Rhett Miller’s Lefsetzian Move
Rhett Miller is the latest established artist to pass on the record company route and go directly to his fans to finance his next album. His PledgeMusic.com page opened over the holidays is more than halfway home at this writing. By the time you read this, the campaign won’t be very Old but I’m guessing it will be 97 percent complete, or even more than that (apologies to all, especially Mr. Miller, for that one).
Mr. Miller, who’s been making records for over a decade and a half, mainly with the Old 97’s, has the perfect combination to pull this off. He has sold a lot of records already, his shows are well attended and (this is the most important part) he KNOWS HIS AUDIENCE, which is not universal in the business. The Stones don’t know their audience, according to Lefsetz. Yeah, I read Bob Lefsetz too. So does Mr. Miller – one of his Twitter followers last night commented on the fan-finance move, using the word “Lefsetz-ian.” Mr. Miller responded, “I read @Lefsetz religiously. He’s a definite inspiration. Generous with his advice.” If you’d like more background on what I’m talking about here, here’s the link to his page. You should subscribe to his letter if you don’t already.
Carol Young and Kym Warner of The Greencards took their 2011 project, The Brick Album, directly to the fans even though they didn’t have to, and it worked for them. More on that here and here. They’re coming at this from a slightly smaller niche (contemporary bluegrass), and I’d guess their numbers are going to a bit smaller than Mr. Miller’s, but the key is that they know their audience, the audience knows them and cares about them and their music so that there’s a willingness to invest in the project, sight unseen. Under this model, the audience gets early copies of the record or cool items direct from the artists. And the artists own the record, completely, as in owning the right to hire the producer that they want, record the music that they want, and the right to sell it and get paid for the record, rather than the “right” to buy their own CD’s from the label for 6 or 7 dollars. There’s gold in those little plastic cases when you’re on the road, if they belong to you.
Mr. Miller has done it up right with his pledge campaign. You can get in for as little as ten bucks, which gets you the early download. Or, if you’re feeling a bit more generous, you can do $2500 which gets you a Telecaster that he played for a while, which is sitting in his office, “looking reproachfully at [him].” Oh, wait a minute, that one is already taken. For $50 you can get the record in vinyl with a personal inscription, or for $300 you can get to be part of the entourage at one of his shows, including soundcheck, which he refers to as “truly the height of glamor.” Oh, wait a minute, that’s taken, too.
This morning (Saturday, a day or so after all this started), Mr. Miller tweeted, “Just wow. I woke up to see that the pledge campaign is off the charts. Thanks so much, y’all. Now I’m off to Woodstock to record.” Wow is right. And good for him.
Who knows if this paradigm is the long-term answer to the upheaval in the business? Mr. Miller doesn’t claim that to be the case:
Please don’t get me wrong… The record labels with which I’ve worked were stocked with badass music-lovers, and I’m not ruling out working with them in the future, but there have been massive changes in record labels and the record business. And now, thanks to the good old internet, I’m able to communicate directly with the fans. That is the coolest thing about all of this. The fourth wall has been brought down. The posing and false mystique of the old system is done. It’s a brave new world and I’m stoked.
Regardless of what the future holds, congratulations to Mr. Miller on a successful campaign. I’m in for an unsigned vinyl. It set me back $30, but I’ll get my download first and I’ll be stoked, too. That’s the way this works right now, and I think it’s pretty cool.
[Note: Over the weekend, Mr. Russell’s pledge campaign went over 100%.]
Mando Lines is on Twitter @mando_lines. Rhett Miller is on Twitter @rhettmiller.