Lily Vasquez, a marketing manager from Clifton, New Jersey, spent nearly eight years trying to break into the music business as a singer before she stumbled across SellaBand.com. The Web site is one of several where artists can have their albums funded by fans — a proposition that takes advantage of digital technology, online social networking and the current uncertainty in the established music industry.
The sites are reinventing the relationship between artists and their fans, upsetting the traditional role of the record label as the tastemaker, promoter and distributor of music.
“I didn’t really understand the site when I joined; I thought it was just like MySpace,” said Vasquez. “But after I uploaded a few of my songs, I noticed people started adding money to my page; it was a nice surprise,” she said.
SellaBand, founded in 2006, works by allowing fans who believe in an artist’s music to buy “parts” of the work at a minimum of $10 each with a view to funding the professional recording of an album.
Once the total amount funded by fans reaches $50,000,
SellaBand will help the artist choose a recording studio and producers. The manufacturing and distribution of the album will be paid for by the money raised by fans. In 18 months, 13 bands have raised $50,000 each.
Vasquez passed the $50,000 mark in nine months and to date has 543 “believers,” including one from Austria who bought his part for $5,000. She even had enough left over after spending on her album to make a music video.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” said Vasquez, whose debut album will soon be available through retail outlets like Amazon.com Inc.
The idea of allowing fans to become part of the A&R (artist & repertoire) process has been around since the early days of the Internet. A number of start-up sites claimed they would up-end the established labels, but few survived the dotcom crash in 2001, and the labels appeared to prevail.
But more recently the music industry has been going through some tough times. CD sales have plunged and big name artists like Radiohead and Madonna have shunned established major labels to do their own thing online or with non-label partners.
These factors have given impetus to establishing a new relationship between fans and the artists.
ArtistShare.com has been so successful at bringing fans and artists together that it can claim three Grammy award-winning records from its stable since it was founded in 2002.
While ArtistShare’s philosophy of fans as A&R executives is similar to SellaBand’s, it has focused on more established artists in mature genres like jazz and country & western. Its artists include Maria Schneider and Chris Potter.
For a minimum of $9.99 to buy a “participant offer,” fans get access to the artists’ creative process through regular uploaded videos discussing their albums’ production. The offers can go as high as $10,000, coming with extra perks such as a fan sitting in on recording sessions.
“This breaks down the wall between the artists and the fans,” said ArtistShare founder Brian Camelio. “It really inspires the artists as well,” he added.
As well ArtistShare and SellaBand albums sold as downloads on their sites, as well as through established retailers.
SellaBand’s co-founder Johan Vosmeijer, a 20-year veteran of major music companies, said an artist’s destiny is no longer in the hands of the music companies — or even a Web site like his.
“SellaBand started out as an incubator and facilitator,” he said. “We don’t make the decisions; the whole A&R process has been outsourced.”