Wednesday, June 16, 2010

CSA: Community Supported...Artists?

The Conscious Shopper hopes you don't mind if she goes off on a tangent.

Image by DerekGavey

It has always been really hard for musicians to earn a living making music without signing with a major record label. Record labels are part investor (advancing the money to be able to record an album) and part marketing engine (making sure the album is played on the radio and distributed to stores around the country). In exchange for this arrangement, record labels take 80-90% of the money an album makes, plus the money they advanced the artist to make the album, plus various other costs associated with making the album, plus retain ownership of the album (so that if they decide to drop the band from their label, the band can't release the album independently or through another record label).

Despite the obvious disadvantages in this skewed arrangement, most bands clamor for a deal with a major record label because it's the easiest/quickest way to make and sell an album. But over the years, many bands have rejected that arrangement and come up with creative ways to distribute their music by signing with an independent label (which has less money and marketing power but will probably give more control and a higher percentage of profits to the artists) or by creating their own label (which is costly).

Recently I came across one more way for musicians to bypass the major record label through this appeal from one of my favorite bands, Over the Rhine:
Friends, the good news is this:

In 2010, there is no middleman.

It's just us and you.

So, for the first time in our career, we are simply going to appeal directly to you, the people who care about Over the Rhine's music, and ask if you will partner directly with us in making this new record....

Whatever funds we are able to raise will go directly to our label, Great Speckled Dog, to help take care of this new music we will make. It will be used to help cover actual recording costs, and give the songs the best send-off into the world that we can afford.
In exchange for donations, Over the Rhine promises various things in return: for $15 you get an advance copy of the CD, for $50 you get your name listed in the album booklet, for $100 you get a deluxe version of the album including vinyl copy, etc.

My first thought when I read this was, "Community Supported Agriculture." Just like with my produce CSA, I give the artist some money in advance so they don't have to go into debt to do their job, and later, I reap the benefits of their work. And also just like with my produce CSA, there's some risk involved - if the farmer has a rough season, my produce box shows the evidence; if the musician gets all experimental and revolutionizes their sound, I could end up with some total crap music. And yet, $15 (the same price I'd pay for the CD anyway) is a pretty small risk to take.

I thought this was a really cool concept and wanted to share it with y'all, so I've been brainstorming what excuse I could use to tie it to green living. The truth is that supporting an independent artist over a major record label isn't going to save the planet. In fact it probably doesn't have much impact on the planet at all. And yet, it still seems to fit: Giving my money to someone I like and want to support rather than some large conglomeration making cookie cutter music. Helping someone make a living doing something they love. I'd love to see this concept spread to more artistic fields.

What do y'all think?


Ivy said...

Are you familiar with Kickstarter? The offer an opportunity for any artists to fund a project in this way--I know two people who wrote books using the site, and I'm attempting to fund a pinup calendar project at the moment.

The thing I really like about the Kickstarter model is that it's somewhat of a safe investment; if the project doesn't meet their funding goal nobody gets charged. It's definitely worth checking out and browsing around the projects, I think.

concretenprimroses said...

What a great idea. I'm glad to know about this.

panamamama said...

What a great idea!

Daisy said...

I love local musicians. We listen to local artists at our Farmers' Market all summer long. Amigo made friends with a blues singer, and now we buy all of his albums and go to as many of his shows as we can. Local talent = local fun.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Ivy - What a cool idea! I'm definitely going to have to check it out.

@Daisy - I love local musicians too. When my husband and I got married, he was in a band, and we spent every weekend at shows. Miss those days!

susanna eve said...

what a great idea. It could be extended to all kinds of artists not just musicians:)

daharja said...

It's really hard to make money in music, unless you're right at the top of a very high pyramid. The system sucks.

Saying that, there are a lot of us just making the decision to remain non-profit and amateur these days.

I sing and compose, and because I've made the decision to not earn money from my music, it leaves me the freedom to enjoy it and not feel pressured. So when I make $$$ it's a bonus to our regular household income, rather than something we depend on.

But the system you outline sounds good.

One thing I see a lot of independent artists doing is simply publishing their own CDs (really easy to do) and selling them direct at their gigs.

Minus costs, it's 100% profit to the artist. As it should be :-)


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