Gaga Proves Free Sells Music

Lady Gaga is the professor and the rest of us are students – at least when it comes to how to sell music for fun and profit.

Recently released is a report from Visible Measures, a video analytics company, that reports Gaga has exceeded the one billion views (rarified air) in terms of music video.

Actually Gaga has three videos in the 100 million range – one for “Poker Face” (374,606,128), one for "Just Dance" (272,941,674) and one for "Bad Romance" (360,020,327).

Twilight Saga is breathing down Gaga’s neck with 980 million and Soulja Boy has 860 million.

Lady Gaga is big on YouTube and VEVO and her viral popularity has spread to Facebook where more than 100,000 people launched a National Lady Gaga Day recently.

And what Gaga is teaching the music industry is that in spite of its insistence that file sharing and free views hurt sales, they actually grow sales.

There is little reason to doubt this. The evidence is mounting.

The music industry is trying to hang on to its manufacturing and promotional model that has served it well for decades with the assistance of terrestrial radio. That explains its desire to put an end to file sharing in whatever way it can even if it means suing their customers.

But don’t confuse file sharing and free views for piracy.

It’s simply today’s generational replacement of radio.

After all, whereas in the past young people only had radio to turn to for hearing music or later, to MTV to see music videos, they can now click away online to get exactly what they want on-demand.

And don’t confuse those little VEVO ads with some videos as a major source of revenue. They are not. Just part of what must become a new package of income streams that could once again represent income growth for the music industry.

The labels would have you think that stealing is bad – and it is except when it is making you money.

Is Gaga making money for her label?

The facts say yes.

Gaga is the only artist of the digital age to break the 5 million sales barrier. “Poker Face” just hit 5 million in sales after her debut single ”Just Dance” hit the same number a year ago.

Not bad for a talented 24-year old singer in over-the-top clothing.

It’s really time to get over the notion that piracy or, as I like to call it -- file sharing, is harmful to the music industry.

The whole point is that we live in a different world. Radio used to have sole responsibility for exposing music. Today, music is freely shared online thus feeding consumers’ craving for music discovery.

Short playlists and hit radio stations did a lot to cripple music discovery way before the Internet came along although it is a fact that ratings are higher when the hits are played over and over ad nauseum on-the-air.

However, in today’s on-demand world, consumers no longer have to wait until Tuesdays for radio stations to add one to three new songs into rotation. Therefore, the new music radio is file sharing.

One of the major market stations I programmed had 19 currents, 50 recurrents and 300 "oldies" and it easily pulled over a million cume listeners. But the only choice the new music public really had was my station and its competitor. And it added just three new songs every Tuesday -- max!

Where the labels will eventually wind up (whether they want to or not) is in a place where they learn to feed the file sharing monster.

Look at Gaga.

She is everywhere.

You see her, read her in People, see her on Perez Hilton, view her videos on demand online and look what has resulted.

An even greater demand.

Breaking records for music sold in the digital age.

Gaga selling more albums than anyone else and giving away more free plays than anyone else. I mean, you at least have to take pause and question traditional record industry propaganda and take note.

The irony that is so far lost on record labels is that the more music changes hands, the more music they will sell.

And that just as radio was the vehicle for exposing and repeating music in the past, online and mobile exposure is fast becoming the vehicle of choice now.

The labels should:

• Promote music file sharing without penalty and without agendas in any and every way possible. Do not inhibit radio airplay by seeking to levy more fees by repeal of the Performance Rights exemption. Take a page out of Lady Gaga's book. And with all due respect, it is her label that is benefiting as a result.

• Pass a Streaming Stimulus package that encourages the growth of free Internet streaming to promote music discovery and rethink the draconian rate structure that saddles and punishes the very exposure that has proven to benefit digital age recording artists.

• Make it easy to buy once consumers try – to do that creative approaches to marketing and merchandising need to be developed. Simply manipulating FaceBook, Twitter or MySpace is not an answer. Label merch efforts are at best -- unremarkable. They can do better.

• Emphasize a different kind of social networking, not just based around established social sites, but constructed around the artist first with Facebook and Twitter by enabling tools. The artist is the social network. (By the way, there are lessons in this for you and me. I’m thinking long and hard on this topic and new media and traditional radio and TV should also mull the wisdom of making the social network the brand).

File sharing and free viewing are your friends.

To quote the file sharing bible: in giving you receive.

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