The new model

Meet Birds of Chicago. I had heard and enjoyed some of their music before I saw them on Cayamo last month, but they were even better live. Bonus: I saw them all over the ship with their infant, hanging out, talking to people, just chilling.

They also have built a career path for themselves that used to be considered “alt” or even impossible, but I’m seeing more and more of it. For example, they wound up on Cayamo because the guests voted them on in a competition, and they then killed it in some live shows. Right after that, they launched a Kickstarter for a new album. The selfsame guests and other fans threw money at them, and after only a few days, the Kickstarter was 90% funded. And they still don’t use a record label, although they do use a booking company for tours (right now, they’re not touring a lot because they’re working on the album and they don’t want to burn potential touring locales until the album’s ready).

Most of this would have been impossible just a few years ago. The organized crime model dominated the record business, where artists were screwed over and sweated unless they broke big, in which case they eventually flipped the tables and started screwing over and sweating record companies. But, as I once read somewhere, the reason you can have sucker bets is that sometimes the suckers win, and the few artists who could control their labels made everyone else think that this could happen to them as well.

But underneath that nonsense, and with some help from the growth of the digital world, the DIY model emerged. You first saw it with punk bands, then with some folkies, and now you see it with artists all over the spectrum. They keep control of their music and they don’t need a label any more to distribute it. They control their tours instead of being driven into the ground and tossed aside. They often handle publicity and actively look for patrons to help them out.

There has been a lot of complaining, and rightly so, that the emergence of the digital world has ruined the revenue model for making money on recordings. It’s also been punitive to artists who just don’t like social media (an odd thing to dislike if you want to perform in public, but there you go).

But it also has unshackled artists, and more of them are learning how to make the new rules work for them. Thus: Birds of Chicago. I think they’re great and have tossed them a little cash. You should think about doing the same thing.

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