In the most traditional sense, Public Enemy's new single "Get Up, Stand Up," is free. Released via BitTorrent Bundle, the song costs only an email address. For that price, the rap legends' fans will get a song off the group's 2012 album Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp, Chuck D gets access to that fan's inbox and BitTorrent Inc. gets a little more legitimacy in a media landscape that has long considered it a plague.
Set for official launch by the end of the year, BitTorrent Bundle is an attempt to end the contentious relationship between peer-to-peer file-sharing sites and content creators by putting artists in control of their work. In Public Enemy's case, that means providing a single, a music video, and 37 multitracks so fans can remix the song. The hope is that fans who download will be more likely to spend money at shows, on merchandise, or on the album.
“For many established people in the music business, there’s a fear that comes along with [file-sharing]," Public Enemy manager Gary “G-Wiz” Rinaldo said in a BitTorrent blog post. "We don’t have that fear. The ability to freely share an archive and have flexibility on how it can be used is an extremely powerful tool when it comes to making music and media available.”
Chuck D is a longtime supporter of peer-to-peer music. In 2003, he told the U.S. Senate, “P2P to me means power to the people.” Back then though it was rare for either peer in the P2P dynamic to be the artist. With BitTorrent it can be. Death Grips also have distributed their music through the site.
Once BitTorrent Bundle arrives in its full version later this year, it will allow artists to create their own bundles and be creative with monetization. "This is a completely new way to look at monetizing content," BitTorrent’s vice president of marketing Matt Mason told TechCrunch in May. "Instead of putting the content in the store, what if you put the store in the content? What if the interaction happened in the unit of content in itself?” That means artists could provide some songs for free while charging for other songs, videos, etc.
If BitTorrent Bundle succeeds, it will likely be because of its ability draw up-and-coming artists still willing to exchange music for a longer email list. More established artists who want a simple way to directly distribute to fans could also take advantage of the program. But the biggest challenge will be convincing users that getting content directly from the artist is better than downloading it for free. And that might be a more difficult task than convincing young Mac Miller bros to check out Public Enemy's latest.