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Everyone's a patron with direct-to-fan

Matthew Guerrieri recaps the Rethink Music conference at the Berklee College of Music (via NewMusicBox). The conference aimed to bring together "all sides and viewpoints on the subjects of creativity, commerce, and policy to engage in critical dialogue examining the business and rights challenges facing the music industry." But, as Guerrieri writes, the viewpoints of emerging artists and established players on those subjects couldn't be more divergent.

[T]here was, for example, Del Bryant, the president and CEO of BMI, opining on Tuesday morning that "giving things away for free" was "not building the business," while the Canadian band Metric and their voluble manager, Matt Drouin, related on Tuesday afternoon how they built their business by giving things away for free. There was Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA, insisting that lawsuits against file-sharing end users had "clearly [indicated] to the public at large what was legal and what was not," a day after the singer/songwriter Bleu had matter-of-factly said, "I don't think there's any way to go back to monetizing music."

One of the new ideas that many bands are exploring is the concept of "direct-to-fan," wherein you charge little or nothing for the music but offer extras for an additional cost. Guerrieri explains,

[...] the idea that if the bond between artist and fan is strong enough, the fan will gladly pay for access, for premium content, for the sense of a less-anonymous relationship with the artist and the process. Direct-to-fan, by this way of thinking, is the new driver of revenue in the face of the fact that recordings are, now, little more than promotional material. It is, in other words, patronage. "Essentially, paying for music has become voluntary," said venture capitalist Ron Nordin. "Essentially, now everyone becomes a patron."

Probably the most widely-known direct-to-fan initiative is the current Radiohead album King of Limbs. You can purchase just the digital music files, or for a bit more you can get those plus a ton of extra stuff, including vinyl copies of the album and over "600 tiny pieces of artwork." Many smaller bands give their music away for free, then use direct-to-fan initiatives to build their fan base and drive live concert attendance. The more people know your music, the thinking goes, the more people will buy a ticket to a live show.

So does direct-to-fan have classical music applications? At least three different New York festivals (via Life's a Pitch) seized on the "if they know your music they'll pay to see your show" idea, and posted numerous video previews online. The Met does the same. More similar to Radiohead's take is the Open Goldberg Variations. The end result of the project - a public domain edition and recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations - will be free, but there are pretty neat extras if you contribute, and the more you give, the more schwag you get. They've exceeded their funding goal by 53%. 

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