Financing Records

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

You gotta feel for musicians these days. It can be deflating to constantly hear about a once-thriving industry, the imbalance of economics at record labels, and the droning mantra that millions are stealing your music.

But some persevere despite all this negativity. Take for example, Threadhead Records, a nonprofit record company formed out of a simple concept… the love of New Orleans and its music.

New Orleans is best known as the birthplace of American Jazz and its vibrant music scene continues. However some of its musicians have struggled in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and many have been unable to move beyond the local circuit. The grassroots label Threadhead Records, began when two local musicians, John Boutte and Paul Sanchez were performing at JazzFest. They wanted to record together, but lacked the funds to do it. So JazzFest fans organized Threadhead Records. The label provides a website for fans to help fund New Orleans musicians. And when enough money has been raised, Threadhead funds the recording with the stipulation that the musicians must pay it back. They must also pay 10% interest to the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, a charity that offers health and social welfare services to local musicians. Threadhead has been so successful they’ve already produced eight more projects, with ten additional ones in production.

The Threadhead idea is simple: use the fans to finance records in advance of their recordings. If CD sales are good enough, all contributions are paid back within a year. Plus the musicians help build stability in their own community.

Threadhead is a bit like the record label-incubator, Sellaband. Sellaband musicians post their latest tracks on the Sellaband website and consumers donate funds towards a final goal of $50,000. Each $10 donation entitles contributors to one of the 5,000 limited edition copies of the forthcoming album. Sellaband doesn’t tout any humanistic concerns. Its owners are in it purely for the love of music and the love of business.

Some artists have taken matters these into their own hands. Josh Freese, the former drummer for Nine Inch Nails, created his own marketplace, radically altering the value proposition. Freese offered his fans an opportunity to get to know him better, in exchange for contributions to his recording fund. $50 got you a thank you phone call from Josh Freese, while contributors of $5000 got a personal tour of Disneyland with the drummer. One fan lay in tandem sensory deprivation tanks with Freese, complete with a Sizzler dinner for $500, while another got drunk and cut their hair with him on the steps of the Long Beach Courthouse, for $1000.

Josh Freese has touched a nerve. While Radiohead and Trent Reznor sell special copies of their already recorded album, Josh is offering a personal Freese experience with his fanbase in exchange for financing his latest record.

Kudos to a man who has a good sense of humor, a creative approach to marketing and last but not least… a finished album. It goes to show that if you have the drive and you have the wherewithal, you can always get by with a little help from your friends.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.