Thursday, December 18, 2008

The "New" Music Industry: frYars and Bandstocks


I happened to be on London-based musician, frYars' MySpace page and discovered that a full-length album called Dark Young Hearts is in the works. After two excellent EPs, I was excited, and when I discovered how he was accomplishing it, I was intrigued. frYars is using Bandstocks, an organization that acts as a fairer middleman between fans and musicians, allowing fans to invest in the artists in return for both some of the profits and recognition. I signed up for a free download of the new frYars MP3 entitled Visitors (which features some vocal help from Dave Gahan), glanced briefly over what Bandstocks was and frYars' proposal to potential investors, and then went on my merry way to mull things over. I was reminded about Bandstocks again when I was sent the free MP3. In the process, I also discovered that frYars (real name: Ben Garrett) was, in fact, the first artist to sign up with Bandstocks' funding model.

Apparently, an investment of £10 buys you:

- a download (except for VAT) of the whole album
- a name credit on the album and on the Bandstocks website (if you want one)
- the right to buy (at extra cost) a special limited edition of the album signed by frYars
- special booking privileges for concerts
- special merchandise offers
- a share of the net receipts generated by the album

For this funding model, though, you have to be a UK resident over the age of 15, and if you're not, you would have to appoint a trustee in the UK to act on your behalf. Also, Bandstocks ensures that the artist receives 50% of the net profits, which seems a much better deal than with major label contracts (at least to my knowledge). And the catches already seem to be presented up front: you are not guaranteed any money back and you get a free, high-quality digital copy of the album you invested in (notably not a physical one, but you get a chance at a discounted price for the physical ones). It's all very interesting, but this isn't the first business model for musicians to emerge in the wake of the music industry crisis.

Sites like Amie Street, an organization which offers music initially for free download, but with an increasing price tag as the music gets more popular; Sellaband, a very similar set-up to Bandstock created by ex-major label executives two years ago; and Slicethepie, a site which allows fans to invest in musicians both financially and via scouting and review-writing, are also attempting to re-write the rules on how the music industry works. If anything, these sites are opening up the exact same music industry system that has existed for the past eighty years to anyone with some money to spare and an interest in music, which isn't a bad thing. How well these models are working at the moment is difficult to gauge. Then again, it can be difficult to determine the value and success of art outside of the financial framework. There are many musicians out there making music that I assign a lot of value to, but who aren't making very much money off their work at all.

Perhaps what I find most interesting about frYars decision to use Bandstocks and fans' investments is the fact frYars isn't exactly an unknown artist. He has been critically acclaimed by several "official" sources, including even the generally out-of-touch NME, toured with the likes of Goldfrapp, and worked with people in the music industry like Luke Smith, ex-Clor guitarist, and now Gahan. I would think his profile is sufficiently high enough to gain a record contract in the traditional way. This then leads me to believe that this was a conscious choice on frYars' part, a choice which eschewed the regular channels of the major labels and their subsidiaries, a choice which puts power in the hands of those who already feel emotionally invested in his art, a choice which makes frYars seem rather smart. I would think this is a way to be accountable to the people who matter the most to an artist: the fans. Interestingly, Patrick Wolf, who shares some similarities to frYars in terms of offbeat style and who has already found relatively large success around the world with the major label release of his last album The Magic Position, is also due to release his fourth album Battle by using Bandstocks. Wolf explains his reasons for doing so a lot better than I can here.

As of yet, I haven't invested in any artist via these channels, but I like to think I still have invested by continuing to purchase music, especially from independent artists and labels, by attending concerts when I can (sometimes even when I can't), and by maintaining a blog like this that attempts to give free publicity to the artists I want to see succeed. Being a real music fan is also a sizeable emotional investment that I'm prepared to make to those who warrant it. Perhaps I will invest in some bands up front in the future, especially when I'm gainfully employed, and I'm eager to see where this new system of capitalistic patronage will end up. It's not exactly a new music industry, but it's a start.

Visitors - frYars

The Novelist's Wife - frYars

2 comments:

Noel Dávila said...

Incredibly interesting. It kind of reminds me a bit of the Supporter Program established by Einstuerzende Neubauten in which the fans basically finance the recording of the album. Read about it here: http://neubauten.org/ Great blog. Cheers.

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