THE BLOG
04/06/2009 01:03 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why Young Artists Give Albums Away for Free

Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

By: Brandon McFarland

Last week, Inglewood based hip hop duo U-N-I released their debut album -- not a mixtape, but the album, for free online! The album is entitled A Love Supreme. Not since the Cool Kids has there been a decent representation of true students of hip hop, and an even better representation of LA's youth scene that doesn't involve gangs. Good beats, dope rhymes, and (most importantly) lyrical style and skill. Plus a video on MTV2, and an XL rating in XXL magazine. So why are U-N-I choosing to be unsigned to any major label? And why give the album away?

People sitting on their couches watching artists on MTV and BET simply don't get an accurate portrayal of what life is like for most up-and-coming musicians. Long gone are the days when a record label would take a talented "nobody," make a good record (good to the artist, NOT just the label), come up with some dough for promotion, offer a little artist development, and BAM! super stardom. These days, you have to make your own career. That means maintaining a constant presence on all the social networks like Myspace, Facebook, Twitter etc., getting chummy with the big fish in the blogosphere, and having your own blog or vodcast/vlog.

But even if artists find the magic formula to get their music to wide audiences, the chances that someone will BUY their music is slim and grim. Today's online savvy fan must be able to buy into the lifestyle that breeds the kind of art you make. The ring tone rap era that flourished in 2007 with Soulja Boy's "Crank That" is fading away. Over the years, artists have come up with clever ways to package their albums as more of a memento, based on inserts and packaging, like cassettes or USB wristbands. And then there's the hope that if fans like the music then they will go out to see a show or buy a T-shirt.

In a perfect world you can just make your music and the people who like it...buy it. But the reality is that music is virtually free because people can get it if they want it. The strategy is making sure your fan base is large enough for you to sell out shows. For independent artists there is no use in mentioning stadiums.

Brook D'Leau said that the people don't want a 'hit'. They just want whatever you got. That same week Waajeed told me that he loves art. But he's a fan of Warhol. In other words, it's about high art for commerce. Wise words from two well respected music producers and major influences on my own musical career. Two different schools of thought. Waajeed has played the hip hop/r&b producer game for over a decade now, while Brook's group J*Davey has a major label album on Warner Bros. that is still not on the shelves.

It all boils down to why you make music. Do you do it for the love or the money? In a vimeo post about A Love Supreme, YO (one half of U-N-I) said "The feeling I have right now is truly amazing. To see when we first started in this little den off Crenshaw and 80th recording 'till like three o'clock in the morning with no jobs. Go home [to] moms cursing at me like 'You're doing this but you're not making any money!' and I tell her I understand it's dumb but I just love it." Only time will tell whether U-N-I's motives will remain pure as they gain more popularity and better record deal offers.

Youth Radio/Youth Media International (YMI) is youth-driven converged media production company that delivers the best youth news, culture and undiscovered talent to a cross section of audiences. To read more youth news from around the globe and explore high quality audio and video features, visit Youthradio.org.