I’m more and more excited as I watch Topspin unfold. The latest to get the treatment is the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s It’s Blitz!. Essentially the story is this: the record is available immediately digitally, and in several variations of digital (mp3 AND lossless), physical CD and 180-gram vinyl, to be shipped later. I like to call it the “big fan approach”. The model really caters to the music consumer, a beast I can personally relate to, and offers the artist higher margins.
The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s are one thing, of course. But as a fan and big supporter of jazz/improv/noise/whatever, the local scene, and tiny labels everywhere putting out challenging interesting music and selling a limited number of copies, I just see possibility everywhere in the “big fan approach”. Imagine throwing $20 or $50 or $100 down for a year’s worth of music, digital as-it’s-recorded, practice tapes, exclusive live shows, vinyl on 7″ and 12″, prints of graphic scores, cassettes, interviews, drawings, videos, sheet music, even music lessons. Technology has made the act of creating and manufacturing these things much less intimidating. It’s like signing up for the fanclub to get the Sonic Youth zine (which I did in the early ’90s). The artist has a direct tunnel of communication to its biggest fans and supporters. The big fan invests in the artist and gets a lot in return. Jazz fans already have a fling with high-quality audio; give them pristine vinyl and lossless digital files. Noise fans already trade tapes and like small runs; give them tapes and limited downloads and/or vinyl. Let them choose. Pay whatever creates for the fan the right volume of an artist’s work. I kind of shy away from seeing an artist as a brand as it’s less romantic, but this way of thinking is what lies ahead. The artist is in a position to make MORE money by offering MORE stuff directly to fans, since the margins crush the CD business model. And it’s really not much different than how visual artists work (selling fewer, one original copy to however many prints to a smaller audience at a higher price) or how classical composers “branded themselves” to write specifically for a patron or group of music aficionados. It’s an old idea reborn.
I’m shocked to hear myself say this in the year 2009, but I really want to start a label to give this a try. Love Gloom Records anyone?
In the midst of raising money to support my beloved WFMU, listener supported freeform radio, I can’t help but see parallels. You pledge your support in relation to how big a fan you are and what’s comfortable financially. In return we offer you a year of great radio, tons of prizes, T-shirts, stickers, CD premiums, the chance to “adopt” your favorite DJ, etc. and the opportunity to be involved in this real community unadulterated by advertising or other cynicism-creating filters. Just a direct connection between a fan and a producer of things.