[photo courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net]

So, first things first, I want to let you know that I’ve launched a page on Patreon to help fund our Postmodern Jukebox video series. We’ve had an INCREDIBLE year, and we’re excited to keep creating and, hopefully, turn Postmodern Jukebox into a full-time touring band.

Here’s my page, with all the info: http://www.patreon.com/scottbradlee

And here’s a fun video that Robyn and I made to explain it:

This is especially exciting to me because it cements the arrival of a new era in the music industry: one where independent artists can launch and build successful music careers on their own terms, without any middlemen.  This era started when digital distribution companies like CD Baby enabled indie artists to get their music on iTunes and grew when content hubs like YouTube crowdsourced the talent discovery process.  Now that the problem of crowdfunding has been figured out, it is entirely possible to construct a 21st record label with just a laptop computer.

To set the stage for this, let’s supply a little context.  Here’s the tl:dr history of the record industry:

-New technology is introduced that threatens the sheet music industry (the phonograph!).

-Records become mass produced, and record ‘labels” form (back then, there were *actually* labels on records).

-Major labels build an impressive infrastructure to promote and market new music, and began reaping serious profits.

-New technology is introduced that threatens the record industry (the internet!)

-Tech companies beat the labels at their own game, and digital download and streaming music sites cause album sales to drop significantly.

Now, the problem is NOT that people don’t want to support the music industry; by and large, they do.  They don’t, however, care to support an infrastructure that is no longer relevant to the way that they appreciate music and musicians.  The only reason for a fan to buy an album when they can stream it for free at virtually any time is to support the artist- and nowadays, there are much better ways to do that than buying an album.

Enter the New Patronage model (it might have another name that I don’t know about, but I’m calling it that for now).  Instead of commoditizing music and using album sales as a barometer of success, the patronage model depends entirely on the relationship between the artist and their fans.  It hearkens back to the days of the Middle Ages, where the wealthly would financially support artists, but with one crucial difference:  thanks to the internet, this patronage can now be crowdsourced from all over the world.

So, with all that explained, here’s my model for a no-budget, 21st century “Patronage Label,” as illustrated in this crude infographic that I made:

nobudgetlabeljpg-Release regular online content (video is best, and needn’t be fancy or professional)

-Amass and- most importantly- engage with friends and fans on social media

-Use crowdfunding sites (Kickstarter, Pledge Music, Patreon) to raise money for something creative (could be an album; could be something else entirely)

-Publish the finished work online (for albums, I HIGHLY recommend Bandcamp; be sure to use the “name your price” feature).

-Promote your finished work on social media.

-Perform the work live on online performance spaces like Stageit.

-Repeat this process a bunch, over a number of years.

That’s it.  You become the artist, manager, record label, and publicist, all rolled into one.  The benefits to this approach are many:

-There is little to no financial risk involved

-You get to keep ALL the rights to your work and can distribute it in any way that makes sense to you, now and forever.

-You connect directly with your fans, and they’ll tell you what they’re looking for.

-If technology changes the business (pro tip: it will), you’ll be able to adapt quickly, and your fans will appreciate you for it.

Although this model applies primarily to smaller indie artists for now, its fundamental philosophy is already being absorbed by a number major artists.  Sara Bareilles and Jason Mraz have given live shows on Stageit.  Radiohead had a “pay what you will” release of In Rainbows way back in 2007. And, of course, Amanda Palmer practically wrote the book on this patronage model, raising over a million dollars on Kickstarter.  My prediction? In the future, the “record industry” will have very little to do with selling records.  This isn’t a bad thing, because it would not survive otherwise.

Of course, the New Patronage model requires a different mindset for the artist than the popular concept of what being a “rockstar” entails.  For this to work, you have to be willing to interact with your fans, instead of treating them as customers only.  You have to be willing to act genuine and say things in your own, authentic voice, instead of having an intern update social media for you.  You have to be willing to create continuously, instead of resting on your laurels.  It’s hard work, and it doesn’t stop.  The reward, however, is that you will cultivate a base of support for your art that will last a lifetime.

I think it’s worth it.