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Viva la Freedom of Music

If the music industry can't figure out how to make a profit, they might as well just give their music away for free. The major labels have done little to innovate the industry. One innovation, however, that just might work (and one which I benefitted from) is free concerts. BIG free concerts.

Coldplay held three free concerts (London, Barcelona and New York City), and I was a lucky winner of two tickets to Madison Square Garden on June 23. Fans (and anyone else) could sign up on the band's official website earlier this spring, with hopes of winning a pair of tickets. The British band will commence their regular North American tour in Los Angeles on July 14. Sadly, you will have to pay for these.

Going to see Coldplay for free isn't like going to see some rising Indie band at a club. This is a band that came in at sold within the first week of its release. Going to see one of the biggest bands at one of the largest music venues in the U.S. is hardly a token event. It's a promotional extravaganza. The event was so huge that the 19,763 capacity arena was at least 75 percent filled, with a quarter blocked off by the stage.

The concert itself was close to spectacular. Not skimping on any stage production elements since it was a free show, but also not over-the-top, the English quartet performed their hearts out. While there were a few technical glitches here and there, the band members were never fazed, laughed it off and the audience laughed with them.

Now, who else in the music industry will be as kind (brave, foolish, insert adjective here) as Coldplay to hold giant free concerts for their fans? It could turn into a small trend, but I don't see free concerts at Madison Square Garden becoming a regular promotional technique. More than likely, smaller venues will play host to free concerts, like Wyclef Jean performing at the Apple Store in Manhattan's Soho district on June 9.

What also remains to be seen is what kind of benefits such a promotion can reap. After all, the album debuted at #1 in the United States before the free concert, so its hard to tell if the spectacle really helped Coldplay's album sales or not. Judging by the audience's enthusiasm, I'd guess that the majority of those in attendance would have thrown down big bucks to see them anyway. I know I was planning to buy tickets until I found out the concert was a free lottery.

However, there is something to be said for anything free: it is still advertising, whether you realize it or not. Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine, wrote a piece, "The Long Tail" about the future of entertainment markets and the premium of free. Essentially, "free has a cost: the psychological value of convenience." For those in the audience who weren't big fans before and happened to win tickets or were brought along by a friend, a huge entertaining performance can influence album sales.

So I ask you, can the industry save itself this way and boost album sales, or is it just throwing away money on big-budget productions?