We were slightly surprised that CNN devoted news space to Jill Souble's fan-funded album, for, charming though Jill clearly is, it's hardly a new way of working. Marillion were doing fan-funded album releases back when, well, Marillion had enough fans to fund an album.
Arguably, of course, the whole point of the record business has always been that fans will fund the costs of making albums - EMI has never set out with a business plan that included a line "hopefully flogging a few might add a bit of money to the funding"; now, the idea of fans having to pony up before the artists have even started work is so commonplace there's even a service. Slicethepie, which exists to take the pain out the process.
Hypebot isn't that impressed by their offering:
Even with cash in hand, can a band without infrastructure actually break through the clutter to reach any level of success? And while the wisdom of the crowd would seem greater than that found in the boardroom, its unclear that voting by PayPal is a better measure of fan commitment than fists in the air at a live performance.
It's true that for a band to fan-fund their debut album, it's going to be difficult to generate a budget that's going to spring Phil Spector from prison, secure his services, draft in The Real People to play all the guitars and then fund a lavish advertising campaign, but that's trying to apply the rules of debut albums from the past to a new model.
When bands first play live, their audiences tend to consist of their immediate family; a couple of ex-sexual partners of the bassist who the bassist hopes will not meet and compare notes; three work colleagues; the uncle of the gig promoter and two bemused Swedish tourists who misread the poster as advertising non-stop nude dancing. A small, friendly audience who come along for goodwill and to - hopefully - kickstart a bigger audience. There's no reason why that same network couldn't be passive-aggressively bullied into lobbing a tenner into the hat to produce a cheap record. Think of a demo tape, but with a wider potential audience. If the band finds a wider fanbase, next time round they can raise a bit more cash, and either do some new songs or tart up the first recordings. Bands have actually been raising the cash for demos this way on an adhoc basis - and without paypal - for years.
We have no idea about slicethepie as an entity, but we can certainly see there's potential for something along the lines of a clearing house that can cope with baby-stepping artists.