Help Portishead Find a New Business Model

portishead @ atp, obo-bobolina | CC BY-NC

Portishead, an experimental-pop group and pioneers of the early 90s electronica movement, announced yesterday that they are now “free agents”, having completed their three record deal with Island Records. The band is looking at new ways to sell their music and are reaching out to their fans for advice:

with the world being the way it is there are lots of options open……but if you lot have any bright ideas of how we should sell our music in the future lets us know , why not!

i dont think that were into giving out music away for free to be honest…it […] takes ages to write and we have to heat our swimming pools…..!!!

While Portishead mention an aversion to giving away music for free, our thoughts immediately turned to a CC+ licensing model similar to what Nine Inch Nails used in marketing Ghosts I-IV and The Slip this past year. NIN gave away their music for free under a CC BY-NC-SA license, but they also found immediate and substantial financial return as well as seeing their long-term sales flourish.

NIN achieved this by selling different versions of the same content; there was the initial free download of the first nine tracks of Ghosts, but fans could also purchase a $5 download of the whole album, a $10 2xCD set, a $75 DVD box set, and finally, a limited edition $300 ultra-deluxe box set signed and numbered by Trent himself, all of it CC licensed. Given the notoriety of Portishead fans, something tells us that if the band were to offer a $300 unreleased album in an ultra-deluxe box set in conjunction with freely licensed versions of the same music, it would probably sell out just as quick as NIN’s 2,500 copies did.

So let Portishead know that there are indeed ways to make money while giving music away for free – its all about connecting with their fans via CC, and giving them an easy way to support the band.

10 thoughts on “Help Portishead Find a New Business Model”

  1. Create an I-phone app that will scroll the lyrics of each song across the screen while the song plays, like karaoke, and just charge $2.00 a song or something.

  2. MP3 are the demand medium for music and many people are adverse to giving record companies or big business their $ for music anymore. I wish all artists would sell their mp3 directly from their own website. I would feel good about rewarding artists for their product knowing that they received 100% of the purchase price.

  3. This is BS. The best music of the 20th C. came out when people like Ahmet Ertegun ran Atlantic Records and Berry Gordy ran Motown. Music thrived when smart, motivated people ran “mom and pop” record companies. They cared about music, and they liked making a buck. The future of pop music is bleak, esp. when we’re using NIN as an example of “how to do it.” Ugh.

  4. Being a portishead fan, i think seeing the band behind the scenes creating their music is great. like metallica in monster they sold albums because they were so open to the public in their creation. it would be great to see. the closest we have to seeing in the minds of portishead is their music and the NYC DVD.

  5. @Nick a lot has changed in the half century since the examples you cite, but there are still plenty of (probably many more) motivated “mom and pop” music curators. Some are still recognizable as labels (eg indies), others are netlabels. Many bands can effectively be their own label, NIN being an example.

    Whether you like current or future pop music aesthetically or not, it seems a stretch to chalk up to a lack of “mom and pop” operators and music lovers.

  6. Hi,

    More observational than recommendations but here goes…

    1) The best music genres tend to have a locality to them created by a hotbed of talent in the area the music comes from. This can either be a new style or more typically a new slant on an existing music style. This needs to be encouraged … are you doing this? … putting things back?

    2) Bands in the 60’s and 70’s, maybe 80’s used to be have supporters almost like a football club. Fans would keep the faith and jolly along the artists to greater and better things. I recall vividly in the 70’s we used to paint the flaps of our school haversacks with the latest album covers of the bands we supported )used to keep the rain off our school books as well, nothing worse than handing in soggy homework :-). Cool merchandise spreads the word … e.g. AC/DC shirts, Rolling Stones tongue logo, Pink Floyd PRISM DSM, Sex Pistols NMB, etc … Album artwork can make such a strong reinforcement to the musical message…

    3) The Net makes it easier for established bands to promote their music directly to the fans and attract new fans. This plus great PR and Marketing Strategy really offers a very powerful and effective means to promote the music, merchandise and most importantly the live events. So just get great at marketing and selling. Oh and BTW having a flashy website is not the main focus, its the content and the music that matters.

    4) Record companies exist to identify, promote and provide sales channels to market for bands. Its hard to be creative and run what is essentially a business in parallel. Once you step outside the envelope of the record company, you (or more likely your appointed management has to take on the responsibility of promoting the band and getting the gigs as well as managing finances, and keeping the personalities onside and on focus). Meanwhile you need to keep delivering the musical goods … never loose sight of that … Keep your finger on the finances and promotion but get experts in to do the work … you will either screw it up or your music will go off the boil or both! So Record companies have their downsides but also plenty of upsides and they are an essential ingredient to music.

    5) Success leads to arrogance … arrogance leads to failure
    Stay humble and think of every album as if it is your first. Attack yourselves to keep fresh … but don’t go outside of what you are renowned for. Your fans like to hear the old stuff as well as the new stuff. You are essentially a brand and a brand needs careful management (gentle nudges rather than wild inflections).

    6) Everyone needs to be committed. Every band member has to be an ambassador for the band.

    7) Look for external help and inspiration … It will not be easy stepping out on your own but with courage, determination, tenacity and the support of your loyal fans you could very well achieve the longevity in the business you desire. Role models … Chris Rea, Kraftwork, OMD, Jeff Beck

    So in summary promote, give back, inspire, attack yourselves, keep fresh but stick to your roots … be a trend and not a fad…. The time for wild inflections was before you were established not after (yes i am sure there are one or two exceptions but they are few and far between … if you are really massive the fans will forgive one lemon so long as you get back on track again with the next one). Keep on the road and promote yourselves whenever and wherever…

    Best of luck

    P.S. Drain the pools and use the money saved to encourage new musicians and save some energy and carbon! The only artist ever inspired by swimming pools was David Hockney!

  7. Within the fashion industry, intellectual property is not enforced as it is within the film industry and music industry. To “take inspiration” from others’ designs contributes to the fashion industry’s ability to establish clothing trends. Enticing consumers to buy clothing by establishing new trends is, some have argued, a key component of the industry’s success. Intellectual property rules that interfere with the process of trend-making would, on this view, be counter-productive. In contrast, it is often argued that the blatant theft of new ideas, unique designs, and design details by larger companies is what often contributes to the failure of many smaller or independent design companies.

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