Page last updated at 08:21 GMT, Thursday, 28 January 2010

Shrewd stars make music add up

By Ian Youngs
Music reporter, BBC News, in Cannes

Rapper T-Pain
Rapper T-Pain has made money from an iPhone remixing app

When unknown singers pen personalised songs for their biggest fans and top stars let people mess around with their hits, they have one thing in common.

They are both finding new ways to make money from their music that do not rely on the old-fashioned ways of simply selling records and gig tickets.

With music sales declining, artists, record labels and even opera houses are being more inventive in order to encourage fans to fork out.

Known as "monetisation" in business speak, that was the main theme at the largest music industry gathering of the year, the Midem conference in Cannes. And some of the best ideas are below.


When American singer-songwriter Allison Weiss from Athens, Georgia, wanted to make a new EP, she turned to her fans to raise the money she needed.

Allison Weiss
Singer-songwriter Allison Weiss sold personalised songs

But rather than just asking for donations, she sold personalised products and experiences that she thought her fans would love.

Forty dollars (£25) got a signed copy of the EP, $100 (£62) got a hand-written thank you letter and $300 (£185) got a CD-R of Weiss performing five acoustic songs of your choice. For $500 (£310), two people got songs written especially for them about subjects they chose. ("Nothing explicit, sorry guys," she warned.)

The singer did this via the website Kickstarter, which helps raise funds for all types of creative projects with the proviso that the backers must get some kind of reward.

"Alison let her small fanbase on Twitter and Tumblr know that she was doing this project, trying to raise this money, and within 10 hours she had raised her full $2,000 (£1,240) goal and she ended up raising four times that by the time it was over," says Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler.

Another musician charged fans $40 to come round to his house for a meal, while someone else asked supporters for $70 (£43) to spend a day in the recording studio and contribute handclaps to her album.


Bands that took the corporate buck may once have been accused of selling out, but commercial sponsorship is now often seen as a smart way to fund your music.

Hal Ritson
Hal Ritson sings with Young Punx and is Dizzee Rascal's live musical director

So UK dance act The Young Punx accepted sponsorship from beer company Warsteiner, which wanted to raise its profile among clubbers in Germany.

Warsteiner put on club nights where The Young Punx DJ'd and performed live, the company gave away their music, used it in its MTV ads and the band featured the drink in their podcasts.

"They were paying to have us associated with their brand," says Young Punx singer and Dizzee Rascal's live musical director Hal Ritson. "We were happy to be associated with their brand since our brand is basically having a few drinks and having a good time."

During last year's promotion, according to Facebook statistics, the number of Young Punx fans in Germany shot up and Germany went from being "a territory of no relevance" to third on the list behind the UK and USA.

"That's a fanbase that came through one year without us maybe selling many records, but with many, many people hearing our music. And we got paid, so everyone's happy."


When Peter Gelb took over New York's Metropolitan Opera in 2006, he was faced with an ageing, dwindling audience.

Placido Domingo performs the title role in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra
The Met broadcasts on more than 60 screens

The Met had broadcast its productions on radio for almost 80 years, so Gelb decided to see whether he could bring in a new audience - and new money - by offering the "full blown visual experience" in cinemas as well.

The live broadcasts started on 60 screens but are now shown in more than 1,000 cinemas around the world, with typical ticket prices around $20 (£12) in the US.

"We approach them very much like a sports broadcast," Gelb says, with backstage cameras capturing the action in the "locker room" and an off-duty star such as Renee Fleming or Placido Domingo acting as a reporter and interviewing singers as they come off stage.

The Met keeps half of the box office takings, he says. "That 50%, when there are hundreds of thousands - which is the average attending these transmissions - more than covers the incremental costs of producing them in high definition.

"And it actually provides a profit stream which helps us cover our other costs, which are extremely high."


Kiss fans who saw the rock band on their 2009 US tour had the chance to take the show home with them in their back pockets when they walked out of the venue.

Gene Simmons, of Kiss
Kiss have made hundreds of thousands of dollars from instant USB recordings

"We do a multi-track recording of each night and make the recording available on a USB drive right at the end of the show," says Gerrit Schumann from German company Music Networx, which makes the recordings.

"We have USB duplicators that do it pretty much automatically at the venue. We stop recording about half an hour before the end of the show and include a download code, with which the fan can then download the encores and remaining 30 minutes online."

Each stick cost about $20 and an artist will get anywhere between 20-50% of the price, he says. With around 1,000 sticks sold a night at 58 dates last year, that adds up to several hundreds of thousands of dollars for Kiss.

They will do it all again for their European tour this year, where they will also introduce an instant download-to-mobile option.

Kiss, already the masters of music merchandise, are also selling meet-and-greet gig packages for £905 per person in the UK.


Letting fans remix, re-record and generally mess around with songs by established artists has given those songs a lucrative new lease of life.

Michael Jackson songs were available to remix as part of an album promotion

I Am T-Pain is an iPhone app that lets users record themselves singing along to songs by the US rapper with the help of AutoTune, and post their recordings to Facebook and other sites. Costing $3 (£1.85) - three times the cost of an average song on iTunes - the app sold more than 600,000 copies in two months.

French company MXP4 provides technology that lets fans loose on songs by the likes of Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and David Guetta in a similar way, both online and on the iPhone.

Users can remix tracks and buy their mixes - at a premium price - or record their own vocals and share the results with friends, who may then discover the originals.

In the next 10 years, the music experience will be revitalised in the same way that 3D has revitalised movies and innovations like the Wii and Rock Band have revitalised gaming, says MXP4 chief executive Albin Serviant.

"Our vision is about having a 3D music experience, where you can not only play and listen to music but play with it, remix it, get the lyrics on the fly, share with friends and record your own version."

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