We all know that the musical world is in a state of flux. More specifically, it's the music business that's morphing into… something else. People aren't buying CDs nearly as much as they used to. iTunes and other services deliver digital content directly to the consumer. Avenues for the discovery of new music have changed as well. MTV hasn't really been about music for a long time. Radio has collapsed into a consultant-shriveled husk. Songs are now introduced into the stream via the Internet, film, television, and even video games.
So where does this leave the traditional, big record label? They too are contracting while trying to figure out which (if any) of these trial balloons will be well-received.
In the meantime, many recording artists have figured out that the record label functions of gatekeeper and intermediary no longer make sense. Technology makes it relatively easy to record. There's money to be made at shows, with MySpace and YouTube helping out on the advertising end.
I did say some recording artists. Here's the thing: technology does make it easy to put together a relatively low-budget recording. A laptop and a couple of halfway decent mics can do the trick. But what about the musician who needs to make use of a recording studio? Without the support of a record label, studio costs can quickly become a burden.
Ellis Paul has an answer, and it's an old one: patronage. Referring to royalty's support of composition during the time of Mozart, Ellis has decided that maybe the fans would like to involve themselves in the recording process. He has a batch of nearly-completed songs and would like to take them to the studio without a record label's financial backing. The fans can become investors:
Ralph, my manager and I, have decided not to chase down another record label to put this project out. The music industry is so completely usable now for an artist of my scale, that a label seems to be like working for the man unnecessarily. We are eager to see how successfully we can fundraise for the project and promote this batch of songs without the help of an outside label. This way, profits go back to Black Wolf, our label, to help us continue to cultivate projects and foster new and amazing talent into the world, such as we did with Antje Duvekot.
Ellis has set up various levels of support, from Street Busker ($15) to Woody Guthrie ($10,000). Each level brings different perks, from a signed copy of the new CD all the way up to a living room concert. This is a fabulous idea and I'm pretty excited to be involved in it. (Uh… okay, I will be excited as soon as me and TheWife™ are done arguing about which level we're going to land on.)
It doesn't really feel like I'll be an investor so much as just being part of a group of friends helping out one of our own. That's why I chose Side Of The Road this morning. Ellis and Vance have been best friends for a very long time. The songs here are ripe with the vibe of their relationship. It feels like it's time to return some of that very same feeling back to the artist.