I’d like to talk about the business case a little, because it also deals a lot with what all of you collaborators of the #secretalbum project did for the project (and with that, essentially, for me), the rationale for this being a no-budget project etc.
I’d like to open by explaining that I have never in my life been, or wanted to be, a professional musician – “professional” in the sense that the income generated from making music (and after subtracting costs) provided a relevant part to my available income. Any income generated from music was a few CD sales at concerts, pay for a concert – in summary over all the decades amounting to about the same as what I pay in income tax per month. You see, not a relevant part of my available income.
I understand that in this project, I’m rather at the bottom end regarding professionality, as most of you (be it musicians or other collaborators) either do what they do for that album rather extensively in addition to the proverbial day job or even as their day job.
The No-Budget Idea
The no-budget idea didn’t originally come from financial necessity. What’s more, part of the definition of this project was the no-budget situation: in addition to being composed, short tunes with lots of collaborators, I found it interesting to see if this worked if those lots of collaborators didn’t get anything in return for their hard work other than a heartfelt “thank you” and a mention on the album/website.
To my tremendous joy, there were lots of people who agreed to do that – and that’s all of you here aboard, so I’d like to repeat my “thank you” here once again!
This is, apart from being rather cool, also an interesting discovery for me: with people who are typically neither with loads of cash and loads of spare time on their hands, and people who have their own, individual art to pursue, I found (and still find) it fascinating that you agreed to donate your spare time and artistic energy, and found it even more interesting that this also works with people who had only been in contact with me via twitter or an oldskool mailing list previously.
There were also potential collaborators who, very politely, declined for reasons of the business model; the rationale being that they rather use their spare (in the sense of non-paid) time on their own art. This is obviously something I can perfectly understand, and if any of you implicitly mentioned here are reading this, I’d like to again thank you for considering.
However, one question remains: would there have been alternatives to the no-budget business model?
Alternative Business Models
There’s essentially two things one could consider: first, a cut from the income received from album sales, or a fixed fee (or hourly rate).
A Cut from Album Sales
The following basic arithmetics are not meant to be “perfectly fair” or “well-balanced”, they simply serve as an example for what is possible.
To keep it as simple as possible, I decided to assume (for simplicity’s sake) that every contributor (from me with a lot of workload down to someone who had performed a ten-second track with my in the past which I had recorded) receives the same share. There’s roughly 40 collaborators (and counting . I furthermore will assume a received profit from album sales of $3 per unit sold, and I furthermore assume that #secretalbum will have six releases in total, so the arithmetics get very simple:
Per unit sold, everyone would get $0.075 (that’s less than eight cents!).
For the typical amount of sales per release I make, everyone would get roughly four dollars.
I now assume that (on average), everyone of you worked for twenty hours on your contribution. Email contact, receiving scores, printing them out, setting up the studio, recording, listening back, recording again, sending files, getting a change request from my, recording again…this is just meant to be a rough ballpark here, but:
To receive US minimum wage, album sales must be 2000 copies!
This is, I might want to stress, not meant to say that minimum wage would be fair compensation for you with your specific qualification. It’s meant to say that if I sell less than 2000 copies, everyone else (without any consideration of qualification) would get more than you.
Will I sell 2000 copies? No, I will not. I’m pretty sure about this.
Advanced version: considering the contribution
Of course, there’s some among you who contributed more (effort-wise), and others who contributed less, and of course my contribution is more on the “more” side obviously. An advanced calculation would then consider the amount of work put in, and split the pay accordingly. Again, with the “typical amount of sales”, this would mean for some people only a pay of one dollar or something.
Let’s see it from the other side: everyone gets paid a fair hourly rate, or a fixed fee based on costing based on a fair hourly rate. I will now assume that “a fair rate” is $20, roughly three times US minimum wage.
This money would obviously come out of my own pocket, and the figures would look some like this:
My total cash advance to finance you would be $16000.
To break even, I would have to sell more than 5334 albums.
No, that’s not gonna happen…
I’d like to summarize that the alternative business cases would either mean that you receive compensation which is rather an insult, or I would end up actually suffering hugely financially. The first option (insulting you) is not an option, the second one something which doesn’t make this project look to beautiful for me.
The Amanda Palmer Debate
Earlier this year, an internet discussion happened which, at times, reached the dimensions of a shitstorm.
In essence, it was people complaining about artist Amanda Palmer, who had grossed over one million dollars with a kickstarter camapaign to produce an album, an art book and a tour, had continued to ask local musicians to join her band in exchange for “a hug and a beer”.
The following shitstorm had a strange attractor in an open letter by someone called Amy who went on to claim that it’s unethical to do something like this.
It’s unethical because Amanda already “made well over one million” and could “very well pay for the artists” etc.
The debate ended in Amanda agreeing to pay her added musicians.
It’s nice to see that something happened here which often appears in political debates. Someone makes a completely uninformed statement about something. A shitstorm follows. Someone has to bow to the shitstorm to not fail completely.
Amy’s comment was obviously uninformed an unqualified. She took turnover and earnings for one and the same thing, and many of the shitstormers (who were equally unqualified) were on the level of “if you can’t pay all your collaborators, then you shouldn’t do it”. Is that how art is made? By people who argue like business administrators yet lack the qualification? I rest my case.
However, the similarities are there, even though calculated on another order of magnitude:
The business case for #secretalbum does not work, unless every contributor (everyone of you collaborators, and me) agrees to work for an hourly rate of twenty cents or less (like, zero, as it is right now).
The project is about art, not about revenue. I make this to make an artistic statement. You want to be part of that statement. Together, we invest our spare time to make that statement – like artists throughout world history have always done.
The Sleeper Hit Scenario
What will happen if #secretalbum generates huge revenues – like, in the tens of thousands of sales? Then everyone of you will receive a gift from me. Not as pay for your work, but because you are really cool people!