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Now Oasis and Jamiroquai want to give their music away too. But do they actually understand what’s going on?

RadioheadIt’s amazing how many massive acts are currently without record deals at the moment. Oasis and Jamiroquai are just the tip of the iceberg. But they’ve had a look at what Radiohead are doing, and they want a piece of that.

VI (Virtual Intern) Laurence pointed me towards an article in the Telegraph in which major recording stars have noticed that Radiohead are getting a lot of press and reaching the ranks of most popular music website on the Briternet.

Their solution? Give music away for free.

And, in a sense, they’re absolutely right — but I’m not convinced they’re sure why or how.

I mean, this feels like a bubble, doesn’t it? Sooner or later Elton John, Billy Joel or Def Leppard, Amy Winehouse, Norah Jones or Britney is going to come along with a shiny new album, get a bit of token coverage in the Daily Mail, LA Times and the Sun, get a modest 20,000 downloads and come away with not very much at all.

Something’s going to go ‘pop’ and it’s not that catchy single.

What’s clever about the Radiohead thing, as I’ve mentioned, is not that they’re giving away the music for free. They’re being generous, sure, but in a way that allows fans to reciprocate that generosity. They’ve made a high quality digital product, and a high quality physical product — and each supports the other beautifully.

Meanwhile, the Charlatans have made their download a tie-in with a radio station (which makes that a media promo giveaway, albeit a larger-than-usual one) — and Prince (for the last time) did NOT give his album away — he sold it in bulk to a newspaper and made more money off the retail of that one disc than most of his previous albums combined… and then went and did a massively successful one-venue, twenty-one-date tour.

But every different iteration of these new music strategies are uncritically assessed in the news media as an artist ‘giving away’ their music for free. When, in actual fact, mostly that’s not what’s going on.

JK and those Gallagher brothers — smart as they are — may fall into the trap of simply making their music available for free in a market that is becoming increasingly saturated with devalued music (the Radiohead album is not devalued, for reasons of value arrived at by other means, but that’s a longer conversation for another time).

This hypersaturation, which may not be that long in coming, is one of the dangers I would raise a flag over regarding the music-like-water debate too.

The whole ‘we need to make money from concerts these days, so the CD’s just a promotional gimmick — let’s just bash out an album and give that away for nothing’ approach reeks of the kind of obvious logical-conclusionism that major record label marketing departments have become renowned for.

It ignores strategy and the simple rules of promotional culture, and leaps straight into self-deluded herd thinking.

Well if the newspaper said that the Radiohead album was free… and Radiohead made loads of cash… we should make this new Limp Bizkit ballads record free and then we’ll make loads of cash too!

Yeah, maybe.