Make Music Free

(Note: This was my entry in MTV Asia's blogger contest)

Before you read this blog post, open the folder in your computer that contains your digital music. Take a good look at its contents and try to estimate how much of it was obtained legally. (Read: purchased).

In all likelihood, a majority of your music files were downloaded from torrents, peer-to-peer (P2P) apps, or some website offering links to the ripped CD's. I wouldn't be surprised if almost all of your digital music was obtained this way-- a UK report had said that, in 2008, 95 percent of all music downloads were illegal.

The music industry has lamented that illegal downloads cost them millions, if not billions, and if this trend were to continue, the music business will crash faster than Taylor Hicks' music career.

What can be done?

I submit a simple idea in three words: Make Music Free.

Yeah, that may sound crazy but if there's anything the global financial crisis is continuing to prove, business must evolve and industries must change. I believe the music business is not spared from this big shake-up.

Think about it: People have access to so much information today that googling the MP3 file of the song you just heard on the radio will give you a link to a blog post that will point you to where you can download that song. Some, like America's RIAA, have tried to stop this flow of information and they have had the success of stopping Kobe Bryant in a basketball game-- you just can't completely stop it.

Right now, when we buy a music CD or download from an online store like iTunes, we are paying for the songs. Music labels invest a great deal of money from developing, promoting, and distributing songs of artists in their stable. Much of the bellyaching from the labels is that piracy deprives them of their earnings from distributing songs.

But what if music labels put less emphasis on the songs on the physical CD's and the digital downloads and place the premium on the artists themselves? What if these songs become a promotional channel rather than the "final product"? The same way we don't pay to have an advertisement to interrupt us, what if the songs become a free advertisement to promote the artist, their concerts, and their merchandise?

Bands like Coldplay and the Philippines' Rivermaya have released free CD's and free downloadable albums not to earn money from the songs as the "product" but from the jump in the concert ticket earnings, band t-shirt sales, and future projects because of the increase in band's popularity. Music labels can cut deals with artists where the songs are not the main source of earnings, but with other channels.

With this idea, the concept of music as a "product" that people have to purchase becomes immaterial. By making the music free, it will encourage people to treat music as an experience rather than a "product" that you illegally smuggle in your computer's hard drive.