One of the most heated debates currently happening in the music industry centers around the question, “What is music worth?” With the fall of physical album sales—previously a prime driver of revenue—and the rise of subscriber subsidized streaming content, the answer increasingly seems to be, “Not all that much.” Along the way, some artists have decided to skip out of this conversation entirely by dropping albums and mixtapes completely free for their fans to download. But this method carries with it another set of drawbacks that many artists haven’t anticipated.
According to the rules from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, in order for a musical release to be considered for one of its annual Grammy awards, a release must be “commercially released in general distribution in the United States, i.e. sales by label to a branch or recognized independent distributor, via the Internet, or mail order/retail sales for a nationally marketed product. Recordings must be available for sale from any date within the eligibility period through at least the date of the current year’s voting deadline (final ballot).”
This is a problem for projects by artists like Future or Young Thug—who have put out multiple mixtapes in the last couple of years without out any financial compensation—that have been widely accepted as being amongst the most impactful and qualitatively great collections of songwriting and production of their genre. Another figure about to run up against this hard and fast rule is Chance The Rapper, who is set to release his third mixtape on May 13, presumably—as he has with each one of his last projects—completely free. Chance even rapped about this specific dilemma on his guest verse to Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam,” saying:
“He said let’s do a good ass job with Chance three / I hear you gotta sell it to snatch the Grammy / Let’s make it so free and the bars so hard / That there ain’t one gosh darn part you can’t tweet.“
With more and more artists going the free route with their albums, tapes, and records, Max Krasowitz has posted a petition on Change.org to get NARAS to modify its rules and adapt to the present musical climate. “Not all artists should be forced to release their music for free,” the petition states. “But the ones who do should not be punished for doing so.”
If you happen to feel the same way, you check out the petition here.