If somebody told me ten years ago that someone else would pay for the music I listen to I would probably laugh. Back then I was happy to download three rare Manic Street Preachers songs at my school and squeeze them into a ten pack of floppy discs and was shaking when I found a Japanese version of a single I was looking for. Music cost me loads of time and I spent a fortune on obscure releases. Of course things are different now and I can find every song I think of and download it in a minute. But it still either cost a dollar or I commit something illegal. Both the one dollar model and illegal downloads will lead to a decreasing music business. What can save it though is what seemed as a joke to me ten years ago. For some people it still seems like a joke. But when you look at it there are good reasons to believe that free music for end users is the model that can save the music business.

The thing is that, of course, free music isn’t free. It’ll always cost. Free music models is just a way of changing the name on the bills. Free works as a model if the content that’s free is interesting and good enough for somebody to pay for sitting next to. I’m absolutely sure that music is such a content. Free music on new music services have good chances of replacing the CD as the main way of getting paid for recorded music.

The music industry is about to, or will be forced to, adapt how internet economy works. When distribution and duplication costs are close to zero my interpretation of how the internet economy works is charging small amounts of money for huge amounts of transactions. If you bare that in mind and take a look at the figures that have been reported recently of users at streaming music services and the vast amount of searches on p2p networks it’s clear that the music business can look forward to a fortunate future. If it only let go of its strong control addiction and lets others exploit their great and amazingly good catalogs of music it can get a share of the ad revenue from 10 million Imeem users and the 5 billion search request Limewire’s 80 million users make every month. Charge a penny, get a million!

I have said it many times before, so here we go again. It is about time for the music industry to change from the passenger seat to the driving seat. It’s time to embrace new services before they get tired and go illegal. Work with them now when you still have the influence to stipulate the rules for future revenue streams. And don’t try your old tricks and ask for huge amount of money up front. You are dealing with the people that will help you survive.

But before going too halelujah about advertisment and music we have to be somewhat careful. At least in my part of the world, Sweden, there’s a bad and unaccustomed culture for processing money from companies to musicians. Sponsor deals are rare and artistical integrity is high. But since there are many artist in need of money, especially in start up phases, and companies with loads of money with ambition to reach all the people that is listening to music there clearly is a good breading ground. If streaming music services and other music providers with free content bare this in mind and in the beginning is extremely careful with the way they are presenting ads and are having an active dialogue with artist free music paid for someone else will clearly be a win-win-win situation. Musicians get paid, companies reach their target groups and, most importantly, streaming music services will kill piracy.

It would be interesting to see figures on how many that is buying CDs. We know that sales are decreasing and my guess is that it’s collecting “music nerds” that hang in there. Which should mean that the number of people buying music is decreasing even faster than CD sales. I believe that when free costs the number of income streams will increase and with that the amount of money.

Free isn’t free, free music costs– and for the music industry that’s the insight that will save enable future incomes.