I really enjoyed being on The Music Row Show on 1510 WLAC last evening with Scott Southworth.  I love their motto, “two guys fumbling their way through the music business, so you don’t have to!” 

If you didn’t catch the show (you should be able to download the podcasts from their website in a few days), Scott and I had a very enjoyabl discussion about the future of the music industry and the idea of the “do it yourself” generation of musicians, artists and songwriters which has become my focus and mantra of late.  I believe that with today’s technological advances – the iPod/MP3 player, ProTools, Macbooks, the Internet etc. – entertainers ScottHeinohave the ability to do it themselves in ways never before possible.  The days when you absolutely needed to record deal to reach the fans is absolutely behind us.  As I said on the show, I do not believe that major labels are a thing of the past.  They have provided us with great music for years and will continue to play a vital, although probably modified, role in the development of new talent.  My point is simply that the alternate pathways are becoming more and more fruitful and plentiful.

During the show I brought up some ideas along these lines that I had read and heard about which involved some not-so-famous musicians/artists who have done just that – found a way to connect with their fans in unique ways and give them a reason to shell out some money for their product.  This idea is not unique to me, it grew out of an analysis of the Nine Inch Nails experimentsby Michael Masnick, who is the editor of the Techdirt blog and gave the keynote address from the 2009 Digital Summit, which you view here.

After Masnick gave a shorter version of this talk at Midem, people complained that Trent Reznick was a product of the record industry and, therefore, the experiment would not necessarily work with independent artists.  So, for thie keynote in Nashville, Masnick added in two examples of independent artists who were sucessfully selling product without the add of the marketing machines:

The first was Josh Freese.  Mr. Freese had a rather significant following of fans and found a very creative and unique way to generate sells of his new album “Since 1972”  from that fan base.  For some laughs, click on the link above and look at the variety of offerings.  A few of my favorite offering is the $50 level which, among other things, buys you a “thank you” phone call from Freese.  The $2,500 level buys you not only an autographed copy of the CD, but a drum lesson from Mr. Freese, a trip to the Hollywood Wax Museum with a member of the Vandals or DEVO, a signed DW snare drum and three items from his closet!  He sold two of these packages!  The $10,000 package includes the autographed CD and Snare Drum, but also includes a day with Freese at Club 33 and Disneyland, after which you get to drive away in his late-model Volvo (you have to drop him back home first)!  No takers on that one yet.

The second is the artist whose name I could not for the life of me remember last night during the radio program, but is Jill Sobule.  When she wanted to record an independent album entitled “California Years” back in 2008, she established the website www.jillsnextrecord.com in order to raise the money necessary to produce the record.  On the website, she offered varying levels of support, from the “Pewter” $50 level, which buys you a “thank you” on the CD liner, all the way up to the $10,000 “Weapons-Grade Plutonium Level” which buys you the right to sing on the album and play cowbell (Good guess Scott!).  Other interesting ideas are the $2,500 Emerald level, which gives your “executive producer” credit on the album or the $5,000 Diamond level which bought you a “house concert” from Jill and the right to charge admission!  She actually sold 2 and 3 of these levels respectively.  Ms. Souble had originally budgeted $75,000 for production and distribution and eventually raised all of that and them some.  For a full tally of the more than $88,000 she raised through this effort, here is her “tote board.”

Masnik’s point in the keynote address, and the model he derived from Trent Resnick’s NIN experiment, is that you must “Connect with the Fans” (or CwF) and give them a “Reason to Buy” (or RtB).  Thus, the equation is CwF+RtB = $$$$$.  This is the point I made on the radio program last evening – artists need to determine who their fan base is and find a way to connect.  Through that effort, the goal is to create an e-mail database of those fans so that you have a way to communicate with them (whether it be by e-mail blast, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook or whatever).  Once you’ve connected, the second step is to find a creative incentive that gives them a reason to buy.   As readers of my blog will remember, I’ve been preaching this stuff for years.  Stay tuned for more ideas!