Record executives have never been crazy about the idea of handing over music to the public for nothing. But the massive success of two recent albums suggests that it might finally be time for them to accept that it’s better to give than to receive.
The buying blitz started on June 10, when Lil Wayne released his sixth studio effort, Tha Carter III, and it rocketed to the top of the charts with sales of more than a million, the first time a disc has moved that many copies in a single week since 2005. The secret to the New Orleans rapper’s stunning blindside? For years, listeners have been able to gain access to his songs via the Internet at no cost, which has built his fan base. In April, Coldplay employed a similar tactic to whet appetites for its latest album, Viva La Vida, by giving away the single ”Violet Hill” on their website. And whaddya know? Viva La Vida also entered the charts at No. 1, with more than 720,000 copies snapped up in the first week after its June 17 release. Given that album sales are down 11 percent so far this year, this is welcome news. ”It was a big help,” says Coldplay manager Dave Holmes of the giveaway. ”The song was downloaded about 2 million times in a week. It was a huge call to action to the fan base — and it alerted everyone that Coldplay were back.”
The response to these two sets (since their debuts, Lil Wayne’s disc has moved an additional 209K units, while Coldplay has sold 249K more) means musicians are likely to unleash more perks in the future. Of course, gratis goodies can only help an act so much. ”The people have to like you a little bit first,” says Dave Matthews, who offered a free live album to concertgoers who bought tickets to his group’s current U.S. tour through Ticketmaster. ”Or else they’ll be like, I don’t want the music — and I don’t want the ticket.”