Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Sellaband deserves some recognition as a fully realized, working example of an alternative social framework, that produces works of art, made only possible by the internet. It is a self-catalyzing popular music production device that, from the looks of it, might become so popular in the near future as to become some sort of A&R pyramid scheme.

Here's how it works: you convince people (somewhat ominously referred to as "believers" to donate $10 towards your band. Current believers help to convince more people until you have reached a final count of 5,000. This collected $50,000 is then used to hire a professional studio, producer, and sound engineer to make a record, copies of which are then distributed to each believer. These people have a license to sell off their extra records (of which they get an unspecified amount). The recording is also available online, for free. If downloaded, the band gets a cut of the ad revenue that Sellaband generates, and so do the believers. In other words, if you donate money to help get the band recorded, you now own stock in the record, stock that pays dividends based upon its popularity, and the popularity of Sellaband as a whole. This is a record label with the business model of Amway, which is brilliant-- the entire music industry (and that of any popular art) has always been based mostly on hype, and bands have often used their most devoted fans as free PR and advertising. But now the process is self catalyzing, which makes it far more powerful than anything Radiohead may be planning in the near future. It's also thrilling that it appears to be happening on such a global scale-- only a fraction of the listed bands are from the US or UK, making it seem that artists from other locales are using this as an opportunity to get the word out.

I do have some issues with this model for music production and promotion. For one, while it's probably better than basing a label's contracts on market research and the safest possible option, popular opinion alone won't often stretch boundaries or support the fringe acts that keep art from getting stale. And as such, unless a more consciously esoteric form of Sellaband shows up, small labels and self-releases will still be very important. I'm also not sure what exactly would happen to this model should it reach a certain size-- it's great when a band gets a contract every few weeks, but what if there's a new group to promote every day? Or ten a day? And finally, part of me is worried that profit is now creeping into the last bastion of the experience of popular music-- supporting and promoting your favorite bands. If everyone is now in A&R, is anyone really listening to music just to listen?

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