A little over two years ago, we wrote about singer Marian Call and the fact that she did a bunch of experiments that helped her connect with fans and give them a reason to buy. As we noted, what she demonstrated is that it takes a lot of experiments to figure out what "works" for a particular creator and their fans. Some ideas will fail, and some will succeed. Since that time, I've checked in here and there on her career and it seems to be going great. I'd missed, however, that she launched a Kickstarter campaign last month, and thankfully Aaron deOliveira clued me in, thanks to a blogpost on Popehat about Marian Call's Kickstarter campaign, which has a few really cool features. So many artists are doing Kickstarter campaigns these days, that there's usually not that much to write about with them. But Marian (not surprisingly, given her willingness to test out "crazy" ideas, decided to take things a bit further with Kickstarter, and turn it into even more of a game than it normally is.
That is, she created Marian Call's European Adventure Quest, in which she effectively "gamified" Kickstarter, such that the more she earned, the more levels would be "unlocked." The main idea was that she would tour Europe and record a live album, but the more she raised, the more places she would visit and the more cover songs she would do (she usually does originals, but people have requested covers, and she was worried about the licensing fees if she didn't raise money in support). She's even got some nice retro video game graphics to show her progress:
The campaign is actually just about to end (within a few hours), but it just recently surpassed $55,000, which means that she'll be performing and recording "Particle Man" by They Might Be Giants... and she'll be doing it live at CERN, which is so awesomely appropriate.
One of the things we get concerned about, at times, is that people get so focused on how others have been successful with things like Kickstarter that they stop being additionally creative on their own and merely copy others' projects. But Marian is showing how you can continue to be creative above and beyond the basics of Kickstarter, and do so in way that is fun and better connects you with fans (while also getting those fans to support you in a big way). It's always great to see these kinds of inspiring examples.
Erin McKeown, a wonderful musician who has been very involved in some discussions on copyright and internet access -- and who was especially helpful in the fight against SOPA -- recently wrote the following thoughtful, heartfelt piece concerning the emotional roller coaster of having someone copy your work, and how all of this relates to copyright law.
I always knew my song "Slung-lo" was a hit.
It just took longer than I expected.
"Slung-lo" came out on my 2003 album, grand (Nettwerk). It found its way to the Brittany Murphy masterpiece "Uptown Girls" and into episodes of "Roswell", "Gilmore Girls", and "Privileged". It also found its way into a Tesco F&F commercial, which ran in the Czech Republic in the summer of 2008. Though not a hit by any means, it was a remarkably long life for a song that came out in 2003.
And then last year, I received two separate emails through my website pointing me to this video for a song called "Touch The Sun" sung by the Czech artist, Debbi. (editor's note: we tried to embed the official video for this song, but Sony Music refuses to allow an embed on the song).
"Have you seen this?" both emails asked. I hadn't.
From the first moment I heard "Touch The Sun," it was as clear to me as anything that someone had taken the DNA of my song "Slung-lo" and turned it into another song. At this point, my lawyer wants me to make very clear that IN MY OPINION, THIS IS COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT.
I don't want to spend a lot of time technically breaking down the two songs, but I'd like to point out a few things. Among the many substantial similarities between them, check out the lyrical content (weather as metaphor for happiness), the almost exact song structure (solo verse, band verse, double-tracked vocal in the chorus...), and the vocal cadence in unison with the descending instrumental line in the chorus. I could go on.
Debbi's "Touch The Sun" isn't the proverbial "kid in the bedroom with a laptop" who remixes pop culture and makes mash-ups to show how alike we humans really are. No, it turns out the song was written for a commercial scale beer campaign by the giant European alcohol company Metaxa, which itself is a subsidiary of the global beverage conglomerate Remy Cointreau.
And it is a hit. A huge one. Debbi was the runner up on the Czech version of the "Idol" franchise. The song won "Song of the Year" at the Czech version of the Grammys. The original video that was sent to me has almost a million hits. A quick search of YouTube reveals karaoke versions, animations, "how to play versions," and plenty of people in their bedrooms playing the song and singing along. The beer ad with the song aired across the Czech Republic more than 1200 times in September of 2010. That's about 40 times a day.
So, after all this time, "Slung-lo" is finally a hit.
The easy part of this story is that I work with an amazing publishing administrator, Duchamp, who has stepped in to help me. We've retained Czech council who have been in contact with Metaxa, Debbi's record label (Sony!), and the Slovak production house that produced the track. All have denied any infringement, declined to settle, and at this point, court proceedings have started. My lawyers estimate that this could take anywhere from one to five years.
This spring Remy re-launched the ad campaign across all of Europe.
By the way, the writers are Tomas Zubak, Peter Graus, and Maros Kachut. Let's #kony2012 them.
Actually let's not.
Instead, I want to talk about the whole host of emotions this experience has brought up for me, and the way it's forced me to confront and articulate my beliefs about copyright.
After watching the video for the first time, I was certifiably apoplectic. I was physically shaking with anger. How dare they! I wasn't so much angry at Debbi -- who, from what I eventually read, really just sang the damn thing -- as I was at the writers. They had to know what they were doing, I fumed. I mean, the song was just in a commercial there. They had to know about it. How dare they!
And then I felt small. I'm nobody, I thought, so they probably figured they could get away with it. It's not like they ripped off Beyonce. Just small-time me.
And then I felt defeated. I've always wanted to have a hit like "Touch The Sun". And I thought I wrote one in 2003. It was such a great disappointment to me that no one noticed. There will never be enough people to notice me, I thought.
And then, I would find myself dreaming. Maybe I'll get a settlement. Maybe it will be large enough to make all my problems go away. I'll be able to pay for my new record. I'll be able to afford the best marketing and publicity money can buy. And then there will be some left over to buy a house. My life will change!
Finally, I disconnected. I couldn't tell very many people about what was happening, and the feelings were overwhelming me. Ok, I thought, I'll just let the lawyers do their lawyer thing. This is why you pay them. I am powerless. Breathe deep and exhale.
Very early in the process, my lawyers asked me what I wanted to be the goal of my settlement. Did I want 100% of the money made? Did I want a flat fee? How much? Did I want a public apology? Did I want to let it go? Did I just want credit?
These questions became a spiritual exercise. I began to think that how I answered them said something about who I was as a person.
I believe that creativity is an unpredictable, mysterious process. I often have no idea where a song comes from. Other times I am more aware of the hard work. It is not always an easy thing to know where influence ends and mimicry begins. But there is also a way we recognize ourselves in the faces of our children, and a gut instinct that tells me when I am hearing my own musical fingerprint.
I thought for awhile, and decided I would like 50% of all the monies made so far, and 50% on everything moving forward. I didn't need a public apology. I think this is fair, not punitive, and given the current copyright law system and options available to me, a reasonable request.
Now I just have to wait one to five years to see how it turns out.
Recently, I've ended up doing a lot of advocacy and policy work around copyright. This isn't because I am a copyright crusader, for or against, but because the issue gets tied up with so many other things I care about: media access, fair compensation for artists, creating a sustainable music business.
I actually hate to talk about copyright because, once it's brought up, it just seems to take over any conversation. Most of the time I feel like that conversation then becomes counterproductive. People throw around complex legal principles. The jargon resembles a foreign language. Often, the emotions get so heated that a room ends up divided at just the time when we need to work together. I've also noticed that most of the people crowing about copyright aren't individual copyright holders. They're groups of people who make money from the business of policing and administering copyright.
In my advocacy, I want to talk scale. I want to talk relationships and power structures. I want to talk about technology. Copyright is part of this, but it's not the whole enchilada. I've come to think that current copyright law is like an immovable boulder in the middle of a rushing river. It's not likely to change, so I'm going to have to work with it, as it is. And not let it stop other important work.
Yet here I am facing a difficult situation where copyright is the main issue.
I recently watched Kirby Ferguson's "Everything Is A Remix" series and found it really helpful to understand the feelings that came up for me around "Touch The Sun." In part four, Kirby makes the observation that we humans are easily and freely influenced and inspired by the world around us. However, when we feel like something has been taken from us, we get very angry and indignant. Our anger is as natural and essentially human as is our borrowing or being influenced.
Really how I feel about copyright is this: can you please just ask me? I am so easily found. One or two clicks, a badly mangled combination of "erin" and "mck" will get you to me. Let me know what you're doing. Let's talk. Take some time and connect with me. I know this is imperfect. Sometimes in the creative economy, there just isn't time. But how about we try?
I'd also like us all to acknowledge that the current copyright system, the unmovable boulder in the stream, rather than protecting rights holders and acting as a deterrent to infringement, is in its very complications a shelter for those who use others' material without permission and an obstacle to those who would like to legally use or remix content. Whether it is done consciously or unconsciously, nefariously or in communal bliss, given the complicated, arcane process, the myriad hoops to jump through, the length and cost of the process, who can afford to participate?
So Tomas, Peter, and Maros, I won't assume your motives in turning my song "Slung-lo" into "Touch The Sun." Instead, I'll say this: if you asked me, we might have worked something out. When I found you, we might have worked something out. Who knows, maybe we could have advanced the conversation around copyright and made a radical contribution toward a different type of economy. Instead, it will drag on in court. And I will fight it in court as long as I have to. But this could have gone another way. And for that, I am sad.
Erin McKeown is an internationally known musician, writer, and producer, releasing 8 full length albums in the last decade and spending an average of 200 nights a year onstage. She has appeared on Later with Jools Holland, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NPR, BBC, and has had numerous film, television, and commercial placements. She's even written a song via text message with her friend Rachel Maddow. Lately, she has added mentor and activist to her resume. She is a board member at the Future of Music Coalition and a 2011-12 fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Visit her website www.erinmckeown.com for more info and to join her mailing list.
Special Thanks to Mike King, Andy Sellars, my lawyers, Lawrence Stanley and Vaclav Schovanek, and Erik Gilbert at Duchamp for their help researching and proofing this post.
Perhaps the biggest illusion in content-centric industries is the belief that the content itself is the main product. For the end-consumer, music is not a product or a service. End-consumers rarely pay for music. They put down money for copies of music, such as CDs, sheet music or music downloads. They put down money for tickets to live experiences. They put down money for subscriptions to music services. Those are all products, but music itself is not. Arguably, the only way to directly 'pay for music' is through commission or donation.
So what is music, or any other type of content? It's what adds value to the CD in the box. It's what makes 2 covers separated by a stack of paper worth buying from the book shop. It's what brings hundreds of people to one place for a shared experience. But it's not a product.
For people that have effectively programmed their minds to see their content as a product, this might be an uncomfortable revelation. Yet while uncomfortable, it can also be very empowering and here's why:
Digital-proof. For a long time the music industry 'got away' with believing that the content is what people buy. However as music went digital, an increasing amount of people were able to separate the content from the product; thus leading to an uncontrollable proliferation of the content through unauthorized networks. Understanding that music ≠ the product fully acknowledges the digital reality, which is the first step to finding viable alternatives for products.
Flexibility. Understanding that music is not the same thing as the product which creates the financial reward is a great way to rethink the products that are created surrounding your music. Music is neither a CD nor a download. It can add value to anything. Some people actually create content around physical things to make them more valuable and easier to sell (it's called Significant Objects).
Fan-centrism. Separating product and content means you no longer have to sell fans what you want them to buy. You can sell them what they want to buy and let the music add value. By understanding who your most avid fans are, you can provide them with something they'll be happy to spend money on. Example (oversimplification alert): got hipster fans? Sell subscriptions to exclusive content via an iPhone app. Got teenage girl fans? When doing a live show, give them a number to send a text message to for an x amount of money & give them exclusive backstage content from the show when they return home. You can do anything; just understand your audience by being connected with them and realize that it's not the content itself that's being sold.
This way, everybody wins. The fans win, because what they pay for is more relevant to them. The artists win, because not only do you have increased chances to monetize, but you will also create a stronger connection with your fans by giving (or selling) them what they want.
Some great, classic examples of artists & labels that 'get it' are:
You may have heard that Amazon did a deal recently with Lady Gaga, in which it offered up her entire new album for $0.99. While Amazon did have some technical difficulties in making this work, it resulted in some mindless criticism, in places, that Gaga was "devaluing" her own work. We hear this argument all the time, when it comes to free music, as well -- where people suggest that giving away music "devalues" the music. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between price and value. Just because something is cheap, it doesn't mean that the value is diminished.
"No. I absolutely do not, especially for MP3s and digital music. Itís invisible. itís in space. If anything, I applaud a company like Amazon for equating the value of digital versus the physical copy, and giving the opportunity to everyone to buy music."
This isn't too surprising, given Gaga's previously stated views on her use of free to get her music out there, as well as her encouragement of people to download unauthorized copies. However, it's nice to see her make this point again.
Now, to be fair, she also notes that Amazon covered "the difference" with these albums as part of a promotion -- meaning that she (well, her label) got more than $0.99, but that's a separate issue than the whole question of the "perception" from giving away the music at such a low price.
Later in the interview, she makes another point that we've been making for a while, which is that record labels certainly make sense for some people, but the exciting thing today is that you don't "need" the label any more. She points out that she certainly needs her label, which is great, but that many artists don't need to go that route, saying, "not everybody needs a record label" any more. She also points out that the really valuable thing she's done is build a really strong connection with her fans, and it's that kind of authentic connection that makes her audience so valuable. These are all points that plenty of us have been making for years, and it's great to see such a prominent musician making the same points.
We've written a few times about the band Pomplamoose, who has become something of an internet sensation, but the bigger part to us (not surprisingly) was the fact that they had turned their success (mainly on YouTube) into a sustainable business model as well. Hypebot points us to a fun video interview with Jack Conte and Natalie Dawn, who make up the band, going into a bit more detail and noting that their goal is to have a sustainable business for as long as possible while making music they love without others telling them what they "have" to do:
It's difficult to think of a better, more succinct summary of what's so great about what technology allows in the music industry today. The old gatekeepers are no longer gatekeepers, and the real opportunity is in the platforms that enable others to avoid the gatekeepers, who would have kept them out in the past. Pomplamoose is a perfect example of this... even if they admit in the video that they have no hardline internet connection where they live and do all of their internet work with a 3G wireless setup (though, I do wonder how they get around the typical 5gig/month limits on most 3G connections).
In the niche realm of videogame music, fans are as intense about the medium as they are with any other musical genre. There are plenty of sites out there that index original works, torrent trackers that offer up collections, and YouTube videos showing off fan remakes done in Mario Paint. But for another look at how truly artistic this type of thing can be, and the rather profound impact videogame music remix artists can have on original composers and game producers alike, it's instructive to take a look at one of the genre’s kings, OverClocked ReMix.
For those of you unfamiliar with OverClocked ReMix, they are a non-profit organization created to pay homage to gaming soundtracks through incredibly artistic reimagining of original videogame music. Their website offers up thousands of free fan-made arrangements, details on the original composers, tools and resources for remix artists, and a community forum for fans. It was started by David Lloyd (djpretzel). I asked David a couple of questions to get details on the experience.
OC ReMix is adamant that the works they promote should be truly derivative, rather than plagiarizing. I asked David about the reaction he's received from original composers and if he's ever had to rely on fair use arguments as a defense.
"We haven't had to. Knock on wood, right? I think companies have started realizing that fan art - be it visual, textual, or aural - can only help expand their market, enrich the universe of their franchises, etc. We do believe that our not-for-profit community, the free music it releases, and the educational & creative spirit we try to foster among artists is all in keeping with the spirit of fair use."
This is something that gets talked about a lot at Techdirt: fan involvement is a benefit, not something of which to be fearful. Many artists consider it an honor. Perhaps it's the nature of the medium with game music, but it seems like game producers are more open to fan involvement of all kinds from their customers, be it mods and content, or musical arrangements. But the obvious question is what benefits have been seen from fan-generated works, both for the game producers and the fans themselves? David offers insight there, as well:
"So far, the response from the game composers we've talked with has been unilaterally positive, and we've also had great feedback & interaction with community representatives and others in the game industry.
He then goes on to inform me of the cross-interaction he's had with his fans, original composers, and game producers. A few examples: a published interview with Wizards & Warriors and Donkey Kong Country 2 composer Dave Wise, working with Tommy Tallarico and Video Games Live, interest in the site by Secrets Of Mana music composer Hiroki Kikuta and Contra 4 composer Jake Kaufman, who went so far as to submit his own Bollywood-style remix of his own original music for Shantae: Risky's Revenge. The point is that the games get talked about, interest is generated in the music, the composers, and the games... and everyone benefits. And, of course, everyone has a great time doing so.
The culminating example of this was when Capcom reached out to David in the midst of producing Super Street Fighter 2 HD Remix. They had heard the free album OC ReMix released in 2006 as an homage to the Street Fighter 2 soundtrack, called Blood on the Asphalt, and were so enthralled with the music that they commissioned OC ReMix to produce the entire soundtrack for the new game. And the reviews of the game went out of their way to mention the strength of the soundtrack, even if David tries to play down how good it was.
"Well, it was Street Fighter, so it was probably going to be successful on some level even if the soundtrack had consisted solely of some random guy playing the Guile theme on kazoo, but the majority of reviews had positive things to say, and Capcom did make comments to the effect of being happy with our work. Equally as important, we've had great feedback from hardcore SF fans, who are always going to be your toughest audience."
Too humble, if industry reaction is to be judged. One Capcom V.P. described showing the game to guests, nearly all of whom praised the game's soundtrack before any other aspect. In its review of the game, IGN made specific mention of OC ReMix and praised their work, as did GameSpot, GamesRadar, and 1UP.com.
Overall, OC ReMix is a great study in how fans can help content producers and also be involved in future works. OC ReMix has put their work out there for free, often times via bittorrent, and that has led to interest and further work. All of this promotion, all of this fandom, serves only to help the games, in one case going so far as to have fans essentially compose the music for an entire game. Why can't music and movie producers find the same value in fan-made creations as some of these gaming companies have?
Two quick announcements. First, this is the latest in our "case study" series, of content creators doing interesting things online, and seeing what we can learn from them. The case studies now have their own tab if you want to check out previous case studies. Second, this profile is about Dan Bull, but stay tuned, because tomorrow, he'll be coming out with a new song, commenting on ACTA and the Gallo Report. We'll post it here, but trust me, you don't want to miss it.
You may recall, about a year ago, there was a bit of a kerfuffle involving singer Lily Allen -- who had built her (major label) career, in part off of releasing a bunch of clearly infringing mixtapes of other artists, mixed with some of her own music on her MySpace page and her official website (controlled by EMI). And yet... she suddenly posted a rant against file sharing, talking about how it was destroying the industry. She even started a blog about how evil copying was, but amusingly plagiarized an entire Techdirt post. We were fine with it (our material is free to use however you'd like), but thought it was an interesting teaching moment about the value of copying, and how even those who claim they're against it implicitly seem to recognize that copying is "natural." While Lily apologized to me, as we noted there was no need to apologize -- the content was free for using. We were hoping that she would understand how her actions went against her own words. Instead, she blamed everyone else, claimed she was "attacked" and shut down her blog.
However, soon after all of this, a musician in the UK, named Dan Bull, wrote and recorded a musical "open letter" to Ms. Allen, for which he created a video, and posted the whole thing to YouTube, generating a ton of attention. If you haven't seen it (or even if you have...), check it out:
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm name checked in the song, which actually caused me to go out and buy Dan's album, even though he makes it available for free as well, uploaded to various file sharing systems that are regularly decried for "destroying" the industry. With the Dear Lily song getting so much attention, Dan has continued to write new songs along these lines, starting with an open letter to Peter Mandelson, the UK politician who was the main driving force behind the Digital Economy Act, which brought three strikes to the UK:
Earlier this year, as the debate heated up over kicking people offline via the Digital Economy Act, UK ISP TalkTalk had Dan Bull create a new song, reminding us how familiar the recording industry's complaints sound to their complaints from years back about how home taping was killing music:
Tomorrow he's coming out with his latest track related to copyright issues, specifically commenting on ACTA and the Gallo report. I've heard it already, and you don't want to miss it. We'll post it as soon as it's ready to go tomorrow. However, as we gear up for that, I spoke to Dan about his experience creating music that has championed the idea that copyright is a much bigger problem than a solution to the music industry, and what lessons he's learned.
The first thing, of course, is that his music career was completely transformed by the original Dear Lily video. Even though he'd already released an album, this one song, changed things. As Dan told me:
I've been putting my songs on YouTube for years without anyone really noticing, so I didn't expect anything different with Dear Lily. I uploaded the video, e-mailed the link to the P2P blog TorrentFreak, and went to bed. The next morning I woke up to find my inbox was broken due to responses arriving every couple of seconds. The video seemed to have struck the right chord at the right time, and I was summarising what was on everybody's mind. Except Lily Allen's.
He pointed out that the video got 80,000 views that first night, and the MP3 (made freely available, of course) was downloaded over 20,000 times. And, despite all the claims that folks who support file sharing or think that copyright has problems are just a bunch of freeloaders who want stuff for free, this song made Dan money:
I made more money from music that week than I had in my entire musical career previously. I'd say it was split 50/50 between sales of my album, and donations from people who just wanted to show their appreciation. It goes to show that filesharers aren't cheapskates; they're happy to hand over a bit of cash if they know who it's going to.
He also pointed out that, if all of the interest in his songs had been monitored by the folks who create the charts, the song actually would have ended up on the UK singles charts.
But, of course, was this just a flash in the pan, one-hit-wonder sort of thing? Not according to Dan. He notes that he had a decent group of supporters before:
But this was when I first started to feel like I had a real fanbase, and that there are lots of other people out there who feel the way I do. Plenty of the people who saw the video have stuck around to check out my new stuff too. It's also made it easier to get my other songs noticed, and I've been on television and radio a few times as a result.
And, in talking about attention from elsewhere, it's not just limited to music about copyright. He's becoming a go-to guy for music about all sorts of political issues, including a successful (and brilliant) UK Election Debate Rap Battle. The tech/copyright songs are still the songs that get the most people excited, but all of his new works are getting more and more attention. As Dan notes, the way you build a career is to continue to keep building, rather than relying on old works and copyright complaints:
I enjoyed the wave of publicity I had from the novelty of the Dear Lily video, but instead of trying to milk it I decided to carry on and write more songs. Each one I do gets a little more attention and it's very satisfying when new fans get in touch with me. It's good to discuss the issues with people who disagree as well - it makes me think hard about whether my beliefs are right.
Oh, and finally, I did wonder if he ever heard from either Lily Allen or Peter Mandelson in response to his open letters. No such luck, apparently, but he's heard from a reliable source that Allen has at least seen the video, and he got to perform Dear Mandy right outside the houses of Parliament in front of a bunch of TV cameras, so he's hoping that maybe, just maybe, Mandelson got to hear it "drifting through his window..."
Once again, this is another case of an artist really finding a way to connect with fans in a fun way, encouraging the free sharing of his music, but recognizing that fans are more than willing to pay, if given a reason to buy. And, of course, I do wonder how folks who insist that no "real" musician would ever speak out against copyright respond to folks like Dan Bull.
Anyway, thanks to Dan for taking the time to answer my questions, and stay tuned for his latest song and video...
We're going to try something a bit new here at Techdirt. Usually, we post stories based on some news event or stories elsewhere, but since we talk so often about various business models, and often try to highlight business model experiments that work, I wanted to start a regular series of "case studies," on content creators doing interesting things. Sometimes it will include success stories. Sometimes, perhaps, failure stories. Sometimes we won't even know yet. But the goal is to call out examples of the interesting things that have been done, and to dig into them a bit, and hope that we can all learn from them and maybe see if others are inspired by them. We're looking for content creators (not just musicians, by the way) who might be interested in sharing info with us as a part of this series, so if you are doing something interesting, or know of someone else who is, hit us up at the feedback link above.
The first one in this series of posts is about jazz musician Jason Parker, who also blogs at the site OneWorkingMusician.com, where he details his various experiments with making a living as, yes, a working musician.
Back when Radiohead did their pay what you want offering a few years ago, one of the widespread critiques of the idea was that it would only work if you already had a huge following. We've seen, of course, that isn't true. Last year, we wrote about a few experiments with bands trying pay what you want CDs at shows and having some success with it. This doesn't mean, of course, that if you just toss up some music and say "pay what you want," it will work. But if you really do cultivate a fanbase, and offer them a way to support you, it's often quite amazing what they will do... and that's exactly what Jason discovered.
It started with a "weekend experiment," late last year, where Parker reduced the required price of the download of his albums, to $0 from $5, and tweeted to his followers that they could pay whatever they wanted for it. He had considered setting a minimum of $1, but decided to see what happened if he went totally free. And the results were quite impressive:
Sunday night at midnight I checked my Bandcamp.com stats and was amazed. The three Jason Parker Quartet CD's, "No More, No Less", "Live @ JazzTV", and "The Jason Parker Quartet" had been downloaded 128 times! That's more downloads than I've received in the last few months combined. Most days I was lucky if a track or two were downloaded, let alone full albums.
And what's even more impressive to me is that many of the people who downloaded the CD's actually paid for them, even though they didn't have to! In fact, I made more money from sales this weekend than in any other three-day period since the days right after the release of our latest CD, "No More, No Less". All while giving them away for free!
After the weekend, he raised the prices back up to $5... but after thinking through it some more, and seeing these and other results, he's now permanently set the price at "pay what you want," with $0 being a perfectly acceptable price. I asked Jason how it's going, and he says that before, when he had the price at $5, he would sell maybe 3 per month. However, these days, with the price set at $0, he's averaging 8 sales per week with an average price of $8.50. Yes, his sales have increased from one every ten days or so, to more than one per day, and the amount people pay has gone up. The CDs, by themselves, are obviously not a huge moneymaker, but still, the revenue has gone from about $15/month to around $300/month. By giving it away for free and letting people pay what they want. Not bad.
Jason's second experiment was with pay what you want at a show. Through a long and not very interesting set of circumstances, he was set to play a gig where the bar didn't realize that he was supposed to be playing that night, and had no one to watch the door. It was also a bar that has a lot of "regulars." While he had planned to charge a cover, rather than dealing with that, he decided to just ask people walking in to donate $5 to the musicians' fund, and he was surprised by the results:
Of course there were people who blew right by, or said "I'm just here for a beer", or "I'll get you on the way out" (which is as good as a "no"). But there were also many people who actually paid the $5 even though they didn't have to! And I can tell you for a fact that the majority of the people at the bar were NOT there to see the music. The bar has a large group of regulars who all seemed to know each other.
Just by asking, I was able to get people to give me $5 of their hard-earned cash when they weren't expecting to part with it. They had a choice and they chose to support the live music happening in the bar, even though it was completely unfamiliar to them and somewhat out of place. At the end of the night, both bands walked away with money in their pockets, free drinks in their bellies, and new fans. How about that??
Jason's third experiment was to start exclusively offering CDs at shows using a "pay what you want" scale. He found that he was actually selling more CDs at a higher price that way:
At gigs in my hometown of Seattle I have been averaging $12/CD, which is more than the $10/CD I used to charge, and I have been averaging about twice as many CDs out the door per gig.
And while we were on tour last month all CDs were sold as PWYW and we averaged $14/CD! I sold every disc I brought with me and couldn't be happier how it turned out.
It's been very successful for me in many ways, and I'm a huge fan. I have actually started to physically hand CDs to people at shows, and when they ask "how much" I tell them they are welcome to put whatever they think is fair in the tip jar. I can't tell you how many $20 bills I've seen go in the jar for single CDs.
Jason recently did a show where he specifically told the audience from the stage that he wanted everyone to leave with a CD, and that they could pay whatever they wanted:
By the end of the night I had sold 27 CDs with an average price of $11.50.
I asked Jason what he thought about the idea that people "just want stuff for free," as we hear so often, and his general thoughts on the idea of better "connecting with fans," and he gave quite a nice response about his experiences and his thoughts:
I think it is about continually connecting with your fans and potential fans. For me the best thing has been to reach out to people on Twitter as a person, not as a musician. When they get to know me as a person, they are MUCH more likely to buy the CD. That's where the majority of my Bandcamp sales are coming from. It does take work to be consistently chatting with folks and finding new folks, but I see a direct correlation between how much I converse on Twitter and how many downloads I sell. It's a no-brainer.
I disagree that people "just want stuff for free". The way I see it, people will take for free what they have no connection to. However, if you make a connection, these same people will WANT to give you money. And as I found out at the bar, the connection doesn't need to be deep or lasting, although that certainly helps. The people who gave money in that instance did so because I appealed to them as a musician and a human being and asked them for their support. They were willing to give even if that's the last they'll ever hear from or of me. I think that's pretty cool and pretty telling. We need to get comfortable making the ask...that's the only way we'll get what we need.
Great stuff from Jason, and I appreciate him taking the time to answer my questions. If you want to check out his music, you should head on over to his Bandcamp page. You won't regret it.