Jill Sobule Shows She Can Create A 'Professional' Fan-Financed Album

from the and-it-works dept

We've written a few times about Jill Sobule's business model experiment last year, where she was able to get fans to pre-finance her album, by offering tiered levels of support that all provided something extra (usually something scarce) that created a real reason to buy. Back at MidemNet, Sobule talked about the success of the experiment, but now, as that album is getting close to actually being released, more details are coming out about how the experiment worked (via Nancy Baym). It covers some of the familiar territory, but one key interesting point: she raised over $75,000 in less than two months and used it to produce an album just as if she were with a record label. That is, she didn't want to cut corners. So she hired famed producer Don Was and a bunch of top notch studio musicians.

I bring this up because one of the critiques that some readers have had whenever we talk about these business models is that under the business models we discuss, the "quality" of the music would surely decline. These commenters insist that such a model would focus on people recording crappy songs in their living rooms, rather than doing a full professional setup. While that may be true of some, it would seem that this is pretty clear evidence that it certainly doesn't need to be the case:
"I wanted to show the labels that I could do what they're supposed to be doing at a fraction of the cost, and do it better. I spent a couple of weeks in a studio in Los Angeles where Joni Mitchell and the Carpenters and Poison --- let's not forget Poison -- recorded. I wanted to make an album that could've come from a big-label artist, and at the same time was totally grassroots."
She does note, of course, that the process of "connecting with fans" is time consuming, and admits that there are times when her writing suffers because she's spending so much time online, communicating with fans. Indeed, that is an issue, and I think that artists who are adopting these models are definitely going to have spend some time finding the right balance -- or getting to a point where they can work with someone (the role that a good label should be playing) to help manage the "marketing" side of things. Still, can we kill off the myth that these new models mean that quality of new recordings suffers?

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  1. identicon
    Weird Harold, 23 Mar 2009 @ 6:39am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    No, Paul, I don't dismiss In Rainbows because I don't like it - I dismiss the comparison to their previous album that stunk. It would be better to compare the sales of this album to more popular albums, to see where it really stands.

    "They have a huge number of choices now that don't involve major labels."

    You miss the point: These guys are signing up with major labels for a reason: The vast majority of the public prefers shiny plastic disc or some other form of physical product. Amiestreet or eMusic isn't a replacement for a record store or the music racks at WalMart. it may be the "easier" distribution for you or I (computer savvy) but it isn't where the public prefers to get it's music. Again, you are making an unfair comparision. If Radiohead and NIN were making enough on their online stuff online, they wouldn't feel the urge to sign distribution deals, which once again makes the poster boys into just dilettantes, playing to your feelings but really with their feet solidly in the old system, where they know they will make money long term.

    "Artists have the choice. If they don't feel that they can handle the management of their own promotion or their own career, they hire someone who can."

    Again, missing the point. The bands always have the choice - they also have the choice to be full time musicians or be part time musicians and part time something else. That isn't the point. The reality is that a truly popular band that makes records and does 250 shows a year doesn't have time to arrange press and schedule radio interviews and deal with distribution snafus and handle authors right issues and all those other things that actually happen every day in the music business. There will always be middlemen, now we call them "record labels" and tomorrow they will be called "live nation". New label, same old middlemen.

    "you can hire a songwriter if you need one (many bands don't), and you make your deal with him when you hire him. The deal you come up with is down to your negotiation skills"

    This again is something you aren't grasping: Artists make money not just selling records or playing concerts, but also as writers, collecting royalties on their songs. It isn't just outside writers, it is themselves. Also, most pop acts (including stars like Mariah Carey or Beyonce) write very little of their own material, often collaborating with outside writers or using pieces written by third parties for them. Producer / writers like Timbaland really respresent a big part of the current music business. Why would any of them want to trade potential big money for some negotiated low rate?

    Jill Sobule I would bet spent the $75,000 like this: $10,000 of studio time, $20,000 of studio musicians, and the rest to Don Was - and he still gets a cut of all album sales in the future. He ain't working for beer money.

    "In fact, given that some part of the music industry are increasing their revenue (e.g. touring), "

    Now this is where the true lies part of this process comes in. Touring revenues have increased in the last few years because ticket prices have increases dramatically compared to all other parts of the music business. That is the Live Nation effect for you. But ticket prices have to increase massively to make up for lost record sales - and the loss of record sales so far isn't anywhere near enough to justify the price increase. Right now, the acts are soaking their biggest fans for the most money possible. $300 for Madonna? HELLO? What it means is that these fans are paying to make Madonna and Live Nation rich - more middlemen making money, which is exactly what we are all against trying to kill the record labels, no? It's just different middlemen doing the same time.

    It's pick your poison, nothing more.

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