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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Microsoft wants to pay your band, maybe

Posted by on Thu, Jun 25, 2009 at 12:19 PM

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="208" caption="Red star."]Savior of the music industry?[/caption]

In defense of Twitter: There are some pretty sweet tweets floating around, including one yesterday from @hnmtf. "We just released a new track from the looking for bruce recording session Do the Human - FREE!," it read, offering a link to a bit of Web 2.0 marketing shared between Windows and ReverbNation—wherein one could, as promised, download "Do The Human."

For local fans, "Do The Human" isn't entirely new: It was (but isn't any more) offered as a digital bonus for folks who ordered Hammer's J. Robbins-produced Looking For Bruce directly from Churchkey Records, and I swear, I heard a demo of this song floating around more than a year ago. Hammer's Duncan Webster backs me up. "'Do The Human' was actually the third song we ever wrote. I think we wrote it in January of 2007. It was on our demo CD."

But what's most interesting in this development isn't the actual newness of the track, or that a band has offered a free song for download. And it's not that OMG Hammer's on the Interwebs!!!!!!!!!!11 Lulz (Here's lookin' at you, Stereogum). This little tweet was only a small piece of a much bigger new marketing from Microsoft: ReverbNation, the partly-Durham-based social networking site for musicians, has launched a new program called Sponsored Songs, in which its corporate sponsor (in this case, Microsoft Windows), provides free downloads to music consumers. This first offering boasts 1,000 exclusive cuts from not only Hammer, but acts including Slightly Stoopid, RX Bandits, The Lemonheads and Underoath.

And Hammer’s is far from the only notable local offering. ReverbNation’s Jed Carlson posted a complete list of regional acts contributing to the Microsoft project here. But some particularly interesting (read: otherwise unavailable) contributions include “Gin And Tonic” from The Future Kings of Nowhere, Bull City’s “On and On” and Schooner’s “Feel Better.”

Also of note, this clarification offered by an e-mail from Schooner’s Reid Johnson: “This should not be misconstrued as a Schooner endorsement of Microsoft.”

Indeed, there’s another motive. For each unique download a song receives, the artist gets 50 cents. In exchange, the artist agrees to an advertisement embedded on the track’s digital cover art.

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"The advertising in Sponsored Songs travels with the fans wherever they enjoy their music—following them onto the subway, going with them to the gym, and showing up at the party," says a press release from ReverbNation, "giving the advertiser frequent and regular brand exposure, and the fan free music."

This promises not only to serve the corporate advertisers —lifestyle branding, y'all—but to give up-and-coming artists a new opportunity for mass-market exposure. And given the two biggest issues facing those attempting make a career of music might be a) the obsolete CD format, and b) the super-saturated new-music market, this could be a new means for bands to both make money and catch the ears of new fans.

If nothing else, this sort of experimenting with digital formats and corporate patronage stretches the existing means of distributing music as a commercial commodity. Not unlike Mountain Dew's Green Label Sound project—which has released free downloads by The Cool Kids and Matt & Kim—or Scion's ultra-rad Rockfest, the Sponsored Songs project is a motion toward a general acceptance of "selling out."

Or at least a redefinition of it: Of course, it does raise an essential question: As long as the music is being treated as something with intrinsic value, providing artists with a means to be compensated for their work, should we really care where the money is coming from?

More to come on this idea in next week's paper.

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