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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Prince, Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have each shown the music industry how they can take business back into their own hands, record institutions be dammed. They worked hard for their independence, and with timing on their side, they have transitioned pretty easily.

But for bands that didn't reached superstar status before the industry imploded, the future has not been so bright. Bands can build a bedroom cottage industry on their own, but without touring and marketing dollars, they're stuck. These elements are still needed for emerging and mid level talent to break through the clutter of music released.

This is the story of how one band's rabid fan base unintentionally helped the band reinvent the way they generate income and interest. Marillion is the first band to successfully integrate their fans into many of their business decisions.

The British band formed in 1979. Like many rock bands, they had successful years and difficult ones. In 1997, the band found they couldn't afford to finance a US tour, so their dedicated fan base took matters into their own hands. The fans raised over $60,000 online to bring Marillion over to the States. It was one of the first examples of how the Web could unify a music community to fund a major tour.

Following the tour, the band asked the fans if they wanted to help finance the recording of the next album and the fans responded by pre-ordering 12,000 copies. With a healthy fan base behind them, EMI agreed to distribute the album, giving the band a much larger retail base.

For the next two albums, the fans pre-ordered even more copies in advance, and the band officially thanked each of them by name in the album packages.

For their newest album, Marillion took another bold step. In advance of the official street date, the band has intentionally pre-released the music to peer-to-peer networks. So for the last month and a half, you could hear the new album, titled Happiness Is the Road on all the illegal peer-to-peer networks. Yesterday, the album official released in stores.

And to help fans participate in the band's creativity, Marillion offered a $10,000 prize to the fan who created the most popular YouTube video of their latest single, "Whatever Is Wrong with You."

They're also offering another $10,000 for the video director who makes the band's favorite video. In just a matter of weeks, over 190 different videos have been created by fans, some with tens of thousands of views. It's a very smart way to generate a lot of interest in a song very quickly.

I met with Mark Kelly, Marillion's keyboardist, at the San Francisco Music Tech conference this week. He attested to the fact that the secret to their success is definitely attention to their fans. To date, the band have sold over 15 million copies of their music. Next year, there will be two international Marillion fan conferences, one in the Netherlands and in Montreal. And every year, the band issue a collection of unreleased tracks and exclusive material, pressed up on CD and sent to their Web Members absolutely free.

Whatever the future holds for the record industry, innovative bands will find a personal connection with their fan base is the single most relevant factor in their survival. Without active fans, they are only playing for themselves.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

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