. If, like me, you’re a poor student but love music, it’s sometimes difficult to balance the books when on one hand you need something to make your undercooked pasta palatable, but on the other really need Graham Coxon’s new album. You could go and illegally download it all, but that could hypothetically get you in a lot of trouble, plus by stealing from your favourite artists you’re compromising your position as a true music fan. (Puts away soapbox.) Fortunately, there are ways around a music obsession that are either free or fairly cheap and, best of all, 100% legal. Some, like using free websites to listen to music or buying albums second-hand, are pretty obvious; others, like downloading free record company samplers or signing up to mailing lists, may not have occurred to you.
1. Making use of Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud etc. This mostly depends on your ethics as a listener. If you believe that the artist should get the best deal, Spotify is probably not for you; its dodgy financial scheme for the artists is well documented, with some estimates saying that it takes 90,000 plays for an artist to earn £8 from it. However, through listening to the thousands of albums on there, you may discover an obscure artist, love them and decide to buy their entire back catalogue, every piece of merchandise they’ve ever made and tickets to every leg of their autumn university tour, which’ll earn them a lot more than £8… well, before the taxman and record companies get to it, anyway. Should you decide to subscribe, then Spotify is way better value and cheaper per month than Netflix – you pay for the privilege of bonus tracks, (some) brand new albums, listening to songs more than five times and, most importantly, not having to hear those unbearable ‘sign up to vote!’ adverts every three songs. Money well spent.
2. Early streaming of albums on the Guardian, NME, Soundcloud etc. Patience is a virtue that has all but disappeared in the Internet age, especially when it comes to entertainment. Victims of leaked albums recently include the Queen of Pop, Madonna, and indie heavyweight Jack White. To satiate fans’ eagerness to hear new material, some artists grant websites permission to stream their new albums – the Guardian (Graham Coxon) and NME (Orbital) springing to mind in particular. Others, like Santigold, ally themselves with no particular media outlet and prefer to upload it to Soundcloud for fans to listen to [here]. It’s a great way not only to evade the moral guilt of ripping artists off, but also to check whether their new material is worth buying. After all, you may not be supporting them financially, but a) you’re on a budget, and b) they should’ve made a better album. Think of all those people who’d have saved money, time and effort if Soundcloud had existed in 1975 and Lou Reed had put Metal Machine Music on it.
3. Free (legal) owning: Signing up to artists’ mailing lists for free tracks. Artists always want you to be on their mailing list so they can spam you silly with details of new releases, tours and other money-spinners. One of their favourite ways of doing this is to promise free tracks to those that sign up. With the likes of Marina and the Diamonds and Beady Eye sending their mailing list new tracks ahead of their physical/iTunes release, and the Pixies rewarding their mailing list with a free live EP, it’s a great way not only to get up to date on their newest tracks, but find out things before anyone else courtesy of the spam. Although it’s more SUPER USEFUL INFORMATION than spam if you’re a fan.
4. Free (legal) owning: Downloading free record company samplers. Amazon’s spam emails turned out to be the useful ones as far as instructing me in this goes. Turns out that loads of independent labels release free sampler albums through Amazon – a sampler album basically being a compilation album of songs by bands on their roster. Although the majority of these are by obscure artists (Chadwick Stokes, anyone?), some of the names are either established stars, such as the Arctic Monkeys on the Domino sampler, or names you’ll hear bandied about on Pitchfork (Anna Calvi, The Kills, Ladytron). My favourite samplers to date have been the Nettwerk and Domino samplers. Admittedly there aren’t many decent-looking ones around at the moment, unless you love worship music or award-winning classical stuff, but the Mr Bongo one sounds promising and could open you up to the work of a record label you’d never have heard of otherwise.
5. Free (legal) owning: iTunes’ free Song of the Week. In between helping to beat up physical music formats and monopolise the download market, iTunes has time to feature a Song of the Week for free – only free for a week, mind you. Bands who’ve had this vital exposure include Cage the Elephant (‘Around My Head’), Jen’s favourite duo Best Coast (‘Boyfriend’), and them wot done the original version of ‘Heartbeats’, The Knife (‘We Share Our Mothers’ Health’). Occasionally featured songs have been known to snowball in popularity, with ex-Song of the Week ‘Fireflies’ by Owl City going on to top the chart in seven different countries, including both the UK and USA. So it’s not only great for slowly boosting your music library, but you could own a sleeper hit for free, months before it gets boosted to the lofty heights of £0.99.
6. Free (legal) owning: self-leaking – bands releasing their albums for free through newspapers or on their website. Radiohead started the trend for bizarre marketing strategies with the ‘pay what you want’ scheme for seventh studio album In Rainbows. Although it’s estimated a third of fans paid nothing, the average price paid for the download version in the three-month ‘pay what you want’ window was £3.88, and the pre-order sales of the physical copy apparently outstripped the total sales figures for predecessor Hail to the Thief – so it’s not even ripping off the band. Prince altered the strategy, instead releasing 2007 album Planet Earth through The Mail on Sunday, sparking artists including Jen’s serial not-even-guilty pleasure McFly and Prince again (this time with the Daily Mirror) to follow in his footsteps with a pared-down edition of Radio:active and 20TEN respectively. Even if it means buying a really crap newspaper, free music! And you can draw comedy facial hair/eyebrows/tattoos on David Cameron, which is always a bonus in my opinion.
7. Free (legal) owning: For deluxe albums or boxsets, entering Superdeluxeedition’s competitions to win the latest remastered or deluxe editions of classic albums. If you, like me, prefer having a tangible copy of an album as opposed to owning it in MP3 format, you can still get those for free without leaving your chair… maybe. Just enter one of Superdeluxeedition’s frequent competitions and you could be a winner. Recent competitions have had prizes of David Bowie, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Suede and Pink Floyd’s remastered/deluxe albums for lucky winners. All that’s usually required for entry is to follow them on Facebook or Twitter and answer a question or retweet. Unlike those famous ‘YOU ARE THE 10,000TH VISITOR!! CLICK HERE TO RECLAIM YOUR PRIZE OF LANA DEL REY BALANCING NAKED UPON A PINK UNICORN!!’ adverts on dubious websites, you will actually get your prize if you’re a winner.
8. Cheap owning: Utilise any of the following: Amazon, eBay, charity shops, HMV’s famous 2 for £10 sales… I don’t think this needs any explanation… If you’re looking for second-hand CD singles or cassettes, check the charity shops in your area rigorously before committing to the £2.50 rip-offs on Amazon or eBay – charity shops will frequently be hiding these gems behind the copies of Sugababes’ Three album, which seems to be the most popular album on charity shop shelves from several years’ experience. Incidentally, if you want a copy of Suede’s eponymous debut album on cassette, let me know and I can get one for you for 50p from Acorn Records in Truro. I just want it to go to a good home, ok? Ok??
9. Free gigs in pubs, bars and cafes. Bands tour on what is known as the ‘pub circuit’ for good reason – it involves lots of pubs. If you’re just going for a quiet drink on a Saturday evening, bands are a major nuisance, but if you’re missing your live fix while also missing a positive bank balance, this’ll have to do. You probably won’t find the next Bowie in your local offy, but you might find a decent enough singer. It’s slightly friendlier than camping outside your local music festival, straining to hear what Morrissey’s singing over the crowd screaming (a similarly free way to listen to gigs), and you may even make friends with the drunk, slightly sweaty bloke next to you in the Van Halen t-shirt!
10. Befriend musicians, or encourage your friends to start a band. Free entry to all gigs with none of the cost of instruments, and an inimitable chat-up line – “I’m with the band”. Groupies, get in line…