Start Believing in Artists, not the Music Industry

A few months ago, while driving home from the in-laws, we heard Normcast episode 119, a German podcast full of nice little fragments, pieces of music and other fun stuff. In this episode, Norman played Matthew Ebel's song "Everybody Needs a Robot" (lyrics, YouTube video) and, being the geek that I am, I liked it a lot.

Goodby Planet Earth Album CoverI asked Norman whether the song was podsafe, it turned out it was not, so I asked Matt directly for permission to use his song in a podcast. He kindly agreed and so we played it during HELDENFunk episode 22 around September 2008. As a way of saying "Thanks!" I bought Matt's latest album "Goodbye Planet Earth" off of, a website where independent artists such as Matt can publish their own CDs without the need of a traditional record company.

Later, during an event called "Mission Future", which was part of Ars Electronica 2008, I watched a presentation from Pim Betist about a cool new website called "Sellaband". Sellaband is a crowdfunding website that brings musicians together with their fans (called "Believers") and help them raise real money ($50,000) to record an album in a high-quality studio, with professional producers and market it using a real distribution chain.

Now, the two powers have collied: Matt recently joined Sellaband and he's on his way to financing his next album there!

Why am I telling you all of this? Because this is the biggest shift in the entertainment industry since the introduction of recordable media.

Think of it: Now artists can create their own CDs, all by themselves, from writing the lyrics, writing the music, producing demos, connecting with fans, raising funds, managing production and selling their work, all without a single mention of what was formerly known as "the recording industry". While the RIAA and their likes are still behaving like little kids who have lost their toys, music artists have started to take control over their carreers and simply optimized away unnecessary intermediaries out of the equation.

Beer and Coffee Album CoverSo how does this work? A little bit like owning stock, but with more fun and better "dividends": The $50,000 budget that is needed to produce an artist's album is split into 5,000 "parts", at $10 each. For as little as $10 (1 part), you can become a "Believer" in an artist that is listed on Sellaband. Being a Believer gives you the right to receive a limited edition of that artist's album, once it is recorded. Think of it: This is cheaper than most regular CDs, so there's nothing to lose here. Actually, this is just where the fun starts: Each part entitles its owner to 0,01% of the album's revenue. So if you have a good "nose" for finding successful artists, you can even get some money back out of your investment! You can own more than one part and the more parts you buy, the nicer the perks become. From "Believer" (1 part) to "Promoter" (2 parts), "Publisher" (5 parts and you start earning publishing revenue), "V.I.P." (10), "Crew" (50), "Music Angel" (100) all the way to "Executive Producer" (1000 parts, free trip to the studio baby!). Check out the full "what's in it for me" list.

Back to Matt: His music is a modern version of songwriter-style piano rock. A little bit like Billy Joel, maybe with some Elton John thrown in, but with a modern twist: He likes to add loops, electronic sounds or samples into his songs to add to the atmosphere without them becoming distracting. The lyrics are insightful, full of life, spirit, humor and a little irony. Check out his bio for a much better description of him and his music.

But Matt is more than that: He is a leading example of how an artist can connect to his audience using Web 2.0: He has his own paid subscription service, sells his music online on iTunes, CDBaby and MySpace, including online merchandise on, he blogs, has over 100 videos on YouTube and you can follow him on Twitter. His concert calendar is online and if you can't make it to one of his shows, you can watch him online on UStream. To me he's simply the Piano Man 2.0.

And now you can enjoy a part of his next album, too! Check out his profile on and feel free to invest in his work.

BTW, Sellaband is a social network, too: You can check out my profile and add me as your friend there, too. Then we can together check out other great artist and change the way the music industry works, just by Believing in the artists we like.


I agree to all points above. The only "problem" I see here, is a significant decrease in the signal to noise ratio. The selection about what is good and what is bad has to be done by the consumer itself and can take quite some time. That's not a specific problem w/ Sellaband, but with every kind of user created content media. Probably our subsequent generations will "just deal with it" :)

Posted by Wolfgang Stief on February 17, 2009 at 03:03 AM CET #

Hi Wolfgang,

thanks for your comment. Yes, this is the whole folksonomy vs. taxonomy discussion all over again. Previously, a small set of "Music Scouts" decided what was good for the listeners and what was not. Then they decided to manufacture their own Superstars which gave us Britney Spears and other horribilities, only to be proven wrong by surprise stars such as James Blunt or Paul Potts.

Crowdsourcing is probably best described as short-circuiting the way consumers choose what their true stars are, without interference by small numbers of decision-makers with purely commercial interests.

In a way, the "Believers" in Sellaband are just a larger number of talent scouts, and therefore they scale better than a limited number of overwhelmed talent scouts from music industries. The larger the number of participants, the more self-supporting the model becomes.

Yes, and the more complex the overall big picture will be, but that is a trend that has started long ago when online music shops gave access to niche bands to their customers which started the Long Tail thing.

Posted by Constantin Gonzalez on February 17, 2009 at 03:26 AM CET #

Well... I'm just not always willing to spend a good amount of my time in discovering new music. From time to time, that's ok and makes fun, though. The only way this concept works IMHO is by building up peer groups w/ same or similar taste. When a friend of mine discovers some artist, chances are high that I'll go out and by it. Listen to 20+ necomers in order to find that particular one very nice song or band just takes too much time... I know what I'm talking about, that's the way I currently buy new music: Get some hints from newspapers, blogs, websites, RSS feeds, then start searching around for the artist at MySpace etc. and finally I'll buy one out of 10+. Very time consuming.

So, back to crowd sourcing and peer groups. I just signed up on Sellaband in order not to talk about things I haven't seen or tried myself :-) I'm curious in nes Web 2.0 services anyway :-) There is a button "friends", but I cannot find anything on how to find friends or how to connect to other people. I'm not willing to connect only to Artists. I also want to connect to other Believers to see, what popular bands they listen to... Any hints? I'm in particual looking for something like friends radio over @


Posted by Wolfgang Stief on February 17, 2009 at 08:21 AM CET #

Hi Wolfgang,

yes, you're right. The Sellaband model does not expect all consumers of music to become talent scouts. Instead it creates a platform for those that want to bridge the gap between fans and professional talent scouts.

In a way, the social networks that develop inside Sellaband are a new way of looking at peer groups. Having said that, the social networking aspects of Sellaband could be made easier, though. Right now, it is easy for Believers to find artists, but it's not that easy for Believers to find other Believers. I just added you as a friend based on guessing your profile URL, which probably is not the intended way, though :).

But one way to start is by checking artists that fit your musical taste (which is easy by telling Sellaband what music genres you like), then check out their Believer's profiles and try to find Believers that share your tastes.

Now is a good point, though. The combination of Sellaband with could be a very powerful one. Perhaps you want to suggest something like this to them?

Posted by Constantin Gonzalez on February 17, 2009 at 08:48 AM CET #

I did the same but had a wrong guess on your profile name :-)

The nice thing in the internet world is, that mostly everybody is only a few clicks (or mails) away. I'll pick up your idea on suggesting a "" extension to Sellaband...


Posted by Wolfgang Stief on February 17, 2009 at 09:12 AM CET #

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