About Kevin

Kevin is a Grammy nominated artist, podcaster, and indie musician advocate. He resides in Portland, OR where he is the Director of Marketing for CD Baby (cdbaby.com). Oh, yeah, he also plays guitar in Smalltown Poets.
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    The Problem with Free – It can cost a lot!

    There is a “free” trend in music that I find pretty alarming. No, I’m not talking about the fact that more and more artists are choosing to give away their music for free. For an indie artist, giving away music can be an excellent means to draw music fans into what they’re doing and get some attention. The trend I’m talking about is the “our services are completely free” trend. I guess it’s a general reaction to the big bad music industry who has been painted as bullies that steal all of the artist’s money leaving them with nothing(Much of that reputation deserved). Now that the the old system is falling apart, the pendulum seems to be swinging too far the other way. There is a growing sentiment that no one should get a cent from an artist’s music, not even the people facilitating their career. This view point is very short sided and only serves to damage the artist community over the long haul. Unfortunately, there are plenty of venture capitalist ready and willing to throw lots of money at the music community, hoping to strike it rich off of the next big idea. This seems to create short lived excitement, with no sustainability. Artists and musicians are seen as a group to be harvested with the art having no real value.

    The successful music industry of the future is one that is community minded, where artists and industry professionals live together in a symbiotic relationship. There must be a balance, as both sides need each other. Both the artist, and the music professional should be interested in each others ongoing success and sustainability. As referenced in my previous post, there has been growing concern by the artistic community that music fans no longer see value in paying artists for their work. Artist’s should also consider the perspective of the people and companies that facilitate their career. There is value in the services they provide, therefore, an artist should make sure they are compensated fairly for what they do.

    Without some sort financial benefit or stake in the artist’s success, there is no reason for a “free” company to work with the artist’s best interest in mind. Not only does this have an effect in obvious areas like customer service, but it also effects their ability and willingness to spend the time and money needed to work the best deals. Artists are simply reduced to a number that can be leveraged for some other purpose, which is how they’ll make their money eventually if they manage to stay in business!

    I want companies I work with to be sustainable. Let’s face it, the music business is not charity work, it’s a business. Money must be made somewhere. People have jobs in order to make money, so it shouldn’t be taboo to mention the idea of making money when it comes to the music business. If a “free” company wants to keep their doors open, one of the following will most likely be true 1. They will change course and start charging 2. They will plaster ads everywhere and leverage user’s personal info for their gain 3. They will try to sell artists tons of other unnecessary items(The old bait and switch) 4. They will lose interest or just go out of business. It does not benefit the artistic community if all those who are passionate about music and are able to provide us with resources, throw their hands up in frustration feeling like their is no return on their investment.

    I want to enter business relationships where there is no hidden agenda. Where the company does what they do best and I pay them their fair share. Don’t shop for professional services like you’re at Walmart! When looking into a business relationship concerning my music, the first thing I ask myself is, “Are they the best at what they do?” I put too much effort into my music to hand it over to the cheapest of the cheap. Am I crazy on this one? What do you think?

    • http://www.garnerband.com james

      I think these companies are playing on our desire for quick success, but as you know it just doesn’t happen that way. If you don’t have the music that is going to help people enter into win/win situations with you, you should probably just go back to your basement and write some new music (I’ll have you know I’m taking my own advice at the moment). If it looks too good to be true…

    • http://kevinbreuner.com KevinB

      Yes, but I think it goes beyond “to good to be true.” I think there could be a music industry bubble burst on the horizon just like the .com burst around the year 2,000. It surprises me how many companies are running off of venture capitol with no means of making money. This doesn’t bother me for things like social networks, as long as they have users, they’ll stay open. What I’m referring to are companies like Watunes, who announced a couple weeks ago that they would no longer charge for the music distribution service. They would not take one cent at any point, making it completely free to get your music on iTunes. They admit that they have no way of making money. Free may sound good, but Watunes will go out of business with this current model. The unfortunate side effect, is that artist will go there because it is free causing other companies(Who are great at what they do) to feel pressure to do something similar. This creates a situation where a core need of artists(Distribution) is no longer profitable leaving the artist with the short end of the stick – No one who wants to distribute their music anymore, or the people who do, are forced to spend their time generating money elsewhere instead of making the core service better.

    • http://www.garnerband.com james

      I hope that artists will see through problems like this. As an artist I’m not going to sign up for a service that I think will shut down soon, because whatever service they provide is going to affect my fans and reflect poorly on me.

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    • http://www.watunes.com Kevin Rivers

      Hi KevinB,

      I strongly understand your concern for a company like WaTunes to shut down from it’s digital distribution model. However, this is based on the assumption if WaTunes only provided digital distribution and nothing else. That in mind, obviously if we were to only provide our digital distribution model, then the overhead of the company would be overwhelmingly high, causing the fears of our artists and label customers to be realized.

      Secondly, the company itself is currently generating revenue to be sustainable (paying maintenance cost which is right now at an all-time low). With the launch of WaTunes 3 schedule to be released in the Summer, I highly doubt that with our business model and concept would go belly up as digital distribution is only one of several core components of the company.

      Finally, for me and my team to come up with a business model like this was no easy task. We didn’t just say “Let’s make this company free and see what happens”. We had to literally brainstorm critically on how the company will earn money when we made the announcement. There are much more things coming within the company that will make a huge impact to the market and still provide a sustainable system to keep the core running. If you have any other concerns, feel free to drop us a line. I’d be more than happy to share with you our intentions of our announcement.

      Kevin Rivers, CEO WaTunes.com

    • http://kevinbreuner.com KevinB


      I appreciate you taking the time to weigh in! I still have to stand by what I said in that the main reason (As of right now) an artist would use WaTunes’ services is for digital distribution. I have no doubt you guys are doing other thing to generate revenue, but as an artist, there is power in my position when my presence makes the company some money. I think it is also short sided for the long tail effect of music. The average indie artist is not selling in traditional sales cycles known by the music industry where an album comes out and there is a big push, and then in a year, it fades away. Indie artist put their music online and sales trickle in. In many cases, their selling just as much 5 years later as when the album was brand new. My concern is that “free” companies will structure things in such a way that it hampers the long tail effect that has been the bread and butter of indie artist since they were able to start selling their music online.

      I hope the best for your company! I didn’t want my statements to sound like I want you guys out of business, the last thing I want is more people out of work in the music business. The business of music is changing drastically, and sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the fun and excitement of change and forget that at the heart of all of this are the artist and the music they make. Creating a sustainable music business is what I’m hoping for.

      I’m looking forward to seeing your release this Summer!


    • http://www.madepublishing.com MADE

      The whole free thing is something that is influenced largely by web 2.0 and all these free social applications. People see that and figure that “free” is how business is going to be done in the future. We’ll give it away for free and find a way to profit later. The VCs in Silicon Valley are largely responsible for this model by backing all these social media projects. It’s going to change though as people begin to realize that not one of these social media sites has made a profit yet and that for non-VC funded companies, it’s not sustainable.

    • http://www.myspace.com/ballardpop Darren Riley

      I have a question for Kevin Rivers (don’t know if you’ll see this but I’ll ask anyway).

      Do you not feel that the people providing your income (ie. advertisers) will want a say in which artists you distribute?