Most capital cities in Europe run free walking tours, usually lasting at least a couple of hours. The guides are always knowledgable, engaging and witty. “If you don’t like it we’ll give you your money back,” is a favoured one-liner.
In the same city, another walking tour is advertised, only this time there is a charge of 10 euros for the guides’ time.
Guess which one makes more money? That’s right, the free one – the appreciative tourists lap it up so much that by the end of the tour they can’t put their hands in the pockets quick enough to offer tips.
This is simply an example of savvy marketing, with a lesson in social conditioning to boot – and it’s something the music industry has been cripplingly slow to get to grips with.
One former major record label boss speaking at the In The City music conference last week suggested that the price of a new album should be slashed to just £1 to give consumers a realistic alternative to illegally downloading it for free via filesharing networks.
At the time he was shouted down by his peers (one said: “Basic arithmetic indicates this is a non-starter”) yet the very same day Amazon.co.uk were selling the most recent albums from Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons, Weezer, Kasabian, Foals, Prodigy, Pendulum and The Cribs on mp3 for £1 to anyone using a readily-available promotional code.
With the record industry running out of ways to exploit/make money from artists, the musicians themselves have been left with no choice but to expand their natural creativity into self-financing and self-promotion.
London-based singer-songwriter Emmy The Great’s debut album First Love was arguably one the best things to happen in 2009. However, its eagerly-anticipated follow-up is being funded by pledges made by her fans for as many as 40 Emmy-related goodies or ‘experiences’, ranging from a download of the finished album (£8), backstage gig passes (£50), a cameo role in Emmy’s next video (150) and a gig in your front room (£500).
Emmy was kind enough to take time out from the studio to tell The Pop Cop readers how successful the scheme has been so far.
How much money have you made from the Pledge campaign?
Emmy: “We’ve made enough to cover all the album costs. It was more than we expected and it’s put us in a very good position of having recouped for our first album and gone into our second without any debt. I think with the way Pledge works – in that the size of your fanbase dictates the amount raised – that it’s fair to say you probably will raise what a sensible A&R person would have given you as a budget. Not that every album budget is sensible! What is cool about Pledge, though, is that it gave us control over our own schedule.”
Do you plan to release the album via a conventional record label?
Emmy: “That depends on what you deem a conventional record label. We self-released the last one, but that went through the same channels as a conventional record release, and in other countries it went through a selection of bigger to smaller indies.”
If anyone forks out £300 for the ‘Super Special Edition’ of the record, the band will come to anywhere in the UK, play the album live, record it and then sign a legal document transferring all the rights in the recording to the fan, thereby creating a limited edition of one.
All good in theory but even better in practice as two Glasgow friends, Sara Thomas and Tony Blow, are hopefully about to find out.
They love The Indelicates so much they have clubbed together to book the band, which features one of the founder members of indie girl-group The Pipettes, to play at the 13th Note Cafe in their home city on November 3, with Lou Hickey and Dave Hughes supporting.
Sara says: “Tony and I split the cost – the idea being that we’ll throw a party, invite our friends and pass the hat – hence the £3 entry – to offset some of the cost. Both of us have spent more than this going on gig pilgrimages to various parts of the country, so why not do this and have the band come to us? The Indelicates supported Amanda Palmer at the Picture House last year, but apart from that they’ve never been able to afford to come to Scotland. This will be their first Glasgow gig. As part of the agreement we get the rights to the recording, which we then plan to put up online for about £1 or so. Fuck it, it’ll be a laugh if nowt else!”
With record labels in such dire straits, if not downright irrelevant, musicians are having to become a lot more creative in their ability to sell themselves.
One artist closer to home who is doing just that is Ross-shire singer Donald Macdonald, who has unveiling a twist on the ‘pay-what-you-want’ model made famous by Radiohead.
Entry to Donald Macdonald & The Islands’ gig at Glasgow’s Liquid Ship on November 8 is free, however the audience will be invited to pay as much or as little as they like depending on how much they enjoyed it.
Effectively it’s busking, but in an environment that is likely to reap much greater financial rewards than shivering for two hours on a pedestrian precinct. If it works, the concept has the potential to revolutionise ‘free’ gigs in future.
Donald explains: “We really like the venue but it’s impossible to charge at the door as those in the bar upstairs require the use of the downstairs toilets. So we thought we’d just go busking indoors and hopefully get more people along as a result. I’m not sure exactly how we’ll collect the money yet but hopefully it will be enough to pay for the PA hire.”
No matter what your music tastes are, one thing is blatantly obvious – missing out the middle man benefits both the artist and their fans.
Donald Macdonald – Many Mansions
The Indelicates – Ill