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Freedom of Music: Starbucks Freebies

March 22nd, 2009
freedom-of-music-headerOne likes to believe in the freedom of music.

Rush – Spirit of Radio.

If you have an i-pod and you like to pay $4.50 for you daily caffeine fix, as I do, you will know already that Starbucks gives away music. You can pick up a card at the cash for a free i-tunes download of a song by a featured artist. StarbucksTo be sure these are not songs you would normally otherwise buy: the point behind them is to create exposure for unheralded artists. Household names like Beast, The Waking Eyes, The Dears, Dido or Neko Case are only that in their own households, but they are each credible artists who in a different climate might be better known.

The commonality that runs through the pieces offered is the tendency for them to be of the alt or indy genres (can alternative really be a genre: once it is a genre doesn’t it lose it’s alternative status? And can anyone be independent and have their music available at Starbucks?) That said, of the sixteen songs I have downloaded there are several styles, including rock, pop, jazz, folk and alternative.

The music ranges in quality as well, with some being really quite good, and some less to my taste. The highlight of the group is a video download they gave out at Christmas. Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss performing the classic Wexford Carol. Other highlights include the jazzy Chances by Jill Barber, Neko Case’s People Got A Lot of Nerve, Land of Talk’s Some are Lakes, Greg Laswell’s How the Day Sounds and, my favourite of the unknowns Blink Pilot’s One Red Thread.

But good or bad is somewhat irrelevant: if I handed you sixteen songs of my choosing, each by a different artist, none of whom you had even heard of before,  I probably wouldn’t fare much better picking songs you like than Starbucks does with me. Some I like, some not so much – that’s going to happen. What’s interesting is the distribution model.

As traditional methods of finding new music disappear, new ways must be found. Like or dislike Starbucks, there is a method here of promoting artists, of getting music in the hands of the consumer, of presenting new music for your consumption. Whether it is the method of the future, nobody knows. But at the very least, my i-pod has sixteen songs on it it wouldn’t otherwise have, some of which will get repetitive listens. And who knows, I may find my new favourite artist one day in the card dispenser at Starbucks. What more could you want with your four-and-a half dollar coffee?

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