In todays world of downloading mp3s musicians have become master entrepreneurs.
1) Moby. When his 1999 album Play came out to poor reviews and even poorer sales, Moby began licensing all of the songs for television, movies, and commercials. Remember the American Express commercial with Tiger Woods playing a round of golf in NYC? The song in the background: Moby’s. Hundreds of licenses were given, making Play a remarkable financial success long before it was certified platinum. This, of course, was before Internet downloading (legal or otherwise) was the preferred way for 12-30 year olds to get their music, and CD sales were still the way most bands made money. Now every Joe Schmo band from Wilco to Of Montreal has gone the licensing route. Thankfully, most of these bands have learned from Bob Dylan’s disastrous Victoria’s Secret commercial to stay out of the ads their songs are featured in. I don’t care what you say—looking at Dylan’s tattered catcher’s mitt of a face isn’t going to make anyone want to buy a cheap satin nightie.
2) Radiohead. Releasing their seventh album, In Rainbows, late last year as a pay-whatever-you-want Internet download has, by all accounts, brought in big bucks for the 90s rock band. Though they haven’t given official sales figures, millions have downloaded the album. In the first week of release, Radiohead spokesman Robert Chalmers told the BBC, "most people are deciding on a normal retail price with very few trying to buy it for a penny." This helped put In Rainbows at No. 1 on both the UK Album Chart and the U.S. Billboard 200, and was the set-up for a well packaged box set version: two LPs, two CDs, bonus songs, and original artwork (and all for only… oh, $82). Nine Inch Nails would later take the same strategy with The Slip (2008). As would Paul Westerberger, formerly of The Replacements, who offered his album 49:00… Of Your Time/Life as a download for only, yeah, you guessed it, 49 cents. This finally answered the question: Would I rather have the new Paul Westerberger album or a pack of Juicy Fruit gum? Sorry, Paul.
3) Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
After recording their self-titled 2005 debut, this unsigned Brooklyn-based band figured out that the best way to get their album heard was to start promoting via the Internet. Ignoring more traditional press routes, the band mailed out free album copies and sent mp3s to critics from various music blogs and online music mags. They, in turn, began reposting those mp3s, along with rave reviews, on their websites. It all came together when Pitchfork Media
got hold of the album and gave it a 9 out of 10 rating, saying, "While a lot of bands view the promotional apparatus as a necessary evil, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah prove that it’s still possible for a band to get heard, given enough talent and perseverance, without a PR agency or a label." That kind of hype was enough to sell out all of the band’s self-pressed album copies within days and necessitate a distribution deal just to keep up with demand.
4) Ok Go. This nerdy pop rock band has been around since 1998, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that they really went big. Jumping on the viral video craze, Ok Go made weirdly entertaining amateur music videos for their 2006 singles, "A Million Ways" and "Here It Goes Again." Neither song is really that good, but the band’s ridiculous retro hipster dancing and lip synching had everyone talking. The video for "Here It Goes Again" won the 2007 Grammy for Best Short Music Video and has been watched more than thirty-eight million times on YouTube. The song itself is used in the game Rock Band, and if that doesn’t count as making it, what does? Since then the band has toured with Panic At the Disco, Motion City Soundtrack, and Snow Patrol, all three MTV darlings. Not too shabby.
Singer-songwriters, at least those who don’t look and sound like Jack Johnson, don’t get a lot of attention anymore. Unless, of course, they take on an unprecedented musical project like The Song Diary. Between April 16, 2006 and April 15, 2007, David Strackany (stage name: Paleo) wrote and recorded a song a day while traveling around the U.S. No, you didn’t read that wrong, that’s 365 songs—higher than President Bush can count
. The Song Diary earned Strackany a lot of press: The Washington Post
, USA Today
, The Chicago Sun Times
, and pretty much any other news agency you can think of had something to say. During that year he spent all of his savings, maxed out two credit cards, and put more than 54,000 miles on his jeep—a risky venture to be sure. His [Paleo’s
] website, which during The Song Diary project was updated daily, now archives all of the songs, along with lyrics, and photographs. It also offers fans a chance to purchase all 17+ hours of music on one DVD disc of mp3s. Strackany continues to go the DIY route, but I’m sure he’ll have a record contract if he ever wants one.