A book about economy and marketing that all musicians should read

In this blog I plan to review many books about the saxophone,improvisation,and music in general. But the first review in this series is about a book that has a completely different focus:economy and marketing. It only touches music,but what it covers is very intriguing.Chris Anderson may be relatively unknown among musicians,yet according to “Time”he is among the 100 most influencing experts in the world. He is the editor-in-chief at Wired Magazine,the bible of tech-savvy people all over the world. Free –The Future of a Radical Price is his analysis of how the economy has changed now that Internet has so much to offer –for free –to everybody,and covers fields such as software,videogames,magazines,websites,conferences,books,flights,and a lot more…of course,including music. 

When restricting the discussion to music,the question Chris asks is elementary:how can emergent musicians or groups hope to stand out from the crowd,sell CDs and make mony when so much music can be freely and legally download from YouTube and dozens of other websites? This is a question all people in the music world should ask themselves,but rarely do.

There are many intriguing answers to this trivial question,and the author has a few stories to tell. Some of them are well-known outside the music business,such as the experiment of the Radiohead‘s In Rainbows album,which everyone could download from the band’s website by paying an arbitrary amount of money (including nothing!). In Rainbows has outsold any other Radiohead album:over 3 million copies,plus 100,000 copies of a deluxe box version priced at $80. When the experiment ended,the “standard”CD became #1 in US/UK charts and on iTunes (with 35,000 downloads in the first week). Even more interesting,the Radiohead’s tour that followed In Rainbows was the most successful in their history (1,2 million tickets).

Elsewhere in the book,Anderson explains how Prince could give away his new Planet Earth album (priced at $19) to 2,8 million readers of the sunday edition of Daily Mail (UK) and still make a profit of about 18 million dollars by selling tickets of his London concerts.

These success stories might induce you to believe that the Free Economy only applies to stellar artists such as Radiohead and Prince,but the author has some juicy stories about not-so-famous musicians,at least in US and Europe. My favorite one is about Banda Calypso from San Paolo,Brasil,who mix traditional Brazilian melodies with techno rhythms,a musical style known as technobrega. The band records their CDs in a professional studio,but then gives away their masters to DJs,which in turn organize parties and give them to peddlers that sell these CDs for very little money,as if they were pirated copies (but they aren’t!).

Banda Calypso has sold over 10 millions CDs and yet made no money out of them. They don’t mind at all,because they are more interested in giving concerts. The word-of-mouth marketing generated by these lowly-priced CDs has an unbelievable impact on ticket sales. The anedocte that illustrates how effective this alternative marketing can be is told by Hermanno Vianna,a journalist at Globo TV. He invited the band for an interview and offered then to send an airplane to bring them to a desolated area of the country,but they reply:“No problem,we have our own plane!

Bottom line:if you want to understand more about how the music industry works behind-the-scenes,Free –The Future of a Radical Price is a must-read. Hopefully you can get some good insights on how to promote your next CD or tour.