In 2006, the Damnwells became an unfortunate music-industry cliche. Despite a knack for crafting smart and catchy songs, critical acclaim and a building fan base, they were cut adrift by Epic Records, which also shelved their sophomore album.
And while they would eventually get that disc, Air Stereo, released by Zoe Records, they found themselves at a real crossroads. Their solution? Turn to the Web, social media and innovative measures.
They made their third album, One Last Century, available free to all on the Internet in exchange for an email address. They used those email addresses, and social media, to let fans know they are assembling their fourth album in a novel way: Via donations and fan feedback.
Through a service called Pledge Music, the Damnwells look to raise $20,000.30 to record the new album. This weekend, they passed the 75 percent mark and continue to steam forward. Donors can start as low as $12 to just get a copy of the album, go higher for a variety of public broadcasting type premiums (for $25, I’m getting a signed CD and T-shirt) or even things like Skyping into a recording session ($55), introducing the band at a show ($125) or admission into a sound check ($150). The band will provide a public performance wherever you want them at the high end; for $5,000, someone in Tokyo, Turin or Tahiti can even have The Damnwells play in their house (it’s $1,500 in the U.S., $500 in NYC).
Just as valuable is that any supporter gets a password-driven code to download demos and outtakes (all of which are pretty good), read Alex Dezen’s blog about the record and gain other inside information. Fans can provide feedback on posted demos on the blog to play an even greater part in making the record. On top of all that, part of the funds raised will aid a number of worthy causes.
Or is this totally new? During the Renaissance, artists and musicians were funded by wealthy patrons who enjoyed their creations. But this more democratic system makes even modest donors part of the team. And taking the future of music out of the hands of a closed, shortsighted music industry and into a forward-thinking community of music lovers definitely represents an improvement.