Platforma’s plans for free music raise questions

Rimants Liepiņš, head of Rīga-based Platforma Music, apparently wants to turn Latvia’s recording industry on its ear. He plans for his company to give away digital recordings for free.

In a recent interview with TV Izklaide, a weekly supplement to the daily newspaper Diena, Liepiņš outlined the future for the 10-year-old company.

“We will be an Internet-based company that will offer consumers music for free,” Liepiņš said in the interview. “The cost of song downloads will be covered by advertisers.”

That’s the part that worries me. Linking the work of musical artists to the demands of advertisers may not be the best solution to whatever ails the Latvian music market.

Platforma represents artists such as Autobuss debesīs, Jumprava, Mofo, Normunds Rutulis and Tribes of the City. The company would still package and sell compact discs (that’s good news to me), but the little silver-colored plastic circle would be a niche product, according to Liepiņš. Ten years ago, the company sold on average about 1,000 copies of each CD it produced. In recent years, sales have returned to about the same level, he said in the interview.

Liepiņš, like others in the recording business, blames the changing mindset of the music consumer on the Internet, where free content—legal and otherwise—can easily be found.

“Changing these habits and people’s awareness is almost impossible,” Liepiņš told the newspaper. “I don’t believe in police-like methods. Prohibiting and rapping hands with a ruler won’t change anything.”

So instead it appears Platforma will surrender and hitch its wagon to the advertising engine. The company is working on securing advertising deals to guarantee that consumers will be able to download the songs for free.

What worries me is the influence advertising might have on the music. What happens when an advertiser says it will buy “clicks” from Platforma in return for their product being mentioned in a song? What happens when an advertiser says it will buy “clicks” from Platforma as long as certain themes are not part of a particular artist’s songs?

To be fair, advertising already plays a part in the Latvian recording business. Many CDs carry one or more logos of companies that have given their support so that an album can be produced and marketed. For example, the back of …taureņiem, kaijām un spārēm, an album by Autobuss debesīs released by Platforma in 2004, carries the logos of two television stations, an Internet portal, a music magazine and a newspaper. That doesn’t mean any of the band’s songs were influenced by the advertisers, but the potential exists, even if just for the appearance of a conflict of interest. My favorite example is the 1997 Prāta Vētra album Viss ir tieši tā kā Tu vēlies. The album art is laced with visual references to the company sponsors, while the title song includes a nod to Coca-Cola.

It is bad enough when information providers, such as newspapers and Web sites, have their ethics called into question because of real or implied influence from sponsors. What if our music also becomes suspect?

I cannot blame Liepiņš and Platforma Music for wanting to try something radical as a way to stay viable. And I’m sure we all would appreciate being able to download Latvian artists’ music for nothing. We just have to remember that, ultimately, nothing comes for free.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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