Offering up music for free is a growing trend in the music industry. A few weeks ago at the end VMA’s, Miley Cyrus announced a surprise album that was available for free download at her website. This is just one example of many recent examples of a high-profile musician giving away music for free. Here are 5 more examples of this and why I think that these ones are memorable.
Who: Derek Webb
What’s Special: Derek Webb is pretty much the OG of free music, and the album Mockingbird was the beginning of it all. This was the first album that he released for free, as a way to make the somewhat controversial album more accessible to the public. The success of this promotional move prompted him to found the website Noisetrade, which gives artists a convenient way to freely distribute their work in exchange for the emails and postal codes of the downloaders. This platform has worked to build and strengthen fanbases of many artists, and it is home to two more of the entries on this list. Many outstanding independent artists can be found on Noisetrade, so a perusal of their catalog is well worth your time.
Release: Star Wars
What’s Special: In July of 2015, 90’s rockers Wilco released their album as a free download for a limited time on both their own website and iTunes. This release is memorable by the nature that it was used. Rather than to draw attention to themselves, Wilco used the release of this album to draw attention to the need to financially support musicians by buying physical merch and showing up to concerts. Here’s the statement from their official site concerning Star Wars’ release:
We consider ourselves lucky to be in the position to give you this music free of charge, but we do so knowing not every band, label or studio can do the same. Much of the “music business” relies on physical sales to keep the lights on and the mics up. Without that support, well, it gets tougher and tougher to make it all work.
With that in mind, Wilco has put together a list of some of their favorite recent releases. We encourage you to explore it (and beyond) and yep, even march down to your neighborhood record shop and BUY. There’s a lot of great music out there, lets [sic] all try to support it. After all, it’s the years of support (and purchases) of Wilco’s music that allowed us to do what we did last week.
You can go here if you’d like to check out their list.
Who: Matthew Perryman Jones
Release: In a Decade
What’s Special: In the June of 2015, Nashville singer-songwriter Matthew Perryman Jones gave away over ten years of music – his entire discography of albums and EP’s, b-sides, unreleased tracks, and live versions – all in one download. It was available for one week on Noisetrade, and it was intended to promote forthcoming musical releases (one of which has since dropped) and a house show tour. I had never heard anything at all about this guy before this release, but I picked it up without any sort of research (unusual for me). Anyone who is willing to do something like that deserves some respect, and I really enjoy his work.
Yes, he really gave away his entire discography in one download. Let that sink in.
Release: Songs of Innocence
What’s Special: Love it or hate it, U2 accomplished quite the feat of mass distribution in the September of 2014 with their album Songs of Innocence. The legendary band teamed up with Apple to put their album Songs of Innocence in everyone’s cloud libraries to promote a physical release the next month. Some viewed the move as arrogant and irritating, others laud it as marketing brilliance. Either way, U2 offered up some pretty good music to millions of people in a way that won’t soon be forgotten.
Who: Josh Garrels
What’s Special: Despite being given away for free on Noisetrade during the first week of release in April of 2015, Home charted on Billboard in the Top 200, Top Albums, and Digital Albums charts (position #83, #46, and #19, respectively), selling around 6,500 digital copies. Not only did it perform well regarding revenue, but Garrels was also able to use this release to gather invaluable fan data so he could better connect with his supporters in the future. In the weeks prior to this release, Garrels also gave away previous albums in chronological order, making each of them available for one week.
For a more in-depth look at this release, check out this pretty amazing article on Hypebot.
You can also read our review of this album here.