Singer turns to fans to fund new album

Singer-songwriter Jill Sobule

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: The South by Southwest music festival gets going today in Austin, Texas. This probably isn't the best time ever to be looking to land a recording contract. Some of the big name record labels have consolidated or closed up shop completely. Even before you throw the recession into the mix. That makes it hard to get paid to make music, or even scrape the money together to make a record in the first place. Jill Sobule is one singer who has figured out a way to put out an album and finance it herself. Or, more accurately, with the help of five or six hundred of her biggest fans. Jill, thanks for being here.

JILL SOBULE: Thank you for having me.

Ryssdal: Where did this idea come from of trying to get your fans to support your album?

SOBULE: I think it was the thought of after having been on two major records, and then my last two major indie records the companies went belly up. I thought, What am I going to do now? Do it on my own, except I didn't have any money. So, I thought, I'm going to do the old patron system, and I'm going to ask for my fans to donate and give me money, although for goods and services.

Ryssdal: What does that mean, for goods and services?

SOBULE: Well, I had different levels of donations. From the "polished rock," which would be a free download, to different levels. One was I'm going to write you a theme song or a house concert, I'll put you in the liner notes. And then I had all the way to "weapons-grade plutonium," which was $10,000, which I thought no would ever do. It was kinda a joke, which was you get to sing on my record. And someone gave it to me.

Ryssdal: Seriously?

SOBULE: Yeah, and she was great.

Ryssdal: Did you worry about who would give? I mean there was a chance that it could have only have been, like, your three best friends who gave money.

SOBULE: The whole idea . . . there was the fear that it could be completely humiliating. That it would be my mom and her mahjong friends or something. So, it took me completely by surprise, and I think it was just a little more than six weeks that I reached the goal. And, really, I was shocked.

Ryssdal: And I have it right, it's $85,000 that you raised, right?

SOBULE: Yeah, originally I stopped it at $75,000 but people kept giving, and I had to cut it off at some point.

Ryssdal: All right, so now that you've got the money to make the album, and you're not with a major record label, or even an indie label, now what do you do? Because one of the things that labels do for you is take care of promotion and getting you out on the road. What are you going to do?

SOBULE: Well, I've already recorded the record, and it comes out April. But so far, I actually haven't written a song in, like, three months, because all I've been is a record company. So I've been trying to everything that a record company does -- distribution, marketing, hiring someone to do publicity -- so it's a lot of work. But it's been really fun. And I also think that the artist directly going to the fan without a middleman . . . I think sometimes the people you pay to be the middleman, they don't do that great of a job. I think a radio person or someone would rather go directly to the artist, it seems we're better at it in a way.

Ryssdal: Once this album hits the charts, and you make a million dollars on it, you get all that money, right?

SOBULE: Yes, I get all that money, but they . . . and then I'll have to figure out what else I can give them. I mean originally what I wanted to do is figure out a way where everyone could have stocks in my PinkoRecords.com, but the way the laws are here for such a small business, it made it incredibly difficult. But next time I still want to figure how to do that.

Ryssdal: So there will be a next time then?

SOBULE: Oh, there'll be a next time, and I'll come up with even better ideas to give.

Ryssdal: Hey, Jill, thanks so much for your time.

SOBULE: Thank you. And maybe you can sing on my record next time.

Ryssdal: Yeah, I don't think actually you want to hear me sing. But I'm wondering if maybe before you go you can sing something for us . . . maybe, "Heroes."

Sobule: Sure.

[Sobule sings]

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