You don't need us to tell you that economic times are tough—musicians are feeling the financial pinch just like anyone else. On the upside, they're getting really creative about how they make music and market themselves. From a personal "lunch date" at the Cheesecake Factory to a live performance in your living room, today's artists are doing whatever it takes to establish a fanbase and hopefully sell some music.
As David Byrne (who actually appeared at our 2006 Policy Summit) once sang, "same as it ever was."
Or is it? Musicians like Josh Freese and Jill Sobule are taking the artist-fan relationship to a whole new level. Both musicians have had pretty solid career—Freese is a drummer who's recorded albums with Nine Inch Nails, Devo and A Perfect Circle ( to name a few); Sobule is a songwriter who sang about "kissing a girl" back when Katy Perry was still in Junior High. And both have new albums out and are inviting fans to play a more direct (and atypical) role in their success.
Like many musicians, Sobule has had a rocky relationship with record labels. After being dropped by two majors and living through the bankruptcy of two indies, she decided in 2008 to take matters into her own hands. Sobule started a fundraising drive to help record her next album. And what rewards her benefactors would receive: t-shirts, a personalized voicemail theme song, live performances at fans' pads and, for the right price, the chance to contribute background vocal to her album. "If you can't sing, no problem—we can fix it on our end," she said. Sobule raised an astounding $75,000, which she used to make her record and is now hoping the buzz will help generate CD sales. (Check out an interview with her here.)
In-demand drummer Freese claims his last CD sold somewhere between "three to five copies" but he's hoping that his latest disc will do a lot better, thanks in part to his new marketing strategy (somewhat old news, but still awesome).
Freese is counting on his connections with industry vets and a passion for "fine dining" to help move units. Ever wondered what Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard's favorite song is? Well, if you cough up $500 for Freese, he'll have Stone personally write you a letter letting you know. Crave a three-course meal at the Cheesecake Factory with Mr. Freese himself? If you can cough up $250.00 your dream can come true. And if you have $75,000 that Bernie Madoff didn't get to, you, Freese and Danny Carey from Tool can all trip on shrooms and ride around in Carey's Lamborghini (people, we are NOT making this up!) What hedge-funder wouldn't jump at such a unique opportunity?
All jokes aside, the "new DIY" is changing the way musicians are selling their wares and getting attention in a noisy media landscape. It's also cool to see musicians finding humor in an industry saddled with declining sales and finger pointing. Maybe even laughing all the way to the bailed-out bank.