Alongside torrents, mixtapes, and social websites like Hype Machine, Exfm and We Are Hunted, streaming services like Rdio, Rhapsody, MOG and Spotify make music discovery easy. It's been reported that with an annual growth rate of nearly 95%, subscribers to cloud-based music services will exceed 161 million in 2016.
This makes it easier for an artist to share their work with the masses - but how can that same artist pay the bills with the concept of free?
When it comes to the actual making money part, bands have no choice but to get creative. And many are doing just that - by inventing new channels and resurrecting familiar ones.
The indie-rock band Radiohead is perhaps the ultimate example of exploring new distribution opportunities in the 21st century. In 2007, they incorporated a "pay what you want" model for the album In Rainbows.
For their recent release The King Of Limbs, the band decided to offer up several options. The album will come in two digital formats - either 320 kbps MP3s ($9) - or CD-quality, uncompressed WAV files ($14). For the super fan, the third and pricier option is a newspaper album ($48 + $53). It offers MP3s or WAVs along with vinyl, CD, several large sheets of artwork, 625 tiny pieces of artwork and a full-color piece of degradable plastic to hold it all together.
At this year's South By Southwest Festival, musician, producer, and ultimate music hustler Jack White debuted a rolling record store to offer music and merchandise from his Third Man Records label. The concept takes the form of a food truck, and brings music and merch directly from his store in Nashville to the many fans literally roaming the streets of Austin.
Labels are making moves to diversify, too. Detroit indie label Ghostly International offers a well-curated selection of art, books, and gear in addition to music from the extensive Ghostly catalog. They even offer niche items like candies in the shape of their logo.
In a unique move bringing back old media, indie band The Mountain Goats are offering up a hand-colored cassette for purchase. The tape features demo versions and two non-album tracks, available only via the Merge Records website and in select independent stores.
For die-hard vinyl fans, colored versions of the LP will be mixed in and randomly distributed alongside the black vinyl pressing. All vinyl copies also include a link to a digital download of the album.
Despite overall album sales dropping 13 percent in 2010, the numbers show that vinyl is distinctly on the rise. According to the Nielsen Company and Billboard's 2010 Music Industry Report, vinyl sales rose 14 percent from 2009 to 2010. In 2010, 2.8 million copies were sold, marking the most sales reported since records began to be kept in 1991. And this trend isn't just a blip on the music radar - vinyl sales nearly doubled from 2007 to 2008.
Although these numbers don't come close to CD sales (326.2 million sold despite being the worst year for CD sales since 1991), the trend is certainly one to be reckoned with.
The annual Record Store Day, held the third Saturday of every April, is a day when independent record stores come together to celebrate the art of music. Special vinyl and CD releases are made exclusively for the occasion, and hundreds of artists across the globe perform and make special appearances.
It's an interesting time for the music industry. There's a new marketplace out there that's unrelenting and demands fresh and innovative content because, well, all of the music is free. For labels, brands, and bands alike, it can be a glass half-full situation if you're willing to think out of the box.
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