Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Where fools rush in: the problems with the music industry’s brave new world

You’ll always face a few hurdles in a brave new world. Back in October, Public Enemy began to use the Sellaband service to get funding from fans for their next album. The band needed $250,000 and they were confident that …

Thu, Jun 10, 2010, 09:28


You’ll always face a few hurdles in a brave new world. Back in October, Public Enemy began to use the Sellaband service to get funding from fans for their next album. The band needed $250,000 and they were confident that they would encounter no problems getting a huge number of Sellaband believers to open their wallets and pony up.

This week, though, PE announced a significant change in plans. Claiming that “the fan funding model is still not fully developed” (true that, as only 2,225 believers were prepared to invest in the new album – or maybe they heard the new material?), PE have now dropped their asking price to $75,000 and have already $56,000 in the Sellaband piggybank. Even established bands, it seems, are having the music industry 2.0 blues and many new-fangled get-rich-quick schemes turn out to be the stuff of the snake oil salesmen.

It really is a weird time for this business. Last week was the worst week ever for US album sales, as that market continues to recede faster than my hairline, yet the number of new bands coming to the table shows absolutely no sign of abating. The mistaken belief that the live music sector would save us all has come home to roost faster than a Lady Gaga costume change, but we’re still seeing new venues (three new venues due in the next few months in Dublin city-centre alone), tours and festivals coming on stream.

Meanwhile, those who made out like bandits in the last golden age of the record business continue to offer pearls of wisdom from the high moral ground. OTR’s old mucker Thom Yorke has advised new bands not to sign to major labels. Not only is this rich coming from someone who owes his entire career to one of those major labels (and the much maligned Every Mistake Imaginable at that), but Yorke has also conveniently overlooked the fact that (1) no-one is really signing new bands these days and (2) new bands are sharp enough not to need an old-school rock relic to tell them that major labels are a bad idea. Indie rock’s Victor Meldrew needs a reality check, rather than just another cheque.

Yorke’s ruminations aside, the question remains the same as it did when we started poking around and kicking tyres all those years ago: where’s the money? Yes, I realise and acknowledge that there are many (many) acts who’re happily in this game for non-financial reasons, but this is aimed at those who are seeking third-party funding of one sort or other to get an album out, a tour off the ground or build on their first release or tour. Where do you go to get that capital?

While there are plenty of opportunities to explore for acts with established audiences (such as corporate patronage, for instance, even though PE’s experiences with Sellaband demonstrate that it’s not all beer and skittles), it’s a different story for new bands. No labels to invest time, cash and patience in their first few albums. No live music windfalls until they can draw an audience and it takes a lot of time to draw that audience. Is it really a case of struggling on under their own steam until an angel investor sees an opportunity or is there some other solution which everyone has either overlooked or hasn’t explored? Answers on a postcard please.

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