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I realize how old I am, when I find that on the Internet, I can legally download free tracks from Nine Inch Nails from the NIN website. Why is Trent Reznor making his music free to anyone with Internet access? When I was a teenager, I had to save money to buy a not so compact disk. There was no free lunch or free music. Now, there is a new music economy.

So what happened? As with so many questions, the answer is: the Internet happened. In 1999, specifically, Napster happened, the first P2P (peer to peer) file sharing service on the Internet, through which people could share free music in MP3 files (more compressed, so easier to send over the Internet).

Not interested in a new music economy that had no money for the composers, performers, and therefore, for record companies, the record companies have fought such free music download services. The original Napster with its free music was shut down in 2001. Now, Napster again can be found on the Internet as a legal pay service, and the recording and movie industries continue to try to shut down illegal P2P sites providing free music downloads.

One of the major sources of free music downloads today is, where, recently, an odd notice appeared:

Already Late was produced and performed by Eliud Varela…. Feel free to distribute this music, and thanks for listening!

Thanks for listening? To free music? If the strategy of a new music economy works for a little-known performer on a P2P site as well as for Nine Inch Nails, something is going on.

Sales of CD’s are no longer the primary source of income for musicians, for whom free music on the Internet is a sort of advertising, drawing people into concerts, where they will, it is hoped, buy related merchandise (if they have any money left after buying the tickets).

Besides, the old idea (not to mention tyranny) of the major recording labels seems to be fading away, somewhat as the old studio system of the movie industry has. Using the Internet and legally providing free music downloads are just two tricks or options up the creative sleeves of musicians experimenting with the “New Music Economy.” (Click on that title to go the Wikipedia article.)

On the Nine Inch Nails website, Trent Reznor captures the essence of the new music economy based on free music downloads from the Internet, when he discusses his reasons for offering free music downloads from groups that will be joining him:

Some of you may not be entirely familiar with the acts I’ve chosen to join us on various legs of this tour, so we’ve compiled a sampler EP for you. CLICK HERE to download this for free. If you like what you hear, be sure to show up early to the show (and please remember to support them by purchasing their music, if so inclined).

“If so inclined…” Fists in the air, everybody, and a quick chant of “Power to the people!” Now, break out your wallets. The new music economy still involves money, or it will soon become an old, outright extinct music economy.

Let me offer my own limited experience of the new music economy. I am pretty out of touch with new music, unless I come across something interesting on the Internet. Recently, I came across a reference to a delightful young (!) jazz (!!) musician with the delightfully multicultural name Esperanza Spalding. I headed for YouTube, where I found her videos (here). I bought her CD (old music economy) and then published a review of it (here) on the Internet and even added one of her songs, legal and free, to my MySpace page.

Is the new music economy really a new music paradigm? Without the Internet (the first reference, then the videos), how would I have found a new favorite musician? What is next? Keep some legal and free music in your heart and your MP3 player, and let’s listen for the next track.

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