Interactive and Intelligent

KH6

A couple of months back, I flagged up the financial difficulties being experienced by Kristin Hersh whilst touring her wonderful ‘Learn To Sing Like A Star’ LP.

Here’s an email from Kristin today:

• I often feel there is an inverse relationship between quality of output and material success in the music business.  This is distressing, but not out of line with what I’ve come to expect.  Throwing Muses would wander the halls of Warner Brothers back in the day, muttering, “You don’t have to suck in order to work here, but it helps.”

• Now, however, the financial climate and current upheaval in the music business mean that musicians like me are genuinely poor investments for the traditional powers that be.  We do not engage in lowest common denominator trendiness, and so don’t warrant the expenses of marketing dollars and company overhead.

• Okay, I get that; this is a business.  However, I believe that when you sell toothpaste, you should be selling a goo that helps prevent cavities and when you sell music, you should be selling sound that enriches the listener’s inner life.  There is today a twisted kind of natural selection in the entertainment industry — a sort of “survival of the blandest” — the result, I imagine, of mind-fucking marketing techniques, bandwagon appeal, hype.  To me this stuff is ugly, not beautiful.

• Given this, I can only assume that record labels are not for me.  I’ve said it before — I will always play music — but in the past, it was a record company’s job to make sure you heard that music.  They sold their product; they had funded it, it was theirs to sell.  How to sell music without them?  I liken our situation to that of the family farmer’s — how can we keep from going under without going corporate?

• This is what I think: we specialize — we offer an organic product. It is lumpy and expensive and made with love and it can save you.  It’s the right thing to do.  It isn’t shiny or poisonous, which can be disconcerting to people who’ve been raised on shiny poison, but it’s natural, it’s high-end and we want you to eat it.

• To that end, I think I need to engage in a grassroots kind of capitalism, choosing principles over profits, values over image, ideals over marketing.  I have to create a permeable membrane between artist and listener — I’m a craftsperson, after all.  The church of the rock star that the music industry televangelists hawk has always been anathema to me anyway.  This is about songs and sounds, nothing else.

• Music is a tenuous profession in good times, hard times mean some of us disappear.  I’m not looking for pity, but collaboration.  Coming to you is the best way I can think of to continue being a musician.

• The model is not new, it’s akin to public radio’s listener supported programming and Community Supported Agriculture’s subscriptions to underwrite crops.  In other words, music grows on trees, but money doesn’t and I’m unwilling to suck in order to work here.  Therein lies the value proposition.  This little business will be interactive and intelligent; you will not be lied to, no shiny poison, no middle man.

• The idea of relying on listeners, treating music as a cooperative, is humbling, yet interesting to me.  This is a bit of a manifesto, I’m sorry, and now I’ll shut up, but I wonder if we might be able to do this together.

And not terribly long afterwards, came this:

ThrowingMusic is happy to announce an entirely new musical endeavor. We’re calling it the Coalition of Artists & Stake Holders, or the “CASH Music Project”.  CASH Music represents a new music business model which we hope you’ll not only support but also help us shape, by sharing with us your thoughts, suggestions & opinions.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will come to you with a new kind of offering from Kristin.  We’re planning lots of great new content, including a brand-new studio recording posted to Kristin’s blog every month – free of charge.

We’re committed to not holding music hostage, the music will be free.  We’ll be asking for donations and offer you the opportunity to subscribe to Kristin’s career – past, present and future.

The business of music clearly needs an overhaul.  We’re going to present our ideas – and with your help, we’ll endeavor to create a sustainable, fair-trade music business model.

This will be a strictly independent and self-sustaining venture — for better or for worse. No record label, no distributor, no middle-man — just Kristin, the songs and you.

We’re hoping to finally take the leap and see what all of us together, as a small but enthusiastic community of ‘stake-holders’ can do for ourselves.

 It will be fascinating to see if Kristin can forge a new business model for independent musicians. I sure as hell hope she can.

3 Comments

  1. Matthew says:

    If she pulls this off she will be a genius. I bloody well hope she does, too. Excellent idea.

    The biggest difficulty will be when songs become one step removed from her site and people see them as disembodied – I think then they’ll be a lot less likely to pay anything and just treat it as their right to have it for free.

    That said, kudos to her for giving this a go. I really really hope the music buying public vindicate her courage.

  2. Well, Matthew, K has already tried the Free Music approach with the last 50 Foot Wave release. Clearly she has some idea of what is involved. She does have a loyal hardcore fanbase but you wonder if it’s big enough to sustain her in the long run.

    There have been grumblings from the fanbase about 4AD’s promotion of recent KH/50’¬ records but my feeling about artists who have tried to remove record labels from the equation (the likes of Cope for example) is that they will only ever reach their hardcore audience. Of course maybe such “veterans” have a limited appeal to younger music lovers.

    I do really hope it works out though – Kristin’s music has been part of my life for 20+ years now.

  3. Matthew says:

    Well they may have to resort to the time-honoured small band practise of mailing out promos for themselves and stuff like that, which would be no bad thing. Between the internetters and the magazines and the radio that should still hopefully let them reach new people, assuming the music still appeals.

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