Should Music Be Free?

You are living in one of the most radical movements in consumerism in modern history at the moment. More things are available for cheaper and with lots more variety and choice than ever ever before. Books that 10 years ago cost £20 odd now cost less than £5 thanks to Amazon. Thanks to Spotify you can hear pretty much any band, anytime, anywhere,  for free 🙂

DonkeyBox policy

As a band we have been following a policy of making our music available totally for free. Not only that but as soon as our promo EP Backstage Pass was released we actually gave out our CD at gigs.

Backstage Pass EP by DonkeyBox

Backstage Pass EP by DonkeyBox

Each CD had cost us around £1.75 to print and produce and we were happy to give it out for no money in return. When Facebook hit the mainstream we made new friends and mailed a couple of dozen CDs out to friends and fans in the US and worldwide, postage on us too. We were THAT confident that our stuff was so amazing 😉

Not only that but after a while we started selling both our physical CD and downloads on iTunes. But how is that possible? How can you sell and give something away for free?

And does that mean that we (and all artists) should not make money from our music? What about the bigger picture? Are you stealing from an artist when you download their stuff that is for sale somewhere else? This is a debate that is now roughly 10 years old. Music piracy has now become a household term.

Artists should give away their music for free

Andrew Dubber argues why artists should give away their music for free and he simply sums up his philosophy as such

Make money because of your music, not from it

And really, that is all there is to it, you can follow the link on his name and get into more detail if you want.

The old music retail model is dying pretty fast, a music store was paid for storing a cd, truckers were paid for driving the cds to the store, a factory was paid for printing and producing them and many other middle people depended on the physical sales of music.

The digital world killed all of that off.

Basic Economics – Demand Vs Supply

What does that mean for us poor people in DonkeyBox then? Well selling music will always follow the rules of selling anything. That old rule of basic economics that you learnt back in school. It is all about demand and supply. We first need to build a tangible fanbase, connect to people and let them reward us for our art.

In economic terms this means that there first needs to be demand for our material.

It is perfectly normal now to both sell and give your things for free. Some people simply want to reward the artist by buying their products. Bands now have to diversify into selling a range of merchandise and generate revenue that way. A live gig is a music product, so is a t-shirt, toy and yes…you heard it right…a physical CD!

It is just that the nature of the music product has now changed, that’s all. So, in summary we think it is perfectly normal to give our music for free and also have it for sale at the same time.

What are your takes on all this?

How do you reward your favourite artist? Do you buy their products? Do you still buy CDs or go to gigs? Do you feel guilty if you don’t buy anything from any artist? Let us know!


About Atul Rana

Online maths and Science tutor, co-founder of Indie Tutors, singer of alternative rock band DonkeyBox. View all posts by Atul Rana

4 responses to “Should Music Be Free?

  • Mari


    I think I agree with you, but I couldn’t really get if you’re in favour or against it.

    For artists which music are their source of income (and producers, sound engineers, session musicians, the security guy in front of Abbey Road, etc etc) cds/vinyls/legal mp3s are important because they’re a significant way of making money out of the product (music). The gigs are another, but small bands do not gig enough money (or aren’t paid enough for gigs) to make it their main source of income.

    I believe making music available for free at internet is great as a way of promoting the band/music. I am constantly listening to Last.FM and other types of internet radio, so I take advantage of the ‘free internet music’ too! But I understand there is a limit between promotion and ‘stealing’ and so I take time (money) to buy cds, singles, vinyls of artists I really like.

    when you said in the begining that Donkey Box can ‘afford’ to give music for free FOR NOW, I couldn’t agree more with you! You want fans, you want people to listen your music (even if they don’t like at least they know how you sound) and giving it away is the most efficient way to achieve this. But once the line is crossed, and you have to quit your job and live of music, the financial uncertaints rise and every cd (mp3) is a ‘relief’ in your bank account (and remember artists get only a % of what people pay for the product).

    This is why I gave Radiohead £5.00 for their ‘pay as you like’ album. They don’t need more promotion, but all the other peple involved in the recordings (the people we don’t know) they still need to pay their bills in the end of the month, regardless Radiohead’s artistic decisions.

    Hope it makes sense 😛 :*

  • Atul Rana

    I am in favour for free music! But many unsigned musicians (including me about even a year ago) don’t think we can sell music anymore especially when just starting out. Of course with Backstage Pass we have demonstrated that it *is* possible to sell a little bit when starting out while simultaneously also giving it free at the same time. So there is hope there 🙂

    The Radiohead method was very very clever actually. In the end they made more profit through that method than they would’ve through physical CD sales alone. The Manic Street Preachers supposedly didn’t like that idea

  • Ismail

    Hi Atul
    The question is difficult and I suppose really is answered by the question “can you make money by just giving it way?”. If it acts as a promo to gigs and other non-music tie ins, then you’re quids in, but its a bit like my favourite cartoons of the eighties; Transformers, He-Man and (by far) Thundercats, the cartoon existed to sell the toy (from what I understand at least). Maybe there’s an Atul action figure (with realistic tribology action) that can really get the punters in 🙂

  • Atul Rana

    Surely those cartoons made money from advertising, no? Not sure how the TV biz works but that’s one way they make money. There are bands with action figures out there too, so that works too! Not sure about the realistic Tribology action…Atul working by his rig (a moment so rare that it had to be immortalised 🙂

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