It would be easy to criticize Gorillaz for aping a move made popular by RadioHead. More interestingly though, they are asking fundamental questions about their supply chain. Like what job does a record company do anyway? And when they do they engage in all sorts of different ways to interact with their fanbase.
Pearse McCabe, brand consultant with Rufus Leonard, a digital consultancy, said that finding new ways of building relationships with fans is vital at a time when most younger consumers are reluctant to pay for music.
“The point of entry for bands is no longer dependent on buying an electric guitar and an amp and touring for three years before they gain recognition,” McCabe said. “You can produce music from your bedroom and publish it online. People are asking what the point of record companies is.”
Given the increased competition, successful bands needed to look beyond simply selling records, McCabe suggested.
“It’s not just about the music any more; you can sell them merchandise online and hook them up with other brands along the way. It’s about building a long-term consumer relationship.”
Music industry analysts point to the success of American country singer Corey Smith, who is reported to have made almost $4m (£2.5m) from touring, merchandise and other revenues in 2008 but gives most of his music away free from his website. “We don’t look at it as ‘free’,” his manager, Marty Winsch, told the Wall Street Journal. “When people come to the website and download the music, they’re giving us their time, their most valuable commodity.”