In writing my recent post about MySpace friend requests from bands, I realized why I don’t have patience for artists who want me to like them but won’t let me download (at least some of) their music.
People don’t like good music. They like meaningful music.
Music is meaningful when you have some sort of personal connection to it. An artist or a band may remind you of the friend who first introduced you to them. When it comes to independent artists, you may have had the chance to meet them, see them perform at a local venue or know them before they became popular. A particular song may have been a comfort or inspiration to you during a troubling or exciting time of your life. Certain music in your library may inspire nostalgia, bringing you back to the time in your life when you were first listening to those songs.
Developing that kind of relationship takes time. And it’s not going to happen if I have to return to an artist’s website even time I want to listen to their music.
After quickly scanning my top overall artists on my Last.fm profile, I had music from at least three quarters of them in my collection before actually purchasing an album. Most often, this was in the form of a friend introducing me to some of their songs. Sometimes it was “love and first sight” (err.. first hearing?), but other times it took a lot longer.
Most notably, Tool and A Perfect Circle, two of my favourite bands (both in my Top 10 most listened to – and they have long songs), both took six months each of exposure before I became a fan. Six months after my initial introduction to Tool, I became really interested in their music. I purchased (well, they were gifts I believe, but requested) two of their four albums in the span of two weeks. At that point, I started listening to some A Perfect Circle (as the two bands have the same lyricist/vocalist). It wasn’t for another six months until APC grew on me and really resonated with me on a personal level. Now, I’m a huge fan of both bands.
Most recently, I’ve taken a bit of an interest in Panda Kopanda. I don’t even remember how I got two of their tracks onto my computer, but they’ve come on when I’m listening to my whole collection on random a few times, and I’ve started to pay more and more attention to them. I’ve recently begin listening to some of their other tracks through Last.fm.
It often takes time to develop a personal connection to music. Sometimes it can happen quickly, but I find that usually revolves around a certain event (ie. a concert) or a “love at first sight” referral from a friend. An artist who has a fear of not being able to sell demos if they give away some of their music for free is really crippling their own potential, in my opinion. It’s by getting music into peoples’ hands, for a price or not, that people will have the opportunity to develop a personal connection to your music.
Look at Radiohead. Everyone’s been looking at Radiohead recently. Currently without a record deal, they’ve been able to do something radically different with the release of their new album, In Rainbows. It’s available as a zip file of MP3s (no DRM – your free to listen to the music in whatever software you choose and to share it with anyone).
But more importantly, it’s pay-what-you-can. That’s right, you set the price. I purchased the album for 7 euros (about $10 CAD), mostly out of support for the idea. I like Radiohead, though not enough to be sure that I would buy a new album. I have maybe one or two of their old albums. But now I’ve got their latest album on my computer and I’ve been listening to it a lot. I have a chance to get to know it that I probably would not have taken if it wasn’t made so easily available. The idea of treating a fan base with respect and making your music readily available to them is, unfortunately, rare in the recording industry right now. Radiohead’s idea that music fans could have an opportunity to pay artists rather directly for however much they think their music is worth is, potentially, quite revolutionary. Lots of people have talked about this sort of thing since the days of Napster, but this may well mark one of the first effective implementations of such an idea.
Kudos to Radiohead for taking the initiative to do this. They deserve all the attention they’ve been getting. Hopefully, more and more artists will begin to recognize that loosening the reigns on their music gives more people a chance to develop a meaningful relationship with them. Then, maybe (well… maybe one day), the record industry might get the picture as well. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, to all the random MySpace bands out there, if you really think your music is good, make sure at least some of your music is downloadable so that people can get to know (and maybe even love) your music. Maybe the rest of the music industry will soon get the picture as well.