a new fan-driven musical economy?

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.

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6 responses to “a new fan-driven musical economy?

  1. I think we’re going to see more approaches like this one in terms of distributing and selling music, art, etc. I think it took a few of the bigger names (i.e., Bowie, Prince and finally, Radiohead) to draw large-scale attention to this different approach to music distribution. But leveraging the power of interconnected fans is having a huge impact.

    Tangential to this: our campus videographer, Tom Shipley, is half of a folk-rock duo, Brewer and Shipley, that was popular in the ’70s. These days thanks to the power of the Internet and music distribution services, new fans from generations unborn when their songs and albums were on the Billboard charts are able to access and enjoy their music. And Tom enjoys a little extra “mailbox money” thanks to the broader exposure. Of course, the record companies are also profiting, selling back catalogs to new markets, so even the old models can find new opportunities in this realm.

  2. I like this band and I love this concept. I just posted a similar entry taking a look at what I consider some innovative music marketing online.

    It’s not enough to just give your album away like Radiohead did. This is a great example of how bands need to try harder and be more creative.

    Great post!

  3. insidetimshead

    ANDREW: The funding and distribution model has been broke so long, it’s inevitable artists/fans would come up with the innovation. Of course, the record industry fought it forever, which hurt everyone. Neat story about your photographer! Have you seen “Anvil: The Story of Anvil” yet? Even though I’m not a heavy metal fan, it’s very engrossing, even poignant.

    SHANE: I’ll have to check that out! As much as I love the Damnwells’ music, I think their deft handling of their challenges and taking on new grassroots models makes me love them even more.

  4. Good point about fans driving the innovation. Since this decade began, I’ve been saying getting fans to the shows will be the key to success for the next post-Napster generation of artists. The only way you are making money off those records is by selling at the merch table anyway.
    Like any good blogger, I’m not above self promotion. Here’s my semi-related post🙂
    http://postrockblog.wordpress.com/2009/11/13/try-a-little-patients

  5. Pingback: a musician who puts social media to good use. « InsideTimsHead

  6. Pingback: last words for 2011: top 20 albums. | InsideTimsHead

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