Music and the Web: One band’s experience

Shane Richmond, the technology blogger for the Telegraph newspaper in the UK, took some time off and asked several guest bloggers to fill in for him by writing about the Internet and the future of the music industry. One of the most recent posts was by Mark Kelly, the keyboard player for a band called Marillion, who described the group’s experiences as they moved from the traditional label relationship to an independent model. It’s well worth reading, if you’re at all interested in the future of the music business and how artists are dealing with the Web.

Mark says that the band was effectively dumped in 1995 by their label (EMI) after one of their albums only sold 300,000 copies, and then tried to work with an independent label but didn’t have much success. Starting in 2000, the group got its fans to pre-order a CD — having built up a list of more than 20,000 fans — and used that money to finance the recording of the album. The band did its own distribution online and through independent record shops, and over the next six years released three more albums the same way. Although Kelly doesn’t say how the band did financially, he says:

“Despite continuing falls in CD sales worldwide we have managed to shield ourselves from the worst by continuing to build our database of email addresses, currently more than 65,000, and by offering special edition pre-order CDs with 128-page hardcover books containing beautiful artwork.

I’m sure many people still download our music illegally but the real hardcore fans want the special editions and are willing to pay £25 or more for them.”

Kelly notes at the end of his post that “the internet is a double-edged sword” that has “hammered the industry while making it easier for every artist to be heard.” But for Marillion, at least, it seems to have been far more positive than the band’s experience with a major label (or even an independent label, for that matter). He also recommends that musicians stay away from the “360 deals” that labels are pushing, which give them a share of touring and merchandise. “I would advise any new band being offered such a deal to be wary,” he says. “You may regret it.


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