WARNING! This article features academic themes.
Obviously Shakey Graves and Chance the Rapper are very different artists. Comparing their music would be like comparing apples to chicken. We could use the same metrics to compare them. But, it really wouldn’t be useful.
However, comparing their marketing style and how they distribute music is an interesting exercise in what free means and how free their music really is.
First, Chance the Rapper is an international independent phenomenon known for giving out his music for “free.” In reality, his stuff is really hard to download and is more like stream-only than it is free. Most of the streaming services on which his music can be reached are either subscription based or feature ads. So, he still makes money from the distribution of his tracks. Further, he attaches value to his music as a product by collaborating with some of the top artists in the genre (Lil’ Wayne, Childish Gambino, Kayne West, etc.).
His independence and image as someone who is giving out music like a rapping Santa Clause influences the fairness equilibrium that he has with his fans. The Fairness Equilibrium is a behavioral game theory model developed by Matthew Rabin. One of the core ideas of the Fairness Equilibrium is that we wish to sacrifice our own material goods for those we perceive as kind.
When Chance the Rapper “gives” out his music for free, he is perceived as kind and altruistic. We naturally feel a desire to make things fair to him by buying his hats, t-shirts, and hoodies.
Shakey Graves also utilizes the Fairness Equilibrium. Once a year on the Ninth of February, aka Shakey Graves Day, he offers to everyone the opportunity to pay what they like for his music. For one day a year, he gives out all of his hard work for free! Like Chance, he still keeps a reasonable valuation on his music by having it available for purchase every other day of the year.
Those who participate in the celebration of Shakey Graves Day feel the pull of the fairness equilibrium. When I participated this last February, I felt like I had to pay for some of his music. Before Shakey Graves Day, I had listened to very little of his music and probably would have never paid for any of it. But, downloading every single song that he has spent the last seven years creating made me feel the deepest desire to give him some money in return. I wanted to make things fair with him. How many people feel that same desire? How many more fans does he get from this promotion?
What can we learn from Chance and Shakey? Be kind, be generous, and people will feel a moral obligation to help you out.