An irresistible urge for free music

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An irresistible urge for free music

Fans of Shin Hae-chul may buy all the 461 songs that he composed - but only 5,500 won ($5) would go to the late musician.

The distorted business structure of the domestic online music-download market has led to controversy. But Koreans aren’t the only ones to find the digital music market upsetting. American pop star Taylor Swift recently asked the music-streaming service Spotify to remove her songs.

Spotify is the biggest commercial music-streaming service with more than 40 million users, who pay a $9.99 monthly fee to enjoy the unlimited streaming of digital music.

While Spotify claims that it pays 70 percent of its total revenue to the rights holders in royalties, it could not avoid Swift’s “breakup.” She has claimed that the streaming service does provide the justifiable value musicians deserve.

Contrarily, rock legend U2 exclusively released its latest album in five years, “Songs of Innocence,” on iTunes for free last month. Eighty-one million users listened to the songs, and 26 million downloaded them.

In fact, the music market has entered a stage where revenues from albums and digital downloads are no longer primary sources of profit. Concerts, endorsements and product sales are considered the most lucrative endeavors. For U2, the most profitable concert band in the world, the free release on iTunes attracted even more people to its shows.

Moreover, the global digital-music market’s focus has moved on to competition among free streaming services. Streaming radios are considered the next big thing of the future in the music market. Unlimited digital music is provided for free, with occasional commercials. Instead of “owning” a music file through a download, fans now “consume” music by checking it out from online libraries.

I, too, have been charmed by the service. It started to feel quite foolish to pay any amount of money to listen to music when it could be found for free. It’s hard to fight the irresistible temptation of freebies. However, there’s no free lunch. Music may be enjoyed for free, but we often forget the additional communication charges. We end up spending the same money one way or another.

A more serious problem is that cultural content, in the form of free music, could be an attraction as streaming radio becomes a popular business model. In fact, Apple spent $100 million to have U2’s album released at the unveiling of its new iPhone 6 - and the tactic certainly worked. It feels just as bitter as wondering whether product placements are used to fund a television drama or a television drama is created to feature product placements.

The author is a deputy culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 8, Page 31

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