Todd Durrant of A Different Drum here. Brian asked me to write about a project I’m working on with Marcus Fellechner of Rename.
During the past few years, we’ve seen the music market become more open to independent artists thanks primarily to the internet, and also less profitable, thanks again to (ironically) the internet. Though we may be able to expose more listeners than ever to our music, we are less likely to make money from that growing listenership.
We have to rethink the process entirely. Not just re-think the promotion, but re-think how and why we release music, and focus on who will actually pay, and what they will pay. If the only people buying music are hard-core fans who feel too much dedication to the “scene” or to the artist to steal the music, then we need to find a way to both reward and cash in on that dedication, making those fans an integral part of what the artist is doing. That was what pushed me toward the new project with Rename called Real Songs for Real People.
The basic idea is to sell the product BEFORE it is even created. We let fans buy their way in at the beginning of the process, rather than making them wait, putting in all of our time, and then hoping we can sell enough albums in an ever-shortening sales window to call it a success. Rename will release an album of 15 songs in a year, and each song will be sponsored by an ultra-fan who would like a song written just for them. They can have the song named after themselves, or they can provide a background theme or story and have the song dedicated to somebody else. It’s their song, so we literally write it for them! They will pay $250 for this opportunity to become a part of the Rename album.
Aside from Song Sponsors, we hope that this concept will stir up enough interest to win some “fan followers” who are willing to pay $25 for the opportunity to follow the entire process, receiving early glimpses of lyrics, demos, and updates. So, not only will all Song Sponsors and Fan Followers receive the finished album automatically once it is done (in a sense, pre-purchasing a year in advance) but they will receive bonuses, demos, and extras that the general audience (and illegal downloaders) will not have as part of the general release. The fans are thus allowed to buy an “experience” rather than just a finished album. They can choose to be a direct part of it, or to be a privileged watcher.
Here is what we hope to achieve (of course, being independent, our expectations are not too high):
- We hope to sell the 15 song spots, which will generate $3750 pre-payment for the album budget.
- We hope to pick up an extra 100 Fan Followers which would generate another $2500.
That’s enough money to pay for the entire production, including a short-run of factory CDs at completion, plus a little bit (and in all honesty, very little in terms of dollars per hour) for having written and recorded the songs along the way. By the time the album is out, we’ll still have a regular marketing window in which to sell as many CDs and downloads as possible, but it will not be in an attempt to “make back” what we spent. It will be AFTER having already covered all the costs. So, anything at that point is icing on the cake.
This is only one such idea which I am testing. Marcus and I are excited about the Real Songs project artistically as well as financially. I don’t see this exact model as the answer to the challenges we face as independent artists. Instead I see it as one possibility, and perhaps simply an example of the kind of thinking that must go into the music we love to produce, if we desire to keep moving forward into the future. Any release, digital or physical, will require a level of planning that goes beyond simply writing the material and throwing it out there.