The Free Music Revolution investigates a growing trend for musicians: free music.

In recent years we have seen an emerging trend for music artists to release their singles and albums free of charge. Despite the rise in popularity of “pay to download” tracks, some bands have given individual tracks and even albums away for free, asking nothing in return (or in some cases, just a donation).

Radiohead, Coldplay, Ocean Colour Scene, Nine Inch Nails and The Charlatans, amongst others have decided to try this tactic, and there is also promising signs that other bands will follow suit. The trend to cut out the middleman and go straight to the fans themselves is somewhat of a bandwagon at the moment, and the benefits ultimately lie with the consumer.

There has been favourable media coverage for musicians releasing songs for free lately, but the suggestion that this is simply a publicity stunt remains to be fully analysed. If anything, it may make sound business sense, especially in this digitised world. Perhaps this is less about record sales and more about expanding fan bases and getting more people to gigs and concerts?

The trend is also comparable to what we see with free product samples. Many musicians are now offering some of their music tracks for free in the hope that it entices the public to purchase their album (take Coldplay, for example, with their release of “Violet Hill”).

There is no doubt that releasing a single for free increases a band’s popularity, if only temporarily. Visits to Coldplay’s Web site reportedly increased near 20-fold after their first single release, and this figure may have been even higher if the site hadn’t crashed due to the surge in traffic.

“Visits to Coldplay’s Web site reportedly increased near 20-fold after their first single release.”

But it’s not just established bands testing the waters that appear to be benefiting from this trend. Up-and-coming bands and also unsigned artists find offering their songs for free a great method for getting the word out. Along with social community sites like MySpace, this can allow them to establish a loyal, core fan base.

Let’s take a step back for a moment though. Bands would rather give their tracks away for free and legitimise this than have fans go behind their back and download their work illegally. Is this a fair assumption? We think so. If there is still are hardcore contingent of illegal downloaders, offering a track for free immediately renders this behaviour inert.

Many record companies are obviously not impressed with these recent developments. It’s hardly surprising really, since their profits are obviously taking quite a hit. In fact, a number of bands have recently parted company with their record label to go independent. By adopting their own business models, bands appear to be forging better connections with their fans, and free music appears to be a large part of this. Let’s hope the trend continues!