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Interesting interview on BBC Radio Five Live on giving away an album away for free as a way of making more money. Sadly, not interesting for the right reasons.

CrimeaThe Crimea, whose song ‘Lottery Winners on Acid’ is one of my favourite pop tunes, have released their new album Secrets of the Witching Hour for free from their website.

It’s one download, rather than individual files for each track, delivered as a zip file (smart) and although it’s only at 128kbps (perhaps in the hopes that audiophile fans will hunt down the disc) it comes with the artwork embedded in the ID3 tags, and as a PDF file, which is very good practice.

There’s one anomaly in the mp3 tags (track 9 appears out of sync in an iTunes playlist), but this is a minor niggle. I am absolutely convinced that The Crimea will do better from this record than from their previous one, which sold 35,000+ copies on a major label.

They’re up around 60,000 downloads of this one, which under ordinary circumstances would put them at ‘Silver’ sales. Audiences are healthier than ever, and are singing along at gigs. There’s a good sign. And apart from anything else, it’s still newsworthy – and a fast track to the best PR any independent band is likely to get any other way.

The band’s leader Davey McManus was interviewed by Colin Murray on BBC’s Radio Five Live this afternoon. Had there not been four or five other ‘experts’ in the room, there might have been a really valuable dialogue.

But with too many cooks, it was somewhat derailed and was turned around, as you might expect, to a discussion of the recent Prince album giveaway on the Mail on Sunday — which is quite a different proposition (to the tune of £250,000 as an upfront payment).

While not as high profile as Prince, what the Crimea have done with their album is not only entirely different, it’s infinitely more bold and interesting. The album’s also a good deal stronger than the new one by the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known.

During the broadcast, there’s a brief, nonsensical section in which a PR consultant talks about EA Games signing artists direct as a label, and says something meaningless and invented on the spot about the way in which that makes the bands money (it does make them money, obviously, but not magically by signing a contract). I think she wants to say something about synchronisation and licensing, but it comes out as complete twaddle.

Someone trucked out the phrases ‘the future of music’ and ‘the big jukebox in the sky’, which should ring immediate alarm bells. Anyone who uses those phrases in conversation should be treated as automatically wrong until proven otherwise (Gerd Leonhard is excused for the moment, because he makes sense most of the time these days).

But the biggest misunderstanding of the discussion was the idea that downloaded music is a new format, as CDs were, and cassettes before them. This is not a new format. This is a new environment.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — this is not like the shift from records to CDs. It’s more like the shift that happened when we went from printed sheet music to recorded music.

Naturally, the one person with the most interesting stuff to say, and who really had the least opportunity to say it, was the musician, whose livelihood and personal expression this is.

But most interestingly of all, when he was given the floor, Davey McManus spoke about not being on major record label as being a kind of emancipation.

If you’re interested, go to the BBC Radio Five Live website and Listen Again to the 3pm-4pm hour.

There’s a good 30 seconds of music, and 3 or 4 whole sentences from the person about whom this was supposed to be.

Skip through the Tibet and Foot and Mouth stuff if you just want the music biz chat.
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What do you think? Is it possible that the best way to make money from music is to give it away?

Hat tip to Craig from Friends of the Stars for the tip-off.