A rare post about the music industry that isn't completely depressing

The Qtrax debacle is getting most of the attention this week, with Warner Music’s ridiculous CEO compensation close behind, but there is promising news in the music industry worth noting.

Late last year, there was much fuss around Radiohead’s decision to eschew usual distribution schemes and release In Rainbows in a variety of formats, among them free downloads. It was no surprise that the marketing plan worked well and, more recently, helped the on-CD version of the new album top many sales charts. Radiohead is an extremely popular band; of course its experiment did well. But if there’s going to be a music industry anymore, it’s going to be because non-platinum performers can make a living as musicians.

Which brings us to Jill Sobule, ace singer and songwriter, composer of the catchiest TV theme in recent years, stalwart performer at tech conferences TED and D … but not someone who has received a commercial break in line with her talent. So … she’s turning the tables on how records are funded. Instead of getting a label to advance her a recoupable recording budget, on Jill’sNextRecord.com she’s asking fans to fund her next collection, with contributions ranging from $25 (Polished Rock Level; you get an advance CD) all the way up to $10,000 (Weapons-Grade Plutonium Level; you get to sing on the record). Sobule estimates her next set will cost $75K to make; she’s $32K of the way (from 195 contributors) there already. (Disclosure: I made a contribution. You should, too.)

I recognize that Sobule, while not headlining arenas, is an established performer with a great reputation and a novel idea. She’ll succeed at this because she has earned fans and goodwill. Brand-new bands, most of them anyway, couldn’t get away with such a plan because they have no pre-existing audience. But the only way many worthy young bands will stay in the business will be if they have a sense that they can make a go of it if they don’t wind up as big as Radiohead. Sobule, then, is a worthy role model for the whole imusic business — a beacon of hope during an industry’s long, dark winter.