The Cursive strategy; playing for free at Slowdown; Murder by Death at TWR; David Bazan house show tour…

Category: Blog — @ 6:55 pm March 5, 2009

The day after Cursive and Saddle Creek started offering 320 kpbs-quality downloads of Mama, I’m Swollen on the Creek site for $1 last Sunday, I dropped an e-mail to Creek head honcho Robb Nansel asking him how many copies they moved and why so cheap.

The specific details — the download started at $1 on March 1 and the price has increased by one dollar each day afterward. The price as of today is $5. Nansel’s not ready to share any sales numbers until the promotion ends, presumably on the March 10 drop date.

“As for the decision,” Nansel said. “It’s simply an experiment, to raise awareness for the record. The hope is that we get interested listeners talking about the band and ultimately build excitement for the physical release March 10th. We successfully protected against an early leak in an attempt to condense the period between when a record becomes available for free download and when it’s available for purchase. In order to bolster physical sales, we designed CD and LP versions that have exclusive additional content (downloads for bonus tracks, demos and videos) and snazzy packaging. We’ll see how it turns out.

The 180g ruby-red vinyl offering is indeed luscious and comes with a CD, 15-page gatefold jacket, and a download card that gets you extras including bonus tracks and videos — all for a mere $15. Could this be the future of music marketing?

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Tonight is the benefit concert for the Young Professionals Council down at Slowdown. Well, I just assumed it was a benefit concert since I’ve been told none of the bands performing are getting paid. Strangely, I assume that everyone else involved — the Slowdown and its employees, the door guy, the sound guy, the vendors that sold the liquor to Slowdown, OPPD who’s supplying the power, heck everyone who plays a role in the program — is getting paid. Just not the bands.

Whose fault is that? Why, it’s the bands’ fault, of course. They accepted the gig believing that they’d make money on merch sales and would gain exposure. This is an issue that was discussed ad nauseam on Slam Omaha. My take: It’s a free country. If you’re in a band and you want to play for free for gigs where everyone else is getting a paycheck, where you don’t know or like the organization, well then by god you should. Certainly accepting these kinds of gigs helps define you and your band — just maybe not the way you want to be defined.

Who doesn’t want to help out a charity that they believe in? I’ve even kicked around the idea of organizing a charity concert for the Nebraska Humane Society, which I’m told is struggling these days. And what band doesn’t want to open for one of their favorite touring bands coming through town? It’s an honor, and it’s fun. And yeah, there are those bands that “just want to play” and have no interest in making money. We all have our hobbies.

It’s another thing altogether if you’re an established act that’s been around for years and you’re playing corporate-level events for free.

Serious bands (not hobbyists) seem to fall into four categories when it comes to non-paying gigs:

First there are the new bands that just want to build a following. In their minds, any chance they can get to be on stage is an opportunity. Sure, they should get paid, but their anonymity — and their lack of drawing power — puts them in weaker position then, say, the bands at the next level — the ones that know what they’re worth, and quite frankly, so do most of the venues in town who know better than to ask them to play for free (except under certain circumstances, like benefits or opening for a band that they love for a show that could tank).

Finally there’s the superstars, which really only applies to a few bands around here. I’m talking about the bands that everyone thinks are making millions — whether they are or not. Charities might approach these guys to play a gig for free thinking the band has so much cash it doesn’t mind giving it away. What the charities don’t understand is that the one thing more valuable than money to these bands is time.

And then there are the bands that everyone knows will play anywhere for free.

Look, if I organized a benefit for the Humane Society I would absolutely expect to pay all the bands playing. Why? Because I would want to feature the acts that I hoped could draw the biggest audience and sell the most tickets. I wouldn’t want to limit myself only to those bands that I know would play for free. It doesn’t matter if the band believes in my cause as long as it can draw a thousand paying customers to the show (that said, I wouldn’t invite, say Michael Vick’s All Star Extravaganza to play). I’ll let the band decide if they want to donate their earnings or not, and I’m more than happy if they don’t because they helped get asses in seats.

I’ve never included an embedded YouTube video into the blog, so this is a first. Here’s my personal writing guru/savior/inspiration, Harlan Ellison, talking about getting paid for his work. It’s amusing, and accurate.

I don’t know if Ellison’s point about the amateurs ruining it for the professionals really applies to this argument. The amateurs can play all the free shows they want to and it’s not going to lower the price that The Faint is going to receive for playing a gig. If you can sell a lot of tickets, you’re going to get paid.

I know what you’re thinking: Who am I to say anything? Aren’t I writing this blog entry for free? True, true, though most of what I write here eventually ends up in The Reader, who does pay me (though that’s not the reason I do it). There’s a philosophy that bloggers who write for free are killing newspapers and other publications. It’s bullshit, since most bloggers (myself included) are insignificant to the general public compared to the dailies. I can tell you indisputably played no role in the cuts announced at the OWH a couple days ago.

I’m rambling now. Let me wrap this up by reiterating my earlier comment: You want to play for free? God Bless America, go right ahead. Ultimately, you’re the one who puts the price on the value of your music.

* * *

Not playing for free tonight is Murder by Death at The Waiting Room with Fake Problems and Sam Lowry. $10, 9 p.m.

* * *

Finally fellow Reader music writer Brady tipped me off that David Bazan will be playing a house show in Omaha on April 13. To find out where, you have to pay $20 per ticket. Check out how Bazan has figured out an innovative way of setting up a house-show tour. And it’s working. He’s selling out shows all over the country. Go to for details.

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