One recurring theme I've encountered while exploring the music industry since moving to Nashville is just how expendable the giant record labels have become. As it turns out, pissing on your customers is a pretty awful business model. Artists are increasingly finding ways to fund their music that not only don't screw over their fans, but actually bring their fans into the production process, and that allow artists to keep more of what they make from their work to boot.
All of the artists who have done "Songs From My Couch" sessions -- Matthew Perryman Jones and Tom House -- have both had rewarding careers while bypassing the major labels. Jones' last album was funded entirely through a Kickstarter campaign. In a couple weeks I'll post videos from our most recent session with Griffin House, who funded his most recent album the same way.
I bring all of this up because another group of enormously talented Nashville artists are using Kickstarter to fund an album, along with a photo and video series, live performances, art gallery exhibits, and dance. Kate Tucker and the Sons of Sweden are committing to an admirably ambitious project.
We want to record a new album, THE SHAPE THE COLOR THE FEEL, and create a collaborative visual experience surrounding it. We believe that great music is inspired by great films and visual art, and great films and visual art are inspired by great music. It’s a beautiful cycle and we will explore it in this project by working with eight filmmakers to create music videos or short films for each of the songs on the album. We will release each film serially as the album rolls out along with an experimental documentary that retrospectively features the community that this collaborative venture will inevitably foster. And most of all we want to invite you to join us in the creative process.
In a time where a whole world of sound and experience can be compressed into a tiny digital file that we send to each other on our cell phones, we like the idea of attaching moving picture to this tiny little file and giving it some weight. So much goes into creating a song and a sound and an album and even more goes into making a film and all of that time, love, and attention is something we want to remember.
With that in mind, and a great love for collecting vinyl, we also want to give this album a physical presence. We’ll be releasing the album on limited edition 180 gram vinyl featuring art by Australian artist Jessie English. Jessie is creating a photo installation that will exist in the real world and will also inform the overall visual aesthetic of THE SHAPE THE COLOR THE FEEL. Jessie’s work has been shown in Sydney and NYC and we are excited to plan gallery openings surrounding the album release in Nashville, NYC, and Seattle, Washington.
I love this idea. As wonderful as it is that technology, social media, and new music formats are allowing artists to bring fans into the production process, and to write, record, produce, and distribute an album without signing their rights and independence away to Sony or Warner Brothers, the transition hasn't come without some costs. The big, beautiful album art of the 1970s and early 1980s is gone. You now get that 2 x 2 inch square that pops up on your iPhone. The lifespan of the music video as an art form was even shorter. Thriller and November Rain are excesses of the past. The substance of music itself has suffered, too. The MP3 culture has basically brought us back to the era of the single. There just isn't much room for a themed or concept album anymore. Studios also now engineer songs for portable devices, and a lot of sound is getting lost along the way. (There's more to the vinyl revival than just hipster culture. It really is a richer, fuller sound.)
I'm not lamenting the technology, here. The iPod revolution has done wonderful things for music. But in some ways, it has also shrunk music as an art form. There's a bit of irony at work here: As the democratization of technology has made us all increasingly multimedia savvy, music has grown increasingly one-dimensional.
Anyway, back to Kate Tucker. What I love about this project is that its aim is to blow it all back out. The idea here is to bring the visual and conceptual components back to music. You'll be able to download the songs for your MP3 player, but you can also get the fuller, less-loss recordings on vinyl. It's also a pretty bold to create and record a song, then hand it off to a photographer or filmmaker to interpret as they please -- and to let that interpretation be the way the song is presented to the public.
But the real beauty of the project is that just as it seeks to recapture some of what music has lost to technology, it's utilizing the same technology to make that happen. It'll be funded by crowd-sourcing. It will be promoted through social media. You'll be able to see the artwork online, and stream the videos on YouTube. It's really an effort to bring the best of the past and present together.
Of course, it'll never happen unless it gets enough funding. So you should go donate. I did.
Just so you know what you'll be supporting, here's a great song the band released a few years ago:
And here's a more recent acoustic Kate Tucker performance recorded here in Nashville: