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Digital Audio Insider is David Harrell's blog about the economics of music and other digital content. I write from the perspective of a musican who has self-released four albums with the indie rock band the Layaways.

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March 10, 2008

The Patronage Model
by David Harrell
Via Online Fandom, I just learned about Jill Sobule's stunningly successful pledge drive to raise $75,000 to cover the cost of recording and promoting her next album. She's doing it public-television style, with various goodies for each donation level:
$10 - Unpolished Rock (but with potential) Level: A free digital download of the album, when it's released.

$25 - Polished Rock Level: An advance copy of the CD. Weeks before the masses.

$50 - Pewter Level: An advance copy and a "Thank You" on the CD.

$100 - Copper Level: All the above, plus a T-shirt saying you're a junior executive producer on the album.

$200 - Bronze Level: Free admission to my shows for 2008.

$250 - Silver Level: All the above, plus a membership to the "Secret Society Producer's Club," which means you'll get a secret password to a website where I'll post some rough tracks, or... something worthwhile.

$500 - Gold Level: This is where it gets good! At the end of my CD, I'll do a fun instrumental track where I'll mention your name and maybe rhyme with it. And if you don't want your name used, you can give me a loved one's instead. What a great gift!

$750 - Gold Doubloons Level: Exactly like the gold level, but you give me more money.

$1,000 - Platinum Level: How would you like to have a theme song written for you? I'll have a song you can put on your answering machine and show off. Again, this could be a gift.

$2,500 - Emerald Level: Mentioned as an executive producer of the album -- whoop-di-doo!

$5,000 — Diamond Level: I will come and do a house concert for you. Invite your friends, serve some drinks, bring me out and I sing. Actually, this level is a smart choice economically. I've played many house concerts where the host has charged his guests and made his money back. I'd go for this if I were you.

$10,000 - Weapons-Grade Plutonium Level: You get to come and sing on my CD. Don't worry if you can't sing - we can fix that on our end. Also, you can always play the cowbell.
She actually exceeded her initial goal, raising more than $80,000 from 552 contributors. And that includes 14 donations for $1,000 or more, with one at the $10,000 level.

A few thoughts: First, this is far different from Sellaband and similar concepts for "investor-based" musician fundraising. There's no promise of shared profits for the backers -- you get the various goodies listed for each donation level, but that's it.

Second, getting paid before hand is a LOT better than hoping for donations after the fact. From the first CD/download sold, Sobule's in the black. Plus, she'll have cash to promote the record from day one, making it far more likely to actually sell.

But beyond the financial success of the fundraising campaign, it also means that Sobule's going to have an incredibly motivated street team when the album comes out.

That is, many of those 552 contributors will call their friends and e-mail every person in their address books, urging them to buy the new disc, see her in concert, etc. So she's getting a benefit far beyond the actual cash windfall -- the pledge process is far better for her than, say, inheriting the same amount of money (or even more) from a long-lost relative.

Obviously, Sobule's not the first artist to do this sort of thing. Scott Andrew, for example, recently partially funded a record via pledges. His pledge total was substantially less, though given a lower profile (Sobule is former major-label artist), perhaps as impressive.

For artists that have an existing audience, I can't see any real downside to this type of financing. The question is -- does the model have legs? If more and more musicians do it, the novelty factor will disappear and the success of such appeals seems likely to diminish. And how many times can an artist go to the well -- will those same fans be willing to finance Sobule's follow-up release?

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    THE LAYAWAYS

    Out Now -- "Maybe Next Year" -- The New Holiday Album:

    <a href="http://thelayaways.bandcamp.com/album/maybe-next-year">Joy To The World by The Layaways</a>

    "This is a sweet treat, deliciously musical without being overbaked for mass media consumption." -- Hyperbolium

    "Perfect listening to accompany whatever holiday preparations you may be making today." -- Bag of Songs


    O Christmas Tree - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    Away In A Manger - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or Bandcamp. Listen to free streams at Last.fm.



    album cover art from The Space Between

    <a href="http://thelayaways.bandcamp.com/album/the-space-between">Keep It To Yourself by The Layaways</a>

    "...about as melodic and hooky as indie pop can get." -- Absolute Powerpop

    "Their laid-back, '60s era sounds are absolutely delightening." -- 3hive

    "...melodic, garage-influenced shoegaze." -- RCRD LBL

    Where The Conversation Ends - free mp3
    January - free mp3
    Keep It To Yourself - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or CD Baby, stream it at Last.fm or Napster.



    album cover art from We've Been Lost

    <a href="http://thelayaways.bandcamp.com/album/weve-been-lost">Silence by The Layaways</a>

    "The Layaways make fine indie pop. Hushed vocals interweave with understated buzzing guitars. The whole LP is a revelation from the start." -- Lost Music

    "Catchy Guided by Voices-like rockers who lay it on sweetly and sincerely, just like Lionel Richie." -- WRUV Radio

    Silence - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    The Long Night - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at Last.fm, Napster, or Rhapsody.



    album cover art from More Than Happy

    "These are songs that you want to take home with you, curl up with, hold them close -- and pray that they are still with you when you wake up." -- The Big Takeover

    Let Me In - free mp3
    Ocean Blue - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at Last.fm, Napster, or Rhapsody.

    More Layaways downloads:

    download the Layaways at eMusic download the Layaways at iTunes

    the layaways website