Friday, July 16, 2010

Prince is Off His Purple Paisley Rocker

In an article on the website of the Daily Mirror tabloid of London, England, musical artist Prince was quoted by Mirror writer Peter Willis as saying:

"The internet's completely over. I don't see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won't pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can't get it."

What? The Internet, with all that information (good and bad), all that power now put in the palm of the common man's (and woman's) hands, is over because he can't get an advance from iTunes for his music?

That can't exactly be what he meant. What I think is that he was trying to say that it is over as a mechanism for the distribution of music. The above quote continued with him saying that the Internet was once hip but is now outdated and all these 1s and 0s can't be good for anybody.

Is he being too vain? Is he just money hungry? Is he delusional? Or has he just failed at his many ventures to get his own online presence started and flowing? Not sure, but it could be safe to say that maybe it's a combination of all of the above, and possibly many other reasons.

Prince has ventured into the online landscape many times and has disappointed and alienated his fans just as many times. Whether it was significantly late shipments on his album Crystal Ball when it was originally released as an online only order from his then-website, to the recent opening and rather quick closing of his website Lotusflow3r. Whatever the troubles were at any time with any of these ventures, they did not sit well with many of his most dedicated fans. So, instead of building his fan base, he began to alienate it.

For me, the oddest thing of all is that while he states he doesn't want to distribute his music through iTunes because they won't pay him in advance for it, he will distribute CDs for free through the Mirror. Well, maybe not for free, but through some kind of deal with the newspaper.

Instead of claiming the Internet as over, what Prince needs to do is take a look out there and see exactly how not over it truly is. There are many musicians who are carving out quite a place online, a place where they pick up fans daily, where they market themselves to anyone who will listen (or read) and where they provide content to their fans not only as a way of making money (and a living) but as a way of simply doing what they need to do (make music) and trying to get that out in front of as many people as possible. And they have succeeded marvelously. For example:

Kristin Hersh
Singer, Songwriter and Guitarist
Solo Artist, Throwing Muses and 50FOOTWAVE

Kristin Hersh has been in the music business for quite some time. I encountered her for the first time through her song Ghost, which appeared on the soundtrack for the film With Honors. Her voice just captivated me. I can't really explain it anymore than that. I could listen to her sing anything, probably.

Kristin has embraced the Internet. She has a website at She uses Twitter (@kristinhersh). And she distributes her music in the traditional methods of CD and vinyl, but also digitally through (a method of distribution Kristin helped develop). Through her separate CASH Music sites (solo, Throwing Muses, 50FOOTWAVE), she offers fans the opportunity to listen to, download and purchase her music. CASH Music offers musicians a way to communicate directly with their audience and fans, to cut out the middle man.

Kristen also has licensed her work via a Creative Commons license with which she gives her fans the ability to create and remix her songs into new noncommercial works allowing them not only a way to enjoy her music but also participate in it. This music is available for streaming, download and purchase. In addition, she has a group called the Strange Angels. According to her website:

"The Strange Angels make Kristin's music possible by subscribing to her output. In exchange they receive all of her physical releases, exclusive downloadable content, and free spots on the guestlist for Kristin's shows. Most importantly they are responsible for the release of all the music on this page."

Through this subscription service, Kristin is able to fund her work. Besides assisting Kristin in her music-making efforts, subscribers receive tickets to any of her shows, copies of every CD before their release date and many other online items such as videos and live recordings.

However, Kristin's work isn't limited to just sounds. She uses her websites as ways for fans to read her lyrics and read the stories that have made Kristin who she is and have inspired her music. To take this one step further, she also is releasing her next album in book form. Called Crooked and already released in the UK, this book will open new doors in music distribution. The Amazon description states:

In a music and publishing industry first, acclaimed musician Kristin Hersh releases her new studio album, Crooked, as a book.
Kristin Hersh, lead singer of Throwing Muses and successful solo artist, will be releasing her new studio album, Crooked, as a book. This is the first time any major recording artist has taken such a step which makes this a groundbreaking publication and one that we will be supporting with a massive publicity push.
Crooked, the book, will contain full colour artwork, lyrics and an exclusive essay by Kristin on each song.
Each copy will come with a digital code which unlocks a treasure trove of online content including:
  • The full Crooked album.
  • Full recording stems for every track allowing fan remixes.
  • Track by track audio commentary by Kristin.
  • Exclusive video content.
  • Outtakes.
  • A forum enabling fans to interact with Kristin, ask questions, live web chats etc.
  • Sample chapters from her forthcoming memoir, Paradoxical Undressing.
This full content will only be available to fans who purchase Crooked the book.

The book is due out in the United States later this year.

Amanda Palmer
Singer, Songwriter and Ukelele lover
Solo Artist and The Dresden Dolls

Amanda Palmer is a very outspoken artist. Originally signed to Roadrunner Records, who released her debut solo album Who Killed Amanda Palmer, she fought them for some time to be free of her contract, citing lack of adequate marketing as one of the reasons. During that time, before and since, Amanda has embraced the Internet like no other, with a significant portion of her online time being spent on Twitter (@amandapalmer). But she also has a website ( and a Facebook page (

Amanda tours a lot to support her music, traveling extensively in Europe, Australia and the U.S.  She promotes herself through Twitter by announcing tours and giving away tickets to her shows, while also gauging interest in and scheduling what she calls "Ninja Gigs" which are free gatherings with her fans in locations near the venues of her shows. They often occur in the afternoons on the days of shows and aren't announced until the last minute. But with the advent of smart phones and their ability to access the web and Twitter, these "gigs" are always well attended.

And now that she is free of her record label, Amanda is truly embracing the Internet as a means of distributing her work. Her first solo record to be released post-Roadrunner is an EP of Radiohead covers played on the ukelele titled simply enough Amanda Palmer Performs The Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele. On her web store, she will be offering the album as a CD, a digital download and on vinyl. She also provides streaming of her songs online. This content all is distributed via Bandcamp. This site is similar to CASH Music in that it provides the artist with control over distribution and price. It easily allows fans to purchase music (often for however much they are willing to pay, but with a minimum charge) and to share the music with friends.

Amanda also embraces the value of video on the Internet. While her previous label issued a DVD containing all the videos for the album WKAP, those videos also are available on her Youtube channel. In addition, Amanda posts video from her concerts, tour documentaries and other interesting items. She also hosts a webcast that she has titled Party on the Internet where she will do just about anything really, from play songs to auction off items she no longer wants to holding a release party for the launch of her new solo record.

Zoë Keating
Professional Avant Cellist
Solo Artist, Collaborator and former member of Rasputina

I came across Zoë's work via Amanda Palmer and her album WKAP. Not really into classical music, it is hard for me to describe what she does, so I will let her website bio do the talking:

Zoë Keating is a one-woman orchestra. She uses a cello and a foot-controlled laptop to record layer upon layer of cello, to create lush, beautiful and otherworldy music.

Born in Canada and classically trained from the age of eight, Zoe spent her 20's dabbling in computer software while moonlighting as a cellist in rock bands. Inevitably, she combined the two and developed her now signature style while improvising for late night crowds at her San Francisco warehouse. 

What I can say is that thanks to the Internet I'm a fan. She, like Amanda and Kristin, has embraced the Internet and all it offers a musician from connecting to fans to distribution. She connects through her Twitter account (@zoecello) and her website ( Like Amanda, Zoë uses Bandcamp as her method of distribution. Through this service in the first two weeks of release of her new album Into the Trees, she sold more than 1,200 copies through digital download with marketing done only through Twitter and her website. What she says surprised her most were the number of fans who bought the music for more than what she was asking.

That's all just a testament to the payoff of hard work, caring about your work and connecting with the fans.

Jenny Owen Youngs
Singer Songwriter
Solo Artist

I discovered Jenny through her song "Fuck Was I" that was used on the Showtime Network show Weeds. Of course, like most other musicians, I was able to find out more about her through her website, and she uses it and her Twitter account (@jennyowenyoungs) to provide news on her work and stay connected with fans. But she is using the Internet in an exciting, new way. She is embracing crowdfunding.

Through Kickstarter, Jenny has set up her next album as a project, and through offering rewards, she is taking pledges from fans that will help her raise the money to record her next album. Pledges can be any amount (though at least $1) and for different levels of giving, Jenny promises to provide a variety of items in return for support.

Basically speaking, a project on Kickstarter is set up, providing information on what it is and how people can donate. Projects can be anything from records to films to books. Each project has a timespan associated with it in which the project owner has to raise the amount of money s/he is looking for to complete the project. If after that amount of time the goal amount is raised, s/he receives the money to be used for that project.

Jenny's project, Jenny Owen Youngs Makes a Shiny New Record, was set up for 40 days with a goal of $20,000. As she said on the project home page, she wants to produce this record on her own and free of a label, and in order to do that she must pay for it herself. Marketing through word-of-mouth and through her Twitter feed, she was able to raise more than $20,000 in just 28 hours. For their pledges, her fans will receive a variety of items, which include digital copies of the album, CD copies of the album, personalized thank-you notes and even an in-house concert.

As of today (July 16, 2010) and with 28 days to go to meet her goal, Jenny has received pledges from 438 fans for a total of more than $31,000.

With the examples these musicians have set, there is no doubt that the Internet is far from over, especially for music distribution. These women just know how it's done. They make the music and find an easy way to get it in their fans' hands. They also are amazingly fan friendly. Each of the four have responded in the past with replies to my comments on Twitter and have shown themselves to be especially thankful for what they get. They are not vain, standoffish or hidden. They put themselves out there because they want their work to be heard.

I will admit that my favorite album to this day is Prince's Sign 'O' the Times. But I'm also going to admit, that because of the ways things are working and how they deal with their music and their fans, I'm more apt to give my money (and I do and will continue to do that) to Kristin, Amanda, Zoë and Jenny than I am to Prince.

The Internet is over? I don't think so.

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