Model Number 7: Fan Supported Label/Distribution
Just read the second of a number of articles on Maria Schneider, the jazz composer, and the release of her new album. She’s up for a Grammy, which probably prompted these articles, as her lovely new CD — which isn’t actually a CD — is only available as a download through ArtistShare, her current “record label”. The album, Sky Blue, is a suite composed for a seventeen-piece jazz orchestra, so it must have cost something to record and mix.
ArtistShare offers yet another alternative to the traditional record label deal — another possibility to add to the ever-growing list of other possibilities. Again, it probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but it certainly seems to be working for her. ArtistShare asks the fans of an artist to contribute to the making of a future record. (Obviously, this means the artist must have some fans to begin with, so emerging artists might give this one a pass.) A donation of $9.99 gets you a download of the album when it’s done, along with some texts, notes and images and a few other extras.
But then the deal ramps up in steps. A deeper investment gets you concert tickets and other perks and the highest you can go is 18k, which wouldn’t fund a mega pop record or a project in the cash only business of hip hop, but in this case it gets you a credit as a producer. You can attend the recording sessions, obtain tickets to live shows, and can even attend the Grammy’s with Maria and her producer or label guy.
I imagine that in Maria’s case, she spends a lot of time composing (with either a computer or with pencil and paper). And then the actual recording process might be fairly straightforward — some band rehearsals in any large room before renting a large studio to record the stuff more or less live over the course of a few days. Mixing and post-production could be done in a smaller, cheaper studio. So, though I doubt that 18k for example would cover it all — she works with a large ensemble — the sum would at least take a big bite out of the recording costs.
For the most part, distribution is through digital downloads, so those costs are kept under control (though I think the larger investors get signed hard copies as well as their downloads).
How did she do? Well, pretty good I’d say, though she didn’t win a Grammy this time (she got one in 2004). She got 200k from fan/participants for her record, of which 15% went to the “label”. The rest, 170k, went directly to the artist. (I suspect the recording costs come out of that as well, which must have been at least 20-30k). AND, she didn’t have to give up any of her publishing, which traditional labels often manage to get a big piece of.
Anyway, add this one to the list of possible distribution models.
(See the original article published in Wired Magazine here)