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The Freemium Model Is Coming To Music

When Microsoft began to put together the promotional campaign to support the launch of Windows 95, the company reportedly offered R.E.M. millions for the right to use “It’s The End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” R.E.M. famously passed, opening the door for the Rolling Stones, who gladly took the money, and thus “Start Me Up” roared across every TV in America during the summer of 1995.

At the time, many praised R.E.M. for maintaining its artistic integrity, while criticizing the Rolling Stones for gross commercialization. They were, many felt, “sellouts,” a label that most musicians then and before did everything in their power to avoid.

My, how times have changed.

For decades, it was enough for a band or solo act to release an album and then go on tour to promote sales. But that model is mostly obsolete, thanks to music streamers killing albums sales and concert venues paying artists a much smaller slice of profits than ever before. As a result, making money in the music industry has become a tough slog, save for a precious few acts who can carry tours all by themselves.

That, in part, explains the rise of music festivals like Coachella. But events like these are hardly a cure-all for musicians. Not only is there a relatively limited number of them but most young people cannot afford to shell out hundreds of dollars for tickets, to say nothing of the travel and lodging costs to go to more than one festival per year.

As a result, we are starting to see the first makings of the “freemium” model take hold in music, where artists are paid little if anything to perform but can use the free exposure to build brands, which they then leverage into selling merchandise,

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