This past Friday night I headed out to Trilogy to check out Soundrabbit and Michael Garfield. I haven't been out to see live music in a long time, which is more than a little ironic given my iggli connection. In any event, Michael, who opened, is one of iggli's bloggers, and Soundrabbit includes Chris Anton, who worked for iggli extensively during 2007 doing graphic art, design and web development tasks as requested. They're both great guys, and it was wonderful to be able to check them out.
The photo above is from Soundrabbit's press kit. They did a great job at the show, though I was disappointed (as I'm sure they were) that there weren't a few more people in attendance. It was especially challenging for Michael with a sea of concrete between him and the audience. But he also performed well - a great collection of approaches and techniques (including the use of a ukulele on one song).
Soundrabbit is doing something particularly innovative with its business model. For an annual subscription fee you receive a membership, a virtual backstage pass, to all of the band's output throughout the year. The band describes it this way
"We said to ourselves, " says Anton, SoundRabbit's electric guitarist, "What if we were to come up with a model that allowed us to remain incredibly close to the growing population of fans, provide them everything in the way of music, merchandise, shows, behind-the-scenes stuff, and have a charitable side to it like Newman's Own [salad dressing], where we're able to make contributions to great causes on behalf of the SoundRabbit community? It's a win-win-win all around."
The band developed a membership model, similar to some of the online fan clubs that major label bands have created, but very different in two very important ways:
1. The "RBT Backstage" is the whole enchilada, not just the "extras."
A Backstage member is viewed by the band as a "shareholder" of sorts. When a person signs up to be a member for a year, he/she receives every single music release created by the band during the period of his/her membership. For example, a member who joined at the CD Release Party on November 9th got the new album in its entirety, along with two songs originally slated for the album but cut during the mastering process. The band has plans to release a dozen new studio-quality singles in the next 12 months, along with an EP or two... and the member who joined on November 9th gets all of these songs. Furthermore, that member can do whatever he/she likes with the music, so long as it's not for commercial use. In the typical scenario, if a fan downloads a band's album and then distributes it on a peer to peer network (ie Oink, Napster, Limewire), if the band or its label was to find out, things could get ugly. Contrastly, in the case of the Backstage, the likely reaction from SoundRabbit would be a "Thank you!" in the downloader's email inbox. SoundRabbit believes that giving the music away "free" provides the best value for their fans, and that Backstage members should be allowed to do whatever they want [non-commercially] with the music that they own. "We're not selling CD's, and we're not even selling singles; we're not selling the music at all. We're building a community," says Jason, SoundRabbit's bass player. "And the community helps spread the word by taking the songs that they get from the Backstage and sharing them with their friends. With any luck their friends will dig the philosophy of the Backstage and become members themselves."
2. The "RBT Backstage" Vision: Give Back. Big.
"When we laid out the plan on paper," says Russ, SoundRabbit's singer, "we realized that programs like National Public Radio and PBS provided a great example for the content and membership-driven model. Members fund the ongoing work of the group, and the group in turn is tasked with providing great, fresh content for the membership. But perhaps more importantly, we realized that by generating revenues from memberships, we could make this thing a huge force for charitable contributions. Things like merchandise sales and iTunes sales that are traditionally the bread-and-butter revenue for a band can be leveraged for charity. The support of the Backstage members allows us to give back in ways that bands in the traditional model cannot." Indeed, at the CD Launch Party where the Backstage was first introduced to the public, the band donated 100% - every penny - of t-shirt sales from the night to the American Cancer Society. The Backstage website has a "Giving Back" section, where the current charitable project is listed with details about how Members can help contribute. "Our plan is to donate a full month of iTunes sales - 100% - to charity. We just need to get the new album up there and we'll get that project going right away," says Russ. "As the band becomes more well known, and the Backstage membership grows, we can easily envision giving thousands and tens of thousands of dollars to charitable causes each year. The whole thing is full circle, and everybody wins."
While the content on the Backstage will grow over time [that's the whole idea], the current content includes the full This Room Becomes A Crowd album for download in high quality MP3 and WAV formats, a section of live recordings in MP3 and FLAC format, a section of "Backstage Sessions," which are the aforementioned studio-quality singles produced by the band, a section of "Song Sketches," which are quick recordings of new songs/riffs/melodies that the band is working on; a full photo gallery with live shots, professional shots, CD cover art, posters, and more; a "Musician's Corner" with drum and guitar clinic videos showing how to play SoundRabbit songs, guitar tablature, lyrics, and gear listings; a message board where Members can interact with eachother and the band; a "Videos" section, with live show videos (the CD Release Party footage was up on the site the next day) and 'backstage' videos of the band behind the scenes; a "Special Events" section listing Members-only events and VIP access information for shows; a "Band" section with band member blogs and information; a "Video Messages" section where the band will create and send a personal video message on behalf of a Member to a friend/coworker/family member/etc. for a birthday, anniversary, gag/joke, etc.; and the "Giving Back" section, outlining the charitable projects the band is working on.
Incidentally, you can check out Michael Garfield's blogs and his MySpace page here:
The Visionary Music of Michael Garfield