There is something reassuring about Public Enemy turning the entertainment publishing model on its head. As reported by The Guardian UK, the legendary rappers have become one of the first major acts to sidestep major music labels and instead ask fans to fund the creation of new material. This week, Public Enemy began selling shares at $25 a piece to raise $250,000 to cover recording and publishing costs for their next album. In return, fans who invest, called Believers , get a special edition copy once the album is released.
The rhetoric being tossed around to describe the new approach is, not surprisingly, centered on it being revolutionary . It seems we hear that every time an artist or company tweaks with the music publishing model. Last month Pearl Jam took the same tone, trying to convince the world that their exclusive distribution deal with retail giant Target is how they re doing the revolution, not about pocketing more money. Outspoken fans have said otherwise. The same profit motive is at the core of this new model for artists, letting them forego advances and ultimately keep more of the revenues from their work, but a couple things make it a flip of the first order. It eliminates label meddling in the creative process, and it empowers fans to influence when artists create new material.
There are two companies currently claming that they re helping the new model succeed. Among the first to make headlines was UK based Bandstocks, which helped British songwriter Patrick Wolf raise a little over $160,000 to record and publish his album. Public Enemy has turned to another, Amsterdam-based SellaBand. Operating out of what it calls the creative capital of Europe , SellaBand describes its efforts as leveling the playing field for artists by giving them the opportunity to forego the creative and financial burdens that come with music label involvement. The company claims to have raised more than $3 million for 34 musicians and bands who published their work using the fan-funded model.
For their part, Public Enemy is not saying what prompted them to pursue a fan-funded album. The band s reputation is one of rap music s heavyweights, but as in the case of any artist with longevity their discography has seen its ups and downs. Their last album, How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul released in 2007, might be considered a downer for their label Def Jam. It managed to just break Billboard s top 50, placing at 49 for one week. If their label Def Jam wasn’t quite ready for another new album but fans can show that they are, that might be where this new model shows its might. Public Enemy is the first widely known band to go this route. If their effort pays off for all involved, suddenly fans of forgotten artists or musicians driven off the grid by the labels could be turning a keen eye to this model. Will the movement spread to other forms of entertainment That’s unlikely given the discrepancy in budgets and production time between music and TV, films or games. It’s still worth watching the outcome, if only to see if Public Enemy becomes who history pegs as the entertainment publishing model’s enemy number one.