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Twisted City by Chris Singleton - album sleeve

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Entries in free album (6)

Thursday
Mar132008

The Charlatans miss a trick - or do they?

The Charlatans are the latest in the line of well-known acts (including Radiohead and the Nine Inch Nails) to release their album for free on the internet. It's downloading on my PC as I type. Following on from my recent post about 'the future of rock and roll', it seems as though that future - where musicians do not make money from recorded music but use it as a stepping stone to sell other stuff - is moving a step closer.

What confuses me about the Charlatans' move is that they seem to be ignoring the 'sell other stuff' bit of the free album approach, because they are not capturing data during the exercise. In other words, they haven't asked fans to submit an email address in order to access the download. You just click the link and it starts downloading.

This means the band have lost the opportunity to email tour dates or merchandise offers to the people who have downloaded the album for free. They haven't even done an honesty box thing, so that they can generate income from people who want to donate what they think the album is "worth".

Either the Charlatans are being very clever or very stupid - and I'm trying to work out which. There is a big upside to making the album available without any strings attached: they'll definitely get far more downloads of it. I know from looking at the statistics from my own free album offer that of the people who go to www.singletonmusic.com/freealbum/, one third download the album; I'm fairly sure that my asking for an email address is putting the other two-thirds off.

If more people download The Charlatans' album, there's more scope for a big "word-of-mouth" effect about the band. I can see why this could be extremely useful in attempts to increase awareness of up-and-coming acts...but the Charlatans are, if not necessarily a household name, a well-known band who have had several number one albums.

The best explanation I can think of for their approach to this free release is that the band are aiming to get the largest number of people possible downloading the album, generating as much positive word of mouth about it, before doing away with the free download and making only a paid-for release available. The hope being that the bigger word of mouth effect generated by the 'no strings' free release will boost sales of the paid-for copy. The wished-for scenario being something like:

Mr A: "Oh have you heard The Charlatans' new album, it's great."
Mr B: "Cool - must go and grab the free download."

Mr A: "Actually it's not available for free anymore - you have to get it in the shops or on iTunes."
Mr B: "Ok I'll do that."

This is fine, assuming the album is very good; if not, the band risk bad word-of-mouth publicity which could actually impact negatively on sales: if it's crap, and it's free, why on earth would you pay for it? There is also the possibility of their core fanbase, who typically propel The Charlatans to the top of the charts every time they put an album out, not being quite so energised to go out and buy the cd if they already have the free download. And the thing most likely to happen during Mr A and Mr B's exchange is that Mr A will offer to send or burn Mr B the album for free anyway.

Another interesting aspect of this free release is that it is being done conjunction with the popular indie station XFM - you have to go to their XFM website to download it. This makes me wonder if XFM paid the band to release the album "catch-free" on their site. I'm puzzled though as to why this would be the case - if I was an XFM marketeer I would have viewed this as an opportunity to capture email addresses not only for the Charlatans but the radio station too.

There is one final possibility: that The Charlatans are simply being altruistic. After all, they must have a bob or two after all these years, and they may honestly be interested in giving their music away for free (although I doubt it). That's fine for established bands, but this approach poses problems for up-and-coming acts.

I still feel that new bands need to get something when they release their music: if not income, then the possibility of future income, via an agreement between the act and the downloader to swap the music for the opportunity to communicate about live performances, merchandise and so on. Speaking as a musician, when you attempt to forge a career out of it, music is simply too time, energy and money consuming to be given away for absolutely nothing. If recorded music is good, then it does have a value, and even if that's no longer going to be measured in immediate financial terms, we've got to remember - particularly in the dawn of this free-album era - that this value does exist.

Right. Moralising done - now go get my album for free at www.singletonmusic.com/freealbum/. The Charlatans' record is available at http://www.xfm.co.uk/news/2008/download-charlatans-new-album-for-free?&DCMP=EMC-EMR2007 //

Wednesday
Mar052008

Podcast of new Chris Singleton material

As you may or may not know, I'm recording a new album right now - a follow up to 'Twisted City'.

I've put together a podcast featuring some works in progress and some background to the songs. The recordings are still very rough and ready but the podcast will will give you an idea on the way the album is panning out.

The podcast is downloadable at www.singletonmusic.com/high/csingleton-new.mp3. It's quite a big file so it may take a moment or two to download.

If like what you hear and want to get your hands on the current album, 'Twisted City', for free, you can do so at www.singletonmusic.com/freealbum/

Incidentally I'm a bit stuck for a title for the new record, so if anything jumps to mind, let me know!

Chris Singleton retains the copyright to all tracks in the podcast, and all rights are reserved //

Friday
Feb292008

The future of rock and roll

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to put out a physical cd in the UK and Ireland recently. Happily, it picked up good reviews, some national airplay and I got on the telly doing quirky gigs on London public transport. But the lack of a marketing budget, big-budget video, TV plugger, print advertising etc. meant that it was going to be very hard to compete with records from established acts. Whilst it's safe to say that the critical reaction to the album was very positive (this was much to my relief), with my resources -- and even with the PR help of a major in Ireland -- I simply couldn't reach enough listeners to sell the cd in big quantities. I hate admitting that, but there you go. I still fly on budget airlines, in other words.

Now that all the singles have been released from the album, I reckon I've sold as many copies of 'Twisted City' as I'm likely to, in the UK and Ireland at least. But I'd still like the distribution of the album to continue in some shape or form, and I'd like to keep introducing the music to new ears.

This is why I've embraced what may become known as "the Radiohead model" of distribution: offering a download of the album to listeners at no financial cost.

Commentators made much of the fact that Radiohead allowed people to pay as much or as little as they liked for the download of 'In Rainbows'; I think they missed the point. Radiohead were after email addresses as much as the donations. Think about it: as a result of their experiment, Radiohead probably now have the means to communicate, entirely free, with their ENTIRE fanbase. And sell future products, tours and merchandise to them direct (which is the most effective way of selling). There are companies who would absolutely kill to have their entire customer base on a database, and spend vast quantities of time and money trying to achieve this; in a matter of weeks, Radiohead compiled a massive mailing list and, incredibly, made money in the process of doing so (through the 'honesty box' aspect of the exercise). Very clever stuff.

With the advent of 'free album' distribution, I can't see paid-for music continuing for much longer. It's so ridiculously easy to copy and share music that paying for it seems arcane. Once somebody has an album, everybody has it. When an album is just a set of files, there becomes no effective difference between a paid-for set of files and a free set of files. I hate thinking of music in these terms, and I always pay for albums, but the reality of the situation is that most people are looking at music in this clinical way.

It means that the income which pays for new music (and salaries...) is going to have to come from other sources. I see two main ways in which artists and labels are going to make money in the future:

1) By selling band merchandise / gig tickets direct using the email addresses gathered during 'free album' releases. Only stuff which can't be 'copied' electronically will be worth selling.

2) By making albums available for free on sites on which paid-for adverts are displayed.

The second scenario worries me somewhat, as we may end up in a situation where, like commercial radio, advertisers dictate what is and isn't "acceptable" (this is why there is so much Celine Dion on the radio).

The bottom line is that musicians are going to have to get a lot smarter about how they get their music out there. In the future, it may be the case that instead of musicians fighting for the attention of majors, we'll fight to get the biggest database, or to get more of our 'free albums' out to people than the other guy. It's going to be as cut-throat as ever, regardless of the internet revolution. That's why I want to get in early with the whole free download experiments.

As for the free Radiohead album, with the exception of one song, 'Body Snatchers', I don't like it. I paid for The Bends and OK Computer; they were much better. Or maybe I just think that because I parted with cash?

You can download Chris Singleton's 'Twisted City' album free at http://www.singletonmusic.com/freealbum/

Wednesday
Jan092008

Magical Mystery Tour?

If you're stuck for something to do in London at the moment, then you might consider this: a 'musical' trip through the city. Here's what it's all about...

'Twisted City' is a record about London. Every song is a stop on the line of a tube journey; the 'Twisted City Tour' takes you on that journey, through streets of London, buses, boats and tubes. At each stop you play the relevant track from 'Twisted City' on your MP3 player. The whole thing is free (bar public transport costs) and you'll get a free album and PDF guidebook to steer you on your way.

It's really easy to take part:

1. You download the album free.
2. You put it on your iPod or MP3 player.
3. You print out the PDF guidebook and follow the instructions for a great day out.

You can get the album and the guide book free at www.singletonmusic.com/twistedcitytour/ - and I hope you enjoy your tour.

(Those of you who already have the album can download the PDF guidebook directly at www.singletonmusic.com/twistedcitytour/twistedcitytour.pdf).

Tuesday
Jan012008

The Radiohead Experiment...An Update

An update on the progress of my 'Radiohead experiment' (giving away my album for free and letting people donate an amount of their choosing to an honesty box if they want).

The average donation so far is £3.90 - however, the percentage of people donating is very small: only 3% of people who've downloaded it have paid for it. As far as I know the percentage of people paying Radiohead for their album stands at 38%...much higher. Easy to understand the difference in percentages though. Radiohead are an established act, and paying punters know that they should be getting a good product for their couple of quid. With a less well-known act (putting it mildly...) like me people are taking more of a chance with a free album - it might be rubbish.

But annoyingly, the net result is that in experiments like these, people are happier to pay millionaires for 'free' music rather than to support indie acts. I suppose that happens in conventional cd sales too...but it's still a pain in the arse. Not that I'm bitter though. And the object of my experiment is to get my music to a wider audience, and in that respect it's working very well.

You can get the album 'free' at http://www.singletonmusic.com/freealbum/ (ah go on, give us a pound).

Happy New Year incidentally!