On the weekend I picked up the latest release from Canadian progressive metal band Protest The Hero. The album is a fine slab of hectic metal, which works its way through scorching leads (on both guitar and bass), a schizophrenic vocal attack, and metronome-tight rhythms. Like all Protest The Hero releases, ‘Volition’ continues to push the boundary on what’s possible when amalgamating the normally polar opposites of technical wizardry and pop melodies, and is easily level with their superb debut ‘Kezia’.
However, it is not the music I wish to review, but their chosen business model.
But before I discuss their model, I’ll explain how the majority of bands go about business – via the record label. When a label discovers a band they take a risk and offer the band a record deal. As well as setting out an agreed number of records that the band is contractually obliged to release on that label (usually three plus albums), the label also gives the band a lump sum, called an advance, which the band use to fund the recording and production of an album. In this way bands need and depend heavily on the existence of record labels.
The record labels invest in the production of a band’s album, hoping that it will sell enough to repay the initial cost and the band does not receive any of the sales money until the advance money is paid back – just like a loan. In the current environment of high piracy, it is becoming a much more risky game and hence it is also becoming harder to get signed.
After fulfilling their label’s record quota, Protest The Hero were in a situation where they could no longer sustain the record label model. Instead they opted to go down the fan funding route, an option many bands are turning to. This model relies on fans donating via sites like Indiegogo and Pledge Music and offers them exclusive rewards and offers, as well as the knowing they helped fund the record that they will eventually hear. Of course these specialist donating websites also take a fee, but at a significantly lower percentage than record labels would (about 3-10% typically) and you get an immediate return, with no advance/loan to pay back.
One of the great aspects of this process is the reward process, which allows the fans to become much more engaged with the final product. Protest the hero offered an array of rewards which scaled with the size of the donation, from exclusive digipak versions and merchandise bundles to album listening and pizza parties, signed guitars and even a chance to appear on the album if you forked out $5000. In the end Protest The Hero smashed through their initial goal of $125,00o, raising a impressive $341,146 – almost three times as much!
However, this method is not completely risk free. Breed 77’s latest album ‘The Evil Inside’ was funded in much the same way, getting fans to donate towards a new album and rewarding them with a wide variety of exclusive merchandise and events. Breed 77 managed to get 105% of their goal, 5% of which they generously donated towards Amnesty International. Unfortunately the finished product they released was sub-standard for a Breed 77 album. The old flamenco flare had gone, instead replaced with mundane hard rock riffs and for the first time in their discography bland vocals from the very talented Paul Isola.
As a massive fan of Breed 77 over the years, if I had donated, especially if I had opted for one of the more premium packages (the most expensive of which came to £180), I would have felt let down when I heard the new album. This is perhaps the one aspect of this model which is holding it back; being able to deliver (and making your fans believe you are going to deliver) your promise on making a great album. If you don’t deliver then fans won’t want to donate again and with the current record label model on the edge of extinction for small to intermediate levels bands, there’s not much else you can do.
Although the gamble arguably didn’t pay off for Breed 77, Protest The Hero ended up with an incredible product, elevated more when you consider it was carried solely by the dedication of the fan base. There are many bands who have made this work, including Australian band Mammal and rock giants Marillion, who both funded the creation of albums through pre-orders, the latter doing so way back in 2001! All things considered, there is definitely still life in the music industry.
Recommended Protest The Hero:
- ‘Turn Soonest To The Sea’ from ‘Kezia’
- ‘Bloodmeat’ from ‘Fortress’
- ‘Sequoia Throne’ from ‘Fortress’
- ‘C’est La Vie’ from ‘Scurrilous’
- ‘Clarity’ from ‘Volition’
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