Sellaband…Two Years


Sellaband will be celebrating its second birthday in August with Sellabration ’08, a concert at the famous Paradiso in Amsterdam featuring some of the top artists on the label. One of the more influential “Believers” has posted a forum thread asking the Sellaband community to answer the question, “What was and what will be?” With over 8000 artists now on the Sellaband roster representing tens of thousands of fans and supporters, the ratio of opinions to assholes is probably 1:1 and, being the owner of one with no shortage of the other I may as well offer my 2 cents as well.

Sellaband has appeared on a music scene in massive disarray. The business is now experiencing the period of chaos described by Clay Shirky as the natural result of technological revolution in his book, “Here Comes Everybody.” Not only is it premature to think of Sellaband as a cure for the ills that brought about the need for a solution, it is simplistic thinking to assume that one system can instantly step into the soiled shoes of another which has stomped a path of greed to the brink of its own demise. Regardless of what artists and fans hope that Sellaband will accomplish, only time and the efforts of the few who are willing to actually do something substantive can hold any real answers.

In the two short years of Sellaband’s existence the web-based record label has excelled in some areas while disappointing some of the community in others. Developing a means of funding previously unknown artists has been Sellaband’s best achievement. And one of the by-products of this crowd-sourcing model has been the formation of a community where once there was none. With the world growing smaller everyday this virtual community is morphing into a real community with all the characteristics of the real people who choose this platform to support artistic independence. Real friendships have developed along with real disagreements and the resultant real progress.

Sellaband came into existence with the goal of selling parts in order to fund recording budgets without putting artists at risk of the debt represented by traditional recording contracts. But as each artist reaches the 50K mark the community continues to recreate itself and with each generation of artists and fans embracing the concept new innovations and creativity manifest themselves on a strictly voluntary basis. Believers have built websites, provided financial guidance and expertise, and have stepped in to help artists further their cause in a multitude of ways. This unforeseen social development coming at a ninety degree angle to the primary mission of Sellaband could prove to be the most meaningful of the many revolutionary “causes within a cause.”

The area in which Sellaband seems to have disappointed many in the community is that of promotion and marketing. This is also a premature and possibly unfair criticism. As most of Sellaband’s operating budget comes from interest earned from funds deposited from the sale of parts, it is unlikely that promotion of Sellaband albums could be accomplished at a magnitude sufficient to compete at a level comparable to the still extant major labels. I think that my copy of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was somewhere in the 45th million sold. I held out until I felt that I must be missing something extremely revolutionary and finally jumped on the band wagon to buy a copy. Yes, it is a great album…I guess. But did it sell Zillions because it was good? Or because everyone eventually caved in to the promotional onslaught? The promotion of “Thriller” cost serious money and as the returns grew, ever more money was spent to insure that the profits would grow until sales snowballed to unforeseen proportions.

And what if Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s family didn’t own a record store? What if Epstein had not bought the 1500 copies of “Love Me Do” required to put the song on the Merseybeat charts? Would we have had an “English Invasion” in pop music? Would Peter Asher, half of the mop-top duo Peter and Gordon who reached the charts with Paul McCartney’s “World Without Love”, have reached the notoriety to become the producer of hit albums by Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor? To borrow a concept from Mark Twain’s “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven” how many thousands of meritorious artistic endeavors have gone unrecognized? How many artists work in obscurity only because there is not a massive promotional budget? Selling a million albums requires putting that album in the faces of millions of prospective buyers. Even though we want to think that viral marketing reaches those numbers, real promotion at that level still costs serious money…the kind of money that Sellaband has yet to have at its disposal.

As in any social structure, there will be those who fill the role of “public” and support their favorites while pointing out what should and could be done better, and there are a small percentage who take whatever tools found at hand and act in a decisive manner. One is not qualitatively better than the other, both are necessary. After all, whenever I drive by a road construction site and see 5 or 6 guys in orange shirts leaning on their shovels I know that they are doing their best to give proper guidance to the poor bastard who is down in the hole getting dirty.

ConFused 5There are literally thousands of artists who have posted profiles to the Sellaband website and are now waiting to watch the money of complete strangers pile up around their digital work stations. And there are others who, after reaching their recording budget, have given their best efforts and are wondering what to do with their product. But what some see as Sellaband’s failure to effectively promote, others see as opportunity to use whatever does exist to their benefit. Gisel de Marco, who has virtually no support from her home country of Argentina, has been able to reach fans wordwide through the web and on a more personal level by performing live in the heart of Sellaband’s fanbase of Europe. And although the internet was the vehicle, it was a believer in England who took it upon himself to make possible Gisel’s meteoric rise up the Sellaband charts. Then there is Markus from ConFused5. This band plugs away in the tiny media market of Austria, population 8.5 million. If 10% of the country bought their album it wouldn’t make a global ripple. But Markus uses a combination of brains, technology and bulldog determination to make something happen for his band everyday. The media coverage garnered by Sellaband as a result of Markus’ efforts is of inestimable value. Mysti Mayhem does a webcast concert to touch fans around the world, and Brian Taylor of the Vegas Dragons flew from Australia to Amsterdam to personally number and sign 5000 limited edition cds for his fans. These are only a sampling of the creative solutions that didn’t exist pre-Sellaband. With little money available for product/artist promotion, those who want it bad enough simply invent some way of making something happen.

Will Sellaband weather the chaos? Will the shovel leaners support the diggers until the road is finished? At two years and counting it is impossible to predict how music marketing will adapt to the changing landscape. But there is a distinct buzz of activity in previously undiscovered areas of marketing creativity, and good intentions won’t go unrewarded. It is premature to expect these rewards to be reflected in dollar signs, but for many Sellabanders the effortss are already paying off in the form of friendships and new working relationships that could not have come about previous to Sellaband’s birth just two short years ago.

At least that’s my opinion.

One Response to “Sellaband…Two Years”

  • Pieps

    Hi Pete ,

    hmmm , I think I prefer the metfore of the monkey trying to fuck a football 😉 .

    HAVE FUN !!! yours Pieps