MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
The entire music industry has fractured in recent years. It's still dominated by a few big corporations, but they are in trouble. And there are thousands of smaller companies in the game too.
NPR's Laura Sydell reports on the growth of websites and services that try to sell musicians a way to connect with their fans.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE")
LAURA SYDELL: This song has been listened to nearly 250,000 times on the MySpace page belonging to Amy Kuney.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE")
AMY KUNEY: (Singing) Can't pull myself out of the bed. It's 12:00.
SYDELL: Kuney is 25 and is part of the new class of musicians who are bushwhacking their way to success. Kuney isn't necessarily trying to use the old formula of getting signed to a record label, which is becoming increasingly difficult as the business splinters. Instead, she's using a variety of online tools from social media to YouTube.
Reese Lasher is her manager.
REESE LASHER: If you do things according to the formula, you have so much competition. And if you do things in a very different way and you forge your own path, you really don't have any at all. And so we spend a lot of time trying to figure out ways to connect Amy with her fans in an out-of-the-box way.
SYDELL: Whatever Lasher is doing for Kuney, it's working, because as an unsigned artist, Amy Kuney is making enough money to support herself, her manager and a small staff.
Eric Garland, the founder and CEO of Big Champagne, which tracks music online, says Kuney represents the new do-it-yourself dream for tens of thousands of musicians.
ERIC GARLAND: You do have many artists who set out to make a living as a small business - as an independent artist - and grow that business without necessarily having any intention or expectation that they will do business with a major music company.
SYDELL: But these independent artists do expect to do business with a growing array of small companies. Amy Kuney's manager, Reese Lasher, says she's constantly sifting through new sites that promise to help musicians manage their fans, their download sales, their social networks.
LASHER: And to figure out which one is the best is really difficult, because there are all sorts of, like, hidden fees - you know, with Bandcamp, you have - they take 15 percent, which sounds great - it's significantly less than iTunes, obviously - but then there's also, like, the 3 percent that you have to pay for PayPal.
SYDELL: Another service musicians are using is TuneCore. Jeff Price is the company's founder and CEO.
JEFF PRICE: And the concept behind TuneCore is to enable any artist or any musician or anyone that creates music or sound or spoken word to have access to distribution.
SYDELL: That means that TuneCore will get your music on iTunes, Napster, Amazon, Zune and a long list of other places where artists want to be selling their songs. Unlike the old record label model, where the artist only got a percentage of the sales, TuneCore artists pay an up-front fee - $10 for a single, 50 bucks for an album - and they get to keep all the proceeds from their sales. Price, who worked for years in the traditional music business, says that in 2009 TuneCore artists generated over $35 million in gross revenue.
PRICE: Every single month, I'm looking at thousands upon thousands of artists generating - some, just a hundred dollars, but many generating over 10, 20, $30,000. And that's not an anomaly anymore.
SYDELL: But TuneCore also has over 500,000 artists using its services. Most of them are not making a living, says analyst Eric Garland.
GARLAND: Every sound being created in every dorm room or every shower or every basement is now just a couple of clicks away from being out there.
SYDELL: The challenge now is to rise above the noise, and many new online companies are trying to sell musicians on the idea that they can help them do that.
AMIR MOHAMMED: There are so many companies that are coming about that are realizing that there are enough artists to make a living off of.
SYDELL: Amir Mohammed is a rap artist and producer who goes by the name of Oddisee. He says he's constantly getting what he calls reeled in to trying new services.
MOHAMMED: And the reel in is when the service is free at first and you become addicted to it and hooked, and it becomes essential in your business. And then, they initiate a fee.
SYDELL: Oddisee is one the lucky independents who's making a living. He's part of a hip-hop scene with its roots in the area around Washington, D.C.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M FROM PG")
ODDISEE: (Singing) I'm so independent. I do my own thing. I'm not a concept. I'm my own dream.
SYDELL: Oddisee says in today's fractured music culture, if you can find a thousand fans around the world to pay you $50 a year, you can make a living.
LAURA SYDELL, NPR News.
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