How to Monetize Music: The Dome Experiment


Late in Fortune?s Fool, Edgar Bronfman Jr., Warner Music, and an Industry in Crisis, author Fred Goodman details the plight of songwriter and producer Pete Waterman, Brit crooner Rick Astley?s collaborator on the now-infamous 1987 hit ?Never Gonna Give You Up.? The tune is the punchline to the long-running gag of ?Rickrolling? (to the un-rolled, ?Rickrolling? is when someone sends you a link you believe to be relevant only to discover that it leads to Astely?s music video on YouTube). Waterman later claimed in an editorial that the video has been seen 150 million times on the video-sharing site, which eventually cut him a royalty check for ?11, or $17.48 at present writing.

How is it Waterman?s work yielded such a pittance? Credit the Byzantine calculus of royalty schedules. Worse, YouTube insisted that the ?exposure? the song gained would surely result in income from other avenues. ?That?s BS,? Waterman countered, ?Nobody buys music they can get for free on sites like YouTube.?

Unlike Waterman, services like Tunecore, CD Baby and Bandcamp, which serve the independent music community, have found ways to contort YouTube and other social media into their business models. At the top of Bandcamp?s web site is the tag ?In the past 30 days alone, artists have made $374,714 USD?? Albeit, this sum is shared by Bandcamp?s entire roster of artists including superstar cellist Zoe Keating, who recently quipped during an interview on KQED?s Forum that she purchased a ?dilapidated house? from her online earnings. Keating?s real estate aside, the fact is, she does make living proffering music live and online while deftly leveraging social media marketing and online distribution. When host Michael Krasny pointed out that not all artists are as entrepreneurial as she, Keating swiftly replied, ?They should be.?

Whereas a decade ago ?entrepreneurial? was a euphemism for ?selling out,? it?s now regarded as integral to an artist?s success now that traditional opportunities are disappearing. Strategies include packaging ?artisanal? releases of vinyl, posters and other ephemera paired with download codes to licensing music directly to brands in commercials. As Ben Sisario recently wrote in the New York Times, ?Lifestyle brands are becoming the new record labels.? Indeed, Converse is opening a recording studio in Brooklyn where bands can record for free; Mountain Dew releases MP3s on its own record label, Green Label Sound.

As a project for FMRL, the Future Media Research Lab, we are experimenting with a variety of music monetization schemes ??all at once. The question was ?Could we create an act, cut a track, package it in a concept attractive to a brand and see it through profitability??

We started with the music, which came via Penngrove-raised singer-songwriter Orion Letizi and multi-platinum producer Jason Carmer, whose credits include work with The Donnas, Chumbawamba and RunDMC among others. How did we get a mega-producer? We emailed him. As Carmer commented on Ear Whacks, a music-themed video blog, ?You can actually work with a lot of really good producers now because there?s nothing going on. There are a lot of guys just sitting around trying to make the transition.? Carmer suggests that producer talent is available to new artists at lower fees for reasons as obvious as economic to the fact that labels no longer pursue the musical styles that interest them most.

Next we wrapped Letizi?s 80s-inspired ditty ?Yeah, We Know? into a narrative that could support several episodes of a web series. The pitch: ?Four Sonoma State Students enlist in sociological experiment that finds them sealed in a biodome. They form a band and hope to sell enough music and merch online to buy out their contract.? We cast local 20-something actors for the ?band,? shot and edited a video, then shopped it to several brands until one bit ??a foods company, which came in as a sponsor and whose product will be seamlessly integrated into upcoming storylines.

The video, Still in the Dome, features a shorter mix of the tune and is free. The ?album mix? of the song is available for paid download. Will it work? Perhaps. All creative contributors have already been paid ??a triumph in itself. A case study of the experiment will be published here next month. In the meantime, the music industry should know, we?re never gonna give you up.

For the full “dome” experience, visit

Replica: When Life Photocopies Art

A few years back, pal and collaborator Raymond Scott Daigle wrote and directed Replica, a night-in-the-life ode to? corporate copy shop clones on the brink of revolt. The film ably combined guerrilla filmmaking (every frame was stolen, on-location, at an operating copy shop, during business hours) with a sardonic nod to the auteur’s own biography (Daigle’s early CV is dotted with several tours-of-duty in duplication destinations). Having appeared in the film, it was oddly affirming to spy a sign for Replica Copy, near the University of California, Berkeley campus. A case of life imitating art imitating life? Or, is the original just jammed in the photocopier of philosophy?

The A to Z of Single Letter Book Titles

The organized minds at apparently minded their Ps and Qs while compiling “The A to Z of the Shortest Book Titles,” an alphabetic compendium of single letter book titles a la Booker-prize nominee C by Tom McCarthy.

“There are numerous examples that stretch from A by Andy Warhol to Z by Vassilis Vassilikos,” writes AbeBooks’ uncredited alphabetizer, “Although not every letter of the alphabet appears to have been singled out for the literary treatment ? does anyone want R?”

The list is worth viewing if only for the cavalcade of jacket designs that, together, form a visually-stunning ersatz alphabet, which you can judge by its covers.

Wooing Hollywood to Wine Country

Pray tell, is it “campaign” or “champagne” season? I always get those two confused, seeing as corks tend to pop around voting booths, at least when I’m around. You see, I’m a political demigod – I learned long ago that true power, like crap, is taken not given.? Or, at least that?s how I imagine it. Everything I know about politics I learned hanging around the office of a ?West Wing? producer, where the Emmys were so abundant they were handed out as door prizes for dropping by.

Similarly powerful producers overran Sonoma last weekend. They were part of an envoy dubbed ?Guild and Grapes,? a program that brings members of the Producers Guild of America to wine country. Though their collective credits could crash IMDB, the Internet Movie Database (mine could too but only because of the viruses), it fell upon me to act as Sonoma County?s de facto emissary to the motion picture industry. I exhibited such intimacy with ?Schmoozing and Boozing? that one might conclude they were family relations of mine from the old country.

My charge was to lead the producers through various locations where film had been shot in Sonoma County. This included pit stops at Potter School in Bodega where Hitchcock shot the ?The Birds? as well as a few favorite locations in Petaluma (?American Graffiti? and ?Peggy Sue Got Married? but not ?Howard the Duck?). In the Valley, we were kindly hosted by Kunde Family Estate (replete with private barrel tasting), the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art (with a fine greeting by executive director Kate Eilertsen and wines provided by Muscardini Cellars poured by the man whose name is on the award-winning bottle) and cave dinner at Nicholson Ranch, catered by Victoria Campbell of Brick and Bottle. A fine time was had by all. The only starlet who stormed off the set was moi, seeing as I was late for Sonoma International Film Festival alumni Abe Levy and Silver Tree?s on-set soiree during the shoot of their feature ?Lawless.?

This is what I learned about film producers when they are not in their natural habitat ??A) It?s extremely easy to get a green light when the glasses are full of red (the motion picture version of my life will be coming soon to theater near you); B) Other counties, states and countries offer rebates and incentives to film productions because they tend to be large, unwieldy users of resources for which they happily pay. They?re sort of like tourists but fatter, hungrier and require many more beds.

Though I don?t believe those minding the budgets of our local governments, let alone our citizenry, would cotton to the notion of wooing a Hollywood bankroll with taxpayer cash, it does behoove us to attract big spenders to the area. Executed correctly, a virtuous loop could develop wherein productions beget additional productions by virtue of our inherent hospitality and scenic locations, duly depicted on the silver screen. It?s like there paying us to make a commercial for Sonoma, which, by the way, I have yet to see ??done right.

Dig this ??Sonoma County hasn?t had a film commissioner as such since the last century (though the Sonoma County Economic Development Board?s executive director Ben Stone and Colette Thomas do an admirable job with film-related biz, as does their colleague Kevin Lopeman at the county?s Permit and Resource Management Department). This astounds me. In fact, it rallies me to political action: I hereby declare myself Film Commissioner of Sonoma Valley. So there.

As your newly (self)appointed film commissioner, I will endeavor to bring both studio and independent productions to the Valley, get heads and beds and turn restaurant dead days into humming commissaries. Local actors and artisans rejoice ??their film permits will be contingent on your employment.

Now, if you contest my appointment or believe you could do a better job (insert haughty laughter), it?s yours. Now, get me permission to shoot my transmedia epic, ?Winos? on the Plaza and a tax rebate for the privilege of doing so. Or you?ll never do lunch in this town again. Now, where?s the champagne?