Last week the fabulously wealthy Luke Johnson - former head of Channel 4 and the financier behind Pizza Express and owner of the Giraffe restaurants - told musicians to get on their bikes and bypass the "corporates". They could do everything DIY-style, he wrote in his Financial Times column.
Well, one outfit dedicated to doing just that - Sellaband - was declared bankrupt in its home town of Amsterdam yesterday, potentially leaving a number of artists, including Public Enemy, in the lurch. Calls to Sellaband's PR company were not returned.
Sellaband launched in 2006 and offered a radical DIY alternative to the conventional record label. With an indie label, the label invests and the act shares the rewards 50:50. With a major, a large advance is typically offered, and most artists fail to recoup, leaving them in debt to the major. At Notalabel, fans, or "believers" could invest in an artist fund for as little as $10. Once the pot reached $50,000, Sellaband stepped in, acting as a kind of management company. Believers got exclusive material access and/or promotions. The company distributed the money as the artist saw fit. It's not too dissimilar from how theatrical ventures are funded.
Sellaband snagged €3.5m investment from Prime Technology Ventures in April 2008, but it didn't work for everyone. Sellaband's biggest "signing" was Public Enemy, who needed $250,000 to complete an album by the end of 2009. Billboard reported last week that they had only reached $67,000, with the cash pot actually dwindling.
A similar venture, Slicethepie, has a slightly different take on the same "crowdsourcing" idea.
One handicap was that by drawing upon hardcore "fans" for backing, the Not-a-label shunned the many more casual purchasers who don't need to know the artist's inside leg measurement, don't want premium packaging or constant updates. Since that's most of us most of the time, we're quite a useful source of income, too. ®
Artists "should treat their vocation as a craft carried out for profit, which they can practise individually or within collectives," Johnson wrote. He's a surprising recruit to the anti-capitalist movement, and seems founded on a prejudice against the music business. We asked him if he'd like a chat, but he failed to respond to our email. He should fit right in at the RSA, though, where these days, critics reckon the 'S' stands for "sub-prime science".