on the tour. More rigorous analysis of real contenders will probably require exploring actually attendance and typical venue payment models. Of course this research is not statistically meaningful since it is voluntary and not a survey, but as a first step, particularly for defining the universe I think it should prove valuable.
Note that there are two reasons I am specifying Myspace pages as a requirement. First, I am not looking for artist that have given away one song as a promotion at some time. The idea is to find artists that, as a career choice, are not selling their music, but are giving it away and making money on tour. This is significant because it is the premise of the "free" movement that artists should be able to survive on just touring. So if you have chosen to give away your music, there is precious little reason not to do it on the biggest site, which is Myspace. Additionally, specifying one website makes it easier to manage the process and investigate artists.
I fully recognize that doing things this way is not necessarily the best way to prove my point since my opponents will be able to put forth one band and those who are intellectually dishonest will present this one band as proof of their point. But I do believe that it is entirely possible that there are no artists that meet the criteria, and that at best there are a statistically insignificant number of such artists. By doing this in public, I am totally willing to be proven wrong. As such, I hope my opponents will contribute aggressively since it should be easy to prove that there are lots of such successful bands.
This questionnaire is the first step at understanding, in a serious way, the scope of the issue. So for now it would be great to just collect a list of bands that could at least *potentially* meet the criteria, and to get a sense of their earning potential. From there, we can introduce more rigorous processes.
This is just a first step in a project which I hope will evolve. As such, please leave any suggestions regarding methodology in the comments or send them to email@example.com.