If there's anything sure about the future of the music business, it's that nobody has come up with one tidy solution to reinvent it. I say "reinvent" rather than "save" because the latter is neither possible or desirable at this point [unless you're EMI or Warner Music Group, but then you're just grasping at the soil which extends six feet up on all sides.] The music industry is in a better position than the banking, manufacturing and housing sectors because at least it understands it needs to reinvent itself. It's not waiting for a trillion dollars [that doesn't exist] from the government in hopes that people will magically start paying $15 for compact disks again and everything will be back to "normal".
"Normal" is over, and good riddance. This is when we see some real creativity - some real 21st century thinking. We're not just seeing new systems for music distribution, but new ways of thinking about how artists connect with people and how we as a society value creative work. Music is becoming more democratic and is one area in which the middle class actually seems to be expanding.
In 2002 Einstürzende Neubauten launched the subscription-based neubauten.org and started work on an album financed primarily by fan patronage. For US$35 supporters received special access to the recording process, exclusive downloads, live discussions with the band and a copy of the physical CD with their name in the credits at the end of the process. On the subsequent tour, Neubauten was one of the first acts to offer CDR recordings of the concert to fans immediately after the show. This early experiment was a radical shift in the artist/fan relationship and good case study for a mid-size act with an established cult following. Fast forward to 2009:
British indie phenomenon Patrick Wolf has started his own label and decided to produce his forthcoming album Battle through a new organization called Bandstocks. Similar to Neubauten's Supporter Project, Bandstocks facilitates fan participation and financial support in the creation of recording projects. Fans and investors literally buy shares of a project and become participants with vested interest in the project's outcome.
"With Bandstocks, artists get a bigger share of the recording income than under any other record deal we know about, while fans, in return for their investment, receive both acknowledgment and a share of the proceeds to reward their commitment.
"As well as providing funding and a smooth administrative framework, Bandstocks also offers a menu of services which include manufacturing and direct selling of premium packages through an online shop, specialist vinyl distribution, digital distribution through all major third party services, manufacture and physical distribution of CDs and other products through our third party partners and online and offline marketing services..."
Patrick Wolf on Bandstocks and his new album "Battle"
I don't think Bandstocks is the silver bullet for the future of the music industry, but it is one more example of creative thinking and a fresh approach to new economic models we'll be seeing more and more of - not just in music, but in all sectors.
More at the Patrick Wolf YouTube channel.