The past two weeks have seen a whirlwind of innovation in the music industry – everything from Amazon.com’s $0.99 blowout offer for Lady Gaga’s new album to Apple’s decision to offer a cloud-based music offering. The biggest innovation yet, though, may be the new crowdsourced album project from the U.K.-based Kaiser Chiefs, which involves fans in not just producing completely bespoke versions of the album – but also rewarding them for distributing the album to their friends and followers across the Web. Instead of sharing profits with a middleman like Amazon.com or iTunes, the Kaiser Chiefs are sharing profits with their fans: £1 for every bespoke album sold.
Crowdsourcing, of course, is nothing new in the artistic space. Given the current state of the music industry, bands have been increasingly willing to cede some part of artistic control to their fans – but it’s usually something like determining what the bonus track on the album should be, or maybe choosing which city they should tour to promote the album. This time, however, the Kaiser Chiefs are crowdsourcing the production, marketing and distribution of their new The Future is Medieval album to their fans — and giving them an economic stake in the success of the album by ensuring that every album they help to sell results in cold hard cash deposited into that individual’s PayPal account.
The process of jumping aboard the Kaiser Chiefs’ profit train is relatively simple: the KaiserChiefs.com website walks you through each step of the process in a fun – almost whimsical – manner. First, you start by sampling about 60 seconds each of 20 new tracks that the Kaiser Chiefs created for the album. Based on these samples, you then mix together 10 of your favorite songs into one album. Next, you’re asked to generate the artwork for the album by dragging and dropping images onto a digital canvas. After paying £7.50 (approximately $12.50 given today’s dollar-pound exchange rate), you get a digital version of the album that you can download as a folder of MP3 files. Plus, you get access to banners and other creative assets that you can use to promote the album wherever you want on the Internet. And, yes, you can “like” your new album on Facebook and re-tweet it to your followers on Twitter.
This is clever on several different levels. The first, and most obvious level, is that it’s no longer about just buying “the best song” on the album for $0.99 — you’re committing to the full album. Considering that the Kaiser Chiefs hadn’t released an album in three years, this is somewhat of a risk. However, given that you have a choice of 20 different songs, it’s not hard to find 10 that work together for your bespoke version of the album. Plus, assuming that you are passionate enough to sell 5-10 copies of the album to other friends, you can make back your investment relatively quickly. 48 hours after the release of the album, the best-selling version of the album has sold 67 copies.
The other level is that it puts fans to work on promoting and selling the album for you. It’s like a giant Tupperware party on the Internet, only instead of selling Tupperware, you’re selling digital music. Invite some friends over, let them listen to and sample the music, and encourage them to buy it. The more time and energy you spend on promoting the music, the more money you can make. Who needs the Corporate Middleman when you have people all over the world who could help you market, promote and distribute?
Obviously, this type of ultimate crowdsourced artistic project is not for everyone. Most bands don’t have the prior track record of the Kaiser Chiefs, who sold millions of copies of their debut album and have had a #1 hit song in the U.K. By being willing to challenge the dominance of the digital music behemoth iTunes, though, the Kaiser Chiefs are making it easier for smaller, unsigned bands to make money – and for the music industry to regain its mojo. It used to be that the Long Tail was about the creation of content – now the Long Tail seemingly refers to the distribution and monetization of that content. The Kaiser Chiefs would say that The Future is Medieval, but it is actually the current music industry business model that is medieval.