Free(dom) Music

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Published on Sept. 18, 2017, at 3:23 p.m.
by Jessie Banks.

If you have ever been to a major city, there is a good chance you’ve seen at least one struggling musician on the sidewalks. In New York City they come in the form of guitarists, violinists and singers lining the subway walls, just waiting to be discovered or supported by someone passing by. A lot of musicians devote their entire lives to the hustle of trying to make it big. They often self-produce their own albums and hand them out to any stranger who will listen.

A majority of these undiscovered artists might not ever land a recording label or win a Grammy Award. In fact, according to musictimes.com, only .02 percent of all musicians actually make it to that level of fame. If they are fortunate enough to make it that far, there is a good chance they have signed with a recording label.

Leading labels such as SONY, Universal Music Group and others dominate the rest, helping artists make huge strides in countries all over the world. They offer access to important connections, higher production numbers and ultimately, what the majority are most concerned with, more money.

One artist who has chosen to take the path less traveled on the road to fame calls himself Chance the Rapper. He represents himself as an independent label and has proven that by doing so, has not subjected him to any less fame than other top artists. In fact, in the year 2017 alone, Chance has completed his Be Encouraged Tour, made numerous celebrity appearances on commercials and television shows, and earned seven Grammy Award nominations for his album “Coloring Book.”

His independent label is not the only thing that makes his career so unique, however. Chance has made it publicly clear that he does not make money from his music. His music is instead distributed on various music-sharing sites for free, giving almost everyone access to his work. He is an advocate for the website SoundCloud.com, to which he credits a large portion of his career, as it’s the place where he released his first mixtape.

But why would Chance not want to sign with a record label if it seems to be so helpful?

“It’s a very modern approach,” Michael Little,     advertising and public relations instructor at the University of Alabama, said. “Ever since Napster, the smart folks in the music industry have been looking for alternate ways to monetize their product.”

This strategy explains Chance’s Be Encouraged Tour dates and other merchandise sales. Since he has to make money somehow, he profits from his other products instead of his music.

“If his [music] is at a certain level of quality, he’ll make money,” Little continued.

In an interview with Vanity Fair’s Lisa Robinson, Chance explained, “I never wanted to sell my music because I thought putting a price on it put a limit on it and inhibited me from making a connection.” (http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/02/why-chance-the-rapper-music-is-free-and-how-he-makes-money)

Chance, who uses his music as a way to distribute important messages, has been known to incorporate his personal opinions regarding current issues into his songs and performances. He uses his platform to spread positive messages about relevant problems, forcing his listeners to become more aware. In an interview with Billboard, he made a comment in reaction to his music’s effect on this generation.

He said, “People are raising their kids to be more and more knowledgeable and understanding. I would say the main reason not to be afraid is that I’m making music for your kids now. I’m coming so clean-cut with the message of hope and understanding, and the Word, that it’s like: What could you be fearful of?” (http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/hip-hop/7654284/chance-the-rapper-gq-interview-kanye-west-donald-trump)

“I don’t make songs for free, I make them for freedom” is a lyric from Chance’s song “Blessings,” sending the message of unification to his listeners. He delivers through his lyrics, knowing that he is capable of making a difference.

With his independent label and growing popularity, there is no question Chance the Rapper has revolutionized the way people listen to music. He has used music to his advantage to connect with his fans on a deeper level.

“I think that especially since he is making such strong connection with such a rebellious generation such as this one, he will remain in the spotlight for a while,” Alison Griswold, marketing assistant at Alabama Symphony Orchestra, said. “He has exposed himself in an overall positive way that seems to have made a big impact with his fans.”

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