Like just about everyone else these days, singer-songwriter Mark Mallman has a Web site. On it, you can listen to songs, look at photos, check upcoming show dates and read his blog. You can also download songs for free.
The Minneapolis-based solo artist has eight albums under his belt, a loyal following, and a career composing film scores. He's still struggling to make it but he's not worried about giving his music away.
"I live in reality and I try to accept change and I am not going to deny what's happening," says Mallman. "I'm going to accept the climate as a businessman and a musician, and most importantly an artist, and move forward. Everybody's scrambling because they want the money. They have always wanted the money, but I mean, realistically, people are always going to want free. They just do. I do, I want free everything. Who wouldn't?"
He says he gives away between 2,500 and 3,000 free downloads a month. But Mallman also sells his music online. The money comes directly to him through a PayPal account linked to his Web site.
But he says he doesn't rely on this income. Online music sales make up about 10 percent of his revenue. Mallman tours constantly and most of the money he makes comes from playing shows and selling stuff -- including CDs -- at those shows.
Mallman says the Recording Industry Association of America, the group that sued Duluth resident Jammie Thomas in federal court for illegal file-sharing, has got it all wrong.
He says record companies have a choice to make: they can either let people share music or they'll be lost to history as more musicians choose to go it alone, without a record label.
"If anything, it's a wake-up call to artists to realize, 'Hey, take your power back to yourself, run your business. You don't need these people, you don't need their marketing scams and their stupid ideas of how you should write your songs.'" says Mallman. "So take my songs for free."
Mallman says he makes plenty of money despite giving his music away for free.
But officials from the Recording Industry Association say free file-sharing violates copyright law. They say they plan to continue to bring legal action against anyone sharing free music files on Web sites like Kazaa and Limewire.
The association released a statement applauding the jury's ruling against Thomas, which ordered the 30-year-old to pay more than $9,000 for each of the 24 songs focused on in the case.
Thomas has denied any wrongdoing, and her attorney says they will appeal the verdict.
Attorney Brian Toder says he and Thomas plan to be record companies' "worst nightmare." He says they'll base their appeal on Judge Michael Davis' ruling that merely making recordings available violates copyright law. Some 26,000 lawsuits over music sharing have been filed in the last four years. This is the first such case to go to trial. The Record Industry Association says the jury's ruling against Thomas sends the message that illegal file-sharing is wrong and won't be tolerated.
But some music fans say the ruling won't stop them from doing it.
Adam, 26, from Minneapolis, doesn't want his last name used. That's because he's downloaded more than 10,000 songs from file-sharing sites like Kazaa and Limewire. He says he downloads older music for free from the Internet but usually buys new music on CD. And he pays to see lots of live shows.
He says spending his money on bands this way makes up for not always buying their CDs.
"I feel really strongly about that. The music that I listen to, the artists that are still around, I would do everything I could to go to their live shows. I would pay $50 or $100 to go to all of those live just for that experience," Adam says. "The cost of a CD, you could just tack onto the live show and I wouldn't think twice about it."
Adam says he thinks copyright laws are fast becoming out of date.
Jonna, from St. Paul, who didn't want to give her last name, was shopping for music over the weekend at the Minneapolis store Electric Fetus. She says she's got an iPod but has so far only loaded music she already owns onto it.
She's in her late 30s and hasn't used any file-sharing Web sites. "But all of my friends that are younger than me totally do it. I think it's a great way to share music with people and build alternative communities. I think it's great," Jonna says.
The Internet has changed the landscape of the music business for the better; the Web is a democratic place for artists to get noticed and engage with their fans, she says.
Music industry watchers are keeping a close eye on English band Radiohead for signs of things to come. The band is self-releasing its seventh album as a download on October 10 and letting fans name their own price for it.
That move is generating lots of buzz from fans who say they still plan to pay for it, even when they could get for free.