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Music Is Free by Justina White March 31st 2009 Delicious

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You Cannot Own A Song

No Doubt made news earlier this month when they announced they'd be giving away free downloads of their eight album catalog with the purchase of a top-tier ticket for their upcoming tour. They get it. Just give the fans the music, because the music is free.

Once a song is created and released into the world, there is no way it can be contained. You hum the tune while you walk the aisles at the grocery store, you find yourself tapping the beat on your steering wheel while you drive to work. The music can be replicated, duplicated, and remixed in your mind, by your voice, whatever. Once you've heard the song, no one can take it away from you. The music is free.

Bar bands make their living on this principle. When I was an undergrad at a large state school, we'd pack out any dive bar when our favorite cover band was in town. They'd play Southern rock standards, and maybe a few originals, but we were there to sing "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Ramblin' Man" at the top of lungs, beers sloshing as we swayed to the music. And who was there to say you can't play this song? No one. Because the music was free, and a college kid is willing to pay $5 at the door to hear a cover band play their favorite songs when they may not be willing to shell out $50 for a performance by the Allman Brothers. And you know what? I've often had more fun at Bourbon Street Bar in Auburn, Alabama listening to four no-name 30-somethings than I've had seeing the same song performed by some hotshot in Atlanta.

Scarcity is essential to ownership. But the music isn't scarce--many musicians will tell you they first picked up the guitar because they wanted to play those tunes they heard on the radio. And they probably didn't buy the official sheet music for the song when they set their minds to playing "Nevermind." They listened, they practiced, they listened again, and they pieced it together.

Give the fans the music. They can get it free anyway, so why not be the band that embraces it? Instead, musicians should focus their money-making concerns on that which IS scarce: the live performance. You might go see a KISS tribute band, but you aren't expecting a KISS-quality performance. I'll pay exponentially more to see Simon and Garfunkel than I'd pay to see two sulking college kids play the same set.

The performance is scarce. But the music is free.