Knowledge Bank

news category created 14 September 2014 written by Dan Cox

U2’s Free Album, free or a gift? Or worthless?

I’m sure you’ve all read about U2 giving their latest album away for ‘free’ via iTunes.

There’s also been a lot of discussion related to this with references to publicity, likability and spam (such as this one in the guardian)

However, what seems to be overlooked in the journalism is the concept of ‘free’.

U2 have not in fact given their album to 500 million people for free. Apple allegedly agreed an undisclosed sum with the band (or their label) to facilitate this.

So Apple actually bought 500 million copies of the album at a bulk buy price.

Therefore, the album is a gift from Apple, not U2 and is certainly not ‘free’.

If someone bought you a car, you wouldn’t consider it to be ‘free’, you would recognise it’s value and appreciate the worth of the gift.

Ok, so a car costs far more than an album but what about it’s worth? I’m sure U2’s album cost them more to create than the price of most cars, so what is it’s worth?

What annoys me (and gives reason for this post) is that this is yet another example of music being devalued. Regardless of whether or not you like Apple, iTunes, U2 or their album, Apple have marketed the work of a globally recognised artist as being worth ‘zero’.

As we all know, making music is a very involved, passionate, costly, time consuming and considered art. It is certainly not ‘worthless’. I have, as I’m sure you have, witnessed so many expressions of shock and surprise when explaining to friends the intricacies of record making. Many have no idea. With no understanding, how can they appreciate the worth?

In the panic of declining sales and in an effort to garner greater artist recognition we have allowed the wheel to turn to a place where it is more than acceptable, and in most cases expected, for music to be given away for free.

The time has come to shout about how much our art form is ‘worth’. Maybe it would lead to a healthier industry in the future and that’s got to be worth it hasn’t it?!

I couldn’t agree more..and we’re not the only ones. Read this discussion with Music Week editor, Tim Ingham, in today’s Observer:

Thanks Mick, I hadn’t seen that.

Tim Ingham (Music Week) starts well but then the argument sprawls into the same areas as the guardian link I posted.

I really don’t like the way Andrew Mueller (writer and journalist) focusses on the piracy issue as a hand in hand excuse for devaluing music.

Piracy became so prevalent because the music being stolen had value! Hence people wanted to steal it. Yes, this horse has bolted but surely fighting for the acknowledgement or ‘worth’ is an entirely different issue?

Furthermore and on a slightly different note, I’m sure the producers involved had remuneration for this kind of eventuality covered in their agreement but if they didn’t they see next to nothing in royalties on regular sales.

I don’t think promotional giveaways are the cause of the problem. Plenty of other things get given away without losing their value – games with consoles, even pens with life insurance. Those things still sell and still retain their perceived value because you can’t download them for free, or legally buy/stream them from a retailer who’s trying to compete with free!

I guess it’s a sign of the times that the album apparently had more commercial value as a prop for a PR stunt than as music. The public still loves and values recorded music, just not financially – piracy has killed all association with cost. I don’t know how that could be reversed…

Hi Jonathon

You’ve raised a couple of points that I’d like to counter if you don’t mind.

I really don’t believe this current climate can simply be blamed on piracy.

Firstly, in all the examples you gave, the free item is a ‘bonus’ item for purchasing something else but a purchase is still made. You buy the console to play the game, so you get a game as well as a bonus. (The gaming industry is an interesting model to bring up as it’s still more lucrative than the music industry as far as I’m aware.) The free item’s value is used to increase the value of the purchase. It’s worth is very much recognised and used to weight the sale. This isn’t the case with ‘free’ music.

In your second point where you say it’s a ‘sign of the times’, you’ve enhanced my point. We’ve allowed music’s ‘worth’ to drop so low that it had more commercial value as a PR stunt.

That’s terrible isn’t it! I spend my life working on music (as I know you do). Have our lives become worthless?

We shouldn’t just sit back and accept the situation. We should shout loud and educate everyone (and I don’t mean just in schools).

Hiya, I’m very new and somewhat naive to the depths of the music industry, but am spending the year trying to learn from the pros and speaking to as many industry people as possible to discover creative answers to the one question ruling my life at the moment: “How do I make money from music?” Therefore, I’ve taken a real interest in business strategies, marketing and sales..This case with Apple and U2 has got me thinking a lot…..

I too found dissonance with this marketing stunt and agree about the visible devaluing of Music in consumer’s eyes…this does take a further step in the “wrong” direction. It’s very clever but at the expense of the integrity of music, the artist and industry…where this strategy could lead is scary. I’m still lost without Top of the Pops..:(

Does it make you more inclined to go with the DIY approach to making records that Pledge Music and Kick Start have been developing? These opportunities automatically generates funding directly from fans, it teaches bands/artists the value of business strategies in marketing and selling themselves, whilst learning whether they are offering something that the public actually want…The beauty is, you can only make money, not loose it which seems like a fantastic platform/model for anyone thinking of going it alone in the industry. You become the record label, you do the marketing, Pledge distribute your album and it’s pretty much a full on DIY job.

I’m an unknown producer trying to make his way and I see this sub-industry as the ONLY opportunity to get going in the industry today. But more than that, it almost seems like it promotes a return to the “good old days” of making and selling records.

My question is: In your opinion, do you think the more DIY approach to producing and selling music has legs? I wonder what would happen if a big band like U2 used instead?

Hi James

I think your comments here raise loads of points and you should probably start a new thread on the benefits of self funding and the DIY approach!

I personally don’t see it as the only way but you’ve raised key elements in DIY for me.

With with schemes such as Kickstarter, everything has ‘worth’. Funding is exchanged for something that has worth to the ‘investor’. That has to be a positive thing.

However, on occasion something that I think is a shame with such a scheme is that the music itself, as an artform, is almost a by product. In some cases the investors are often offered alternatives to ‘the music’, such as a performance, in exchange for their financial input. It’s a shame in those cases that the music itself doesn’t hold enough value for the contribution.

That said, any way in which we can continue to find money to make quality records in the way we feel they should be made for any particular artist is great if you ask me!