If no one is buying CDs anymore (apart from Michael Jackson albums), how do you make money as a musician? And if you can't be sure that you'll make money, how can you promote yourself with minimal risk and cost?
There have been a few interesting models that have appeared recently, in an attempt to monetize music and promote artists in a different way - and one of the most hyped was the 'pay what you feel' model introduced by Radiohead with their album 'In Rainbows'.
Radiohead's manager, Brain Message, was one of the brains behind this model, and he is now launching a new record label.
Called Polyphonic, it's a label with a difference. While most labels take ownership of song rights in exchange for financing albums, tours and clips, Polyphonic will let artists keep their copyright - instead relying on a profit-sharing business model.
Distribution will mainly be digital - which also keeps costs down, and they are going to concentrate heavily on the marketing of artists, rather than the sale of music. As Radiohead learnt with 'In Rainbows', giving away an album for free can get millions of people listening to a new release. And that is a great way of getting an artist both noticed and talked about.
The Subscription Model is another music monetization idea which was recently tried out by Smashing Pumpkins lead singer Billy Corgan, and is now being used by The White Stripes' Jack White.
Jack White's subscription service, called The Vault, is a social networking and physical product subscription service for Third Man Records. You can sign up for free to be able to take advantage of the social networking tools, or pay $7 or $20 per month to receive access to live video streams, podcasts, blogs, competitions, regular limited edition vinyl plus limited edition t-shirts. This guarantees the artist a regular monthly income - rather than the sporadic money most artists generate through music releases or tours. Plus it gives fans access to exclusive tangible objects from the artist.
Personally, I wouldn't pay for just the digital elements of the subscription – as you know that sooner or later SOMEONE is going to upload those video streams and podcasts onto a file sharing site. But if you’re a massive Jack White fan – the limited edition tangible promo objects might make it worth your while to shell out $240 a year…
And for all of those artists who don't have the fan base to set up a subscription service, comes an idea from Yves Klein Blue on how to promote yourself using someone elses social network.
The band recently kicked off a promotion around their new album which was based around Twitter. As these guys are signed to a major indie label, they don’t have the huge marketing budgets of other bands. So, they got clever, and developed an idea for a twitter application which included a competition to win tickets to Splendour in the Grass, and free track download – in return for a tweet about the band.
While there would have been some set-up costs involved in the twitter application (YKB engaged agency The Population to help with this strategy), the idea behind this is great and seemingly cheap. We already know that people love free music downloads, and even more so if they can get guaranteed a clean file with good quality sound (rather than many mp3s you find on blogs). So to be offering a free download direct from the artist in return for a very small amount of effort is smart. The only improvement I could suggest is that the twitter application asks for permission to access and update your data on twitter - and after the number of people I know whose facebook accounts were hacked thanks to dodgy applications, I will no longer let 3rd party applications access any of my information. Maybe there is a better way to track the Yves Klein Blue tweets other than through an application?