Chance The Rapper and The Social Experiment collective have built up a tremendous, die-hard following thanks to originality, talent and their decision to release all of their music for free.
Proof positive of this winning formula are the first week numbers delivered by Donnie Trumpet's freely-released Surfalbum, which hit iTunes on Thursday, May 28. According to Chance (see tweet below), the album was downloaded in full 618,000 times. Additionally, individual tracks were downloaded an astrounding 10,198,708 times. That quantity of downloads is very impressive, free or otherwise.
The evening that Surf was released, a proper stream outside of iTunes was not made available by Donnie and his team. As a result, the album was re-uploaded in full to music sharing platform Audiomack.com 12 times, which to date has resulted in an additional 660,438 streams. Soundcloud also experienced a surge in Surf-related uploads; at this moment more than 150 individual tracks from the project have been uploaded for stream. All told, these numbers make Surf one of the most popular albums of the year so far.
While the numbers speak for themselves, these lofty totals also generate a variety of questions. First, had Surf been for purchase-only, or a dual release with one version for digital purchase and another for free, would fans, supporters and even more casual listeners have opted to buy a copy? Furthermore, given the buzz around the album's release and the conversation that predated its inevitable drop, did Chance and company miss a tremendous opportunity to monetarily capitalize on the exploding popularity of the group? Or will giving the music away for free be a short term loss that results in long term gains when it comes to more lucrative concert tickets and merchandise purchased by intensely loyal fans grateful for, and hooked by, all the free music?
Incredibly, despite these banner seven day totals, Surf will remain available for free download. Nobody would shake their finger at The Social Experiement if they had made the decision to flip the switch and turn off the free download option, but according to Chance that will never happen.
It would appear Chance and his talented group of collaborators plan to solely release music for free into the foreseeable future; he's certainly the most popular rapper to have never released a for-purchase project, due in large part to his insistence on remaining independent. Will this album go down in history as a turning point in the music industry, when the movement towards free albums that's been building for years truly became the new standard? Or is the Social Experiment just that, an experiment with limited application outside their cirlce?
Only time will tell. In the meantime, Surf's up.
[By DJ Z, aka @DJBooth.]