The entertainment industry is built on the dichotomous relationship between art and money. A truly independent artist makes art and serves as his or her own agent by distributing and selling that art. For most musicians, making a career from music means entering the industry, signing contracts, and making money for others, but, at times, musicians buck against the industry. Here are five bands that ignored the business side of their music.
The dream of all musicians is to make a lucrative career without paying for the business. Well, in 2007, after finishing a contract with EMI, Radiohead decided that they were tired of labels. So, they offered their newest album, In Rainbows, for digital download for, well, whatever their fans wanted to pay. In Rainbows was downloaded over 1.7 million times with an average payment of $6. With no agent, label, or distributors to pay, Radiohead made quite the payday and fans were able to pay a lot less for an excellent album.
Musician/label disputes are common, but Danger Mouse (one half of the band Gnarls Barkley with Cee-lo Green) took the battle to another level. After disputes with EMI over his collaboration with singer Sparlehorse on Dark Night of the Soul, Danger Mouse resorted to piracy. He anonymously gave the digital album to numerous content pirates and sold blank CDs and cases for fans to burn the pirated album onto. He encouraged fans to pirate his own album, and, in the end, made more money from the album than if he had made an agreement with EMI.
Today’s musicians have the ability to raise their own recording funds through Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, but that wasn’t always the case. With only one hit, 1995’s “I Kissed a Girl,” Jill Sobule’s career was going nowhere. Two of her record labels closed, and she was without a contract and had no one interested in signing her. Sobule took her fate into her own hands and started a website that took donations to help her raise money to record her album. With multiple levels of reward, including letting fans record songs with her for $10,000, Sobule raised $75,000 and released California Years in May of 2009. The critics and fans loved it.
The days of musicians making much money from album sales are over. Today’s musicians make the majority of their money from concerts (part of the sad state of the music industry), but Prince is no stranger to this business model. In the early 2000s, Prince was already making more money from concerts than album sales. For his Musicology tour, Prince gave away a copy of the album with every ticket sold. The result was a Billboard Top 10 album without any publicity or radio play. That is independent marketing at its finest.