[JPL] D.I.Y. Meets N.R.L. (No Record Label)

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Mon Jul 5 11:38:36 EDT 2004


July 4, 2004

D.I.Y. Meets N.R.L. (No Record Label)

IN the last decade, Maria Schneider, who regularly wins prizes for best
composer and best big-band arranger in jazz, has made three albums on the
Enja record label. Each sold about 20,000 copies ‹ very good numbers for
jazz. She didn't make a dime off any of them. On two of them, she lost

So recently, she went off the grid. She became the first musician to sign
with a company called ArtistShare. Rather than go through labels,
distributors and retailers, ArtistShare sells discs over the Web and turns
over all the proceeds (minus a small fee) to the artist.

Her new CD, "Concert in the Garden," went on sale last Thursday exclusively
through www.mariaschneider.com. If it sells one-quarter as many copies as
any of her previous discs, she will do better than break even. If it sells
half as many, she will earn tens of thousands of dollars.

"Making an album takes lots of time and effort," Ms. Schneider said in her
apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. "It takes me two or three
years to write the music. Then there are the rehearsals, the studio time,
the mixing and mastering. It would be nice to get something back for it. The
thought that I could actually make a profit off my records ‹ that's
unbelievable, really."

To make this new album, Ms. Schneider put up $87,000 of her own money, which
she had earned from commissions, music clinics and guest conducting. Almost
$40,000 went to pay her musicians for four days' work in the studio. By the
eve of the disc's release, online orders had brought in $33,700, strictly
through word of mouth.

Record labels are still vital for many musicians. They get the CD in the
bins; they advertise it; they put up the money to produce it in the first

But for those who already have a following and some capital, the new way has
appeal. "The guy who's doing this is on to something," said Michael Cuscuna,
a veteran producer for the Blue Note jazz label. "For a lot of artists, it
makes sense to take control of their future."

That guy is Brian Camelio, a 38-year-old musician and computer programmer,
who started ArtistShare after he heard stories from too many friends ‹ one
of them Ms. Schneider ‹ about frustrating experiences with record labels.
His roster is growing. Recently, he persuaded the jazz-guitar giant Jim Hall
to sign up and record a trio album. That CD will be available on
www.jimhallmusic.com in September. It cost $18,600 to make. Pre-orders have
already brought in $11,042.

Going this route was a strange step for Mr. Hall, who is 73. "I'm still in
the kerosene age, I don't know how to use a typewriter," he said. "But I've
known Brian for a few years. He was so enthusiastic about this. So I thought
I'd give it a try."

Other friends-turned-clients include the jazz bassist Todd Coolman, the
pianist Danilo Perez, the keyboardist Rachel Z and Trey Anastasio, the
leader of the rock band Phish, which recently announced that it would break
up after its summer tour.

Rock musicians have been recording live concerts and selling them over the
Internet, as CD's or MP3 downloads, for years. But Mr. Camelio's twist is
new in two ways. First, he sees the Internet not as a supplement to labels
and record stores but as an alternative. Second, he's marketing more than

On Ms. Schneider's Web site, fans can order her CD for $16.95. For an
additional $35 to $95, they also gain access to printed scores, rehearsal
sessions, interviews, post-concert question-and-answer sessions and
commentaries, including a two-hour audio stream of Ms. Schneider analyzing
several of her arrangements.

On Mr. Hall's site, for $60, fans can watch him give a guitar lesson.

"The key thing was when I realized that anyone could download music for
free," Mr. Camelio said. "I got to thinking: what's the one thing you can't
download, the one thing that the artist can hold on to? The answer: the
creative process. That's the product I'm offering: the creative process."

To a surprising degree, these special features are also turning out to be
the most lucrative part of the package. As of last week, Ms. Schneider's
online customers were spending an average of $53, nearly three times the
price of the CD.

It may be that few people beyond her fans will even learn about her new
record. Ms. Schneider mentions her Web site at her concerts, and she's hired
a publicist for press and radio promotion. Then again, she noted, "jazz is
so siphoned off from the rest of the culture, I'm not sure people who aren't
fans of mine find their way to my music anyhow."

Ms. Schneider recorded her first big-band album, "Evanescence," in 1993. It
was swooningly romantic music, stacked with lush harmonies yet propelled by
a muscular swing. She produced it at her own expense for $35,000; sold it to
Enja for $10,000; and never recouped her initial investment.

Still, Enja made enough money off it that, two years later, the label paid
the full cost of producing her second album, "Coming About." It also sold
well, but not well enough to earn her any money. In 2000, she split the cost
of her third album, "Allegresse," but again earned no return on her share.

"I can't really complain about Enja," she said. "They put my name on the
map. But there are so many pieces of the pie to slice up ‹ for the record
company, the distributor, the record stores ‹ that there's nothing left for
the person who did all the work: me."

"My point is not that the record companies are bad," she added. "They have
to make a living. They're risking their money. They absorb the losses from
artists who don't sell. But I needed to find a business model where, at
minimum, I made my money back."

Ms. Schneider's situation was hardly unique. Most instrumental jazz albums
sell just a few thousand copies. One that sells 10,000 is doing well. To
sell 50,000 is almost unheard of. Record labels typically offer musicians a
royalty of 10 percent to 12 percent of the retail price for each album sold.
But musicians are not paid any royalty until after the label makes back the
production costs. Those costs include studio rental (in New York, about $200
an hour), equipment rental ($1,000 or more) and the engineer's fee (up to
$100 an hour). Many labels also insist on making back the costs of packaging
and pressing the CD's ($4,000 to $20,000, depending on the quality of the
printing and graphics).

If the album includes original compositions, as Ms. Schneider's do, some
labels also demand the music's publishing royalties. (Ms. Schneider gave
Enja a 50 percent share, though she has since acquired not only the full
rights but also the master tapes and is selling the older albums on her Web
site, too.) Under the traditional system, then, it's no surprise that
artists rarely see any royalties.

Musicians with ArtistShare pay upfront for an album's production costs. They
also pay Mr. Camelio a fee to create and maintain the Web site (about
$5,000) as well as 15 percent of the gross proceeds. Other than that, they
receive all revenue.

"Who knows," Ms. Schneider said. "I may even get to the point of making a
living entirely off my recordings."

Fred Kaplan is a columnist for Slate and jazz critic for The Absolute Sound.

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