Mark Kelly, keyboard player for UK rock band Marillion, returns with a progress report on the initiative that saw the group give away their latest album for free, via Music Glue

I said I’d be back to tell you how it’s all been going with Music Glue and our attempt to get Marillion fans who currently enjoy our music for free to part with some money for concert tickets or a Tee-shirt.

We were on tour for most of November all over Europe and, despite the economic doom and gloom, our ticket sales were up on previous tours and merchandise sales were good too. Is this because our hardcore fan-base are so dedicated to Marillion that even in the face of a recession  they would come and see us play rather than put food on the table? I doubt it. On the other hand, I don’t recall meeting many fans claiming to work for HBOS or who were fund managers in the City. It’s hard to know but my money is on the huge amount of publicity we got around the Music Glue story. BBC TV news, all the broadsheet newspapers, Billboard and hundreds of internet news sites. The last time we had media coverage like that was in the 1980s.

So apart from the short term profile boost and the successful tour, how did the album do? Not as well as we hoped for. Downloading free music is a way of life for a lot of people these days. It’s so accepted in our culture that even respected publications like The Telegraph are in on the act. I saw a “must have” gadget review in their Sunday Magazine before Christmas for the MiShare V10 iPod Connector.

The reviewer wrote: “iPods can only be sync’ed to one computer, which makes downloading files from another person’s music library a frustrating affair”. No mention of the fact that downloading music from another person’s computer is illegal. Car keys only fit one car, which makes driving another person’s car away a frustrating affair…

On the positive side we did manage to add a few thousand new people to our database. This is more significant than it first appears. I’ll tell you why. In the good old days – that’s the 1980s to me – we were selling CDs by the million and making a quid, or thereabouts, a copy. Touring was subsidised by record company advances and merchandising sales.

Today, we sell CDs by the thousands, make £10 a copy AND make money on tour. So the few thousand people we added to our database could make an important contribution to our futures. Whether they will remains to be seen.  Although the information we collected via Music Glue was valuable and interesting, such as, which country most of the wma version of our album were downloaded, Music Glue only works with wma music files and there’s the rub.

Within a few days of the wma version becoming available people started posting mp3 versions and since the CDs became available, a few weeks later, FLAC versions also appeared. Today I did a Google search for “Marillion, Happiness is the Road, torrent”  and it returned 66,000 results. I followed a few of them and they were all for mp3 or FLAC versions of our album. On one site I saw our entire recorded output from the last 27 years zipped up into one file. This seemed quite popular with the file sharing community as it had been downloaded over 40,000 times. This is depressing. I don’t think for a minute that all those people would have bought our entire catalogue had this download not been available but now they won’t buy any of it. The best we can hope for is that they will come to see us play.

We have another tour starting in a few weeks; I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

About Author

James Martin is Head of Social Media for Midem organisers Reed MIDEM. This includes defining and rolling out Midem's social media strategy, editing midemblog, influencer outreach, developing Midem's fanbase of 75,000+ music professionals and more.


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