The limited edition version of the album is actually an object you might care about. So, yes, as the digital album evolves from strange plastic jewel cases into ephemeral download form, it’s evolving the other way, too.

If anyone had listened to the predictions, albums would be irrelevant by now. Instead, finding a way to weave music into a coherent narrative of tracks, and imbuing the object with meaning and value, matters more than ever. Finding time and resources is as much a challenge as ever, but there are some new tools for funding and finding music, even in the age of exploding global population and output.

Auditory Canvas’ record “Fabric of Life” is one of the many gems out there to discover. It’s a sparkling, delicate dreamscape of music, noted by our friend stretta (known for his own lovely music in the monome community). I’m not as fond of the final cuts on the album, personally; the spoken political narrative for me isn’t nearly as evocative as the opening numbers. (It’s nonetheless nice to hear music injected with such a point of view.) But there is a strong sense that creator David of Summer Rain Recordings is traversing a varied and personal musical terrain. It’s the kind of music that could bring you some spring inspiration.

<a href="http://auditorycanvas.bandcamp.com/album/fabric-of-life">Lost and Found by Auditory Canvas</a>

Just as significant, Auditory Canvas made the album possible by crowdsourcing “kickstarter” funding at kickstarter.com. And lest such projects become selfish, by purchasing the album, you generate revenue to go back into the kickstarter system. Album production, after all, is far cheaper than it once was, but it isn’t free. “Fabric of Life” demonstrates what could happen to musical ecology if this kind of micro-lending invested in good, new work. And your purchase becomes a way to turn David into an investor himself in the system, keeping the cycle going.

The personal scale of David’s studio is one familiar to many readers of this site. But that doesn’t mean production is free.

To make that purchase worthwhile, Auditory Canvas put some thought into the lovely presentation; the limited edition has an almost theatrical approach to packaging, and even comes with a papercraft KORG synth (which I can add to my paper Minimoog from GAS). David writes with a number of talking points:

The interesting thing about the release strategy is, while it does make the album available through digital channels, it provides some big incentives to go straight to the artist. And that kind of self-motivated album release may increasingly become essential. For a stunning visualization of why, look no further than the lovely blog Information is Beautiful. Using data and analysis from The Cynical Musician, it paints a sobering portrait of the harsh realities of digital distribution. Artists would have to get 1.5+ million plays on Last.fm’s streaming service just to make a month’s living wage.

Auditory Canvas live. All images courtesy the artist. Used by permission.

It’s certainly a glass half-empty / half-full situation, though: you’d only need to sell 143 self-pressed CDs. And that should be optimistic: online tools, even those that sell music, are great promotional tools; boutique sales of physical objects (or even of downloads, in situations where the artist gets a bigger cut) are where the revenue is. And even if that doesn’t help you quit your day job, that could be essential in being able to invest in your next record and keep artists productive. (This is also, it seems to me, a great argument for the potential value of torrents and Creative Commons licensing. If the online file is a promotional tool, best to get it far and try to leverage the things that do bring in money than try to get a few extra nickels and dimes.)

It also pretty clearly makes the challenges facing the business of music about format and economies of scale, not piracy (or, at the very least, not piracy alone – not by a long shot, if the “legal” services aren’t generating measurable revenue, either).

HOW MUCH DO MUSIC ARTISTS EARN ONLINE?

You need to see the full graphic to appreciate the data visualization, but the short answer is, for most artists, a service like Last.fm might as well pay you nothing. (On the other hand, you don’t incur costs for streaming – that part is good. But it’s a source of neither red nor black ink.)

Thanks to David for sharing his lovely music. And I expect, whether you’re a great fan of the album or not, this should get some wheels turning about that album you’ve been trying to finish.

  • Radiophobic

    A friend of mine wondered what that white slider interface is under the virus. Anyone have any ideas?

  • Aphasia

    Pretty sure that that's an APC40.

  • http://www.olivierseb.com olivier sebillotte

    @Radiophobic

    it is a white version of the AKAI APC40

    I guess it is an home made customization.

    By the way,

    Nice music and article, as usual ;-)

    Thanks Peter

  • tony

    looks like the APC 40 but I think its not, I would be sure it looks like the APC 40 but with this photo size cannot tell.

  • Adrian Anders

    Reminds me of the limited edition preorder packaging of a Devin Townsend album I got for my girlfriend last X-Mas. Basically the cover was repainted by Devin himself, and the album came with some limited edition goodies like a hoodie. This I'm sure was good seed money to cover the album's production.

    I see "Fans" investing into a band directly starting to become more of the norm in the indie to moderate music scenes. Not doing so for direct monetary value, but for exclusive content and a connection to the band itself. This isn’t some feel good guilt trip either, but something substantial that carries direct utilitarian weight for the fan/investor.

    Another common tactic I've been seeing is early adopters/fans getting a unique taste for free/open (ala Theophilus London's mixtapes), in anticipation of a commercial release later on.

    I think Radiohead/Saul Williams hurt themselves a bit to go the "name-your-own-price" route, only to re-release the album on a label in a more "complete" form. They should have looked instead at their respective albums as promotional material for their next project. At the very least they should have not punished the early adopters who paid into the "album" already by allowing them to buy digital download links to the bonus material directly for a nominal amount. Why should they spend $7.50 on the pre-release, and then pay another $15 just for the bonus tracks 6 months later? This will only result in piracy from actual fans who actually paid money for the album they are “stealing”.

    I think over time cream content does rise to the top in this new paradigm, although it helps to have a good social marketing framework that isn't too pushy. Making potential fans feel special, part of an underground clique is essential. If the early fans get a good deal by underpricing the early/pre-release version of the album, live with it. It is better to lose initial revenue by underpricing an album for a subset of fans than to lose those loyal fans by trying to upsell them on the "real" version of the album later.

  • Radiophobic

    You guys are right, that is an APC. I wasn't sure because I didn't think it came in white, and it would have looked black in that photo. This posting kind of confirms it tho…

    http://forum.ableton.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=

  • http://chillbase.org iTranscendence

    Free promotional CCL for Chillout artists @ chillbase.org

  • Richard D

    I have to say, I think crowdsourcing is one of the worst "new" concepts in the music industry. It's essentially digital "beggaring".

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  • http://abletonlife.com Ryan

    The kind of forward thinking stuff that makes me so happy to be a part of the electronic music community.

    -Ryan

  • Auditory Canvas

    Thanks to Peter for the coverage, and thanks to everyone for their comments.

    Richard, when I first thought of doing it, it did feel like that, then the more I thought about it, the more I saw it as essentially no different than pre-sales, given that there were rewards for different contribution levels, it was more like either a pre-sale of the album, plus some extras, or even some things you wouldn't get from the artist otherwise.

    Appreciate that if that went too far then it would essentially just be like being a trick pony for money, but perspective can even it out to a point.

    As for the white controller, it is indeed a customised APC40, I gave it a white spray job, with grey sliders and knob caps, and made some wooden end cheeks so it matched the angle, height, and style of the monome (to the left of it) that I use it with for live performance.

  • http://www.suecae.com Suecae

    That CD package is gorgeous.

  • booml

    Nice idea and all, but the music? Meh. Wouldn't pay for it.

  • http://www.suecae.com Suecae

    booml:

    I kindly disagree. I appriciate the sparse elements and the inherent nakedness of fabric of life. Kind of like a soft form of intelligent dance music.

  • Nordmach

    FANTASTIC!!!!!

  • http://lab.pubspaces.com Paul Croker

    Beautifully crafted, every sound just feels like it was meant to be there. Sonic delight. Truly excellent work.

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  • vinayk

    Just wanted to add a big, big big thank you for your very well thought out purchasing options. Having just ripped 100 or so cd's to apple lossless via XLD one by one (then converted all to mp3) – I was really happy that you offered the same in digital format, already ripped and packaged up with the MP3s!!!

    I'd buy the cd if I was in the states – but here in Australia – the postage makes things too expensive. But am happy with the 9.50 price for the downloads too!

    THanks guys,

    Music sounds great!

  • http://durkkooistra.com Durk

    my lord what a screen… I would have spent some more bucks on the monitors instead. Anyway:

    The music seems very loopy for the organic sounds used.I would have liked this to evolve in to a musical piece rather than a organic version of dance music(thinking of the likes as Murcof)

  • Auditory Canvas

    Thanks to everyone for the feedback.

    Booml, and Durk, thanks for the honesty, I appreciate it wasn't so much your thing, I guess no music can please everyone, and rightly so too – different tastes are what keep this world interesting and varied.

    Vinayk, thank you for the kind words and support, it's good to hear the options are useful.

  • Steven Nguyen

    I just bought this CD. I can't wait until it arrives, and the addition of the free digital download is a really nice touch. I have been listening to the album non-stop and I still love it! Excellent work.

  • http://siunit.clanteam.com SiUnit

    This album is amazing, you were right Peter: it has inspired me.

    Beautiful sounds combined masterfully. Love it. Thank you.

  • Auditory Canvas

    Steven and siunit, thank you very much, your comments just brightened up my morning.

  • aaa!

    i still can't get that excited about physical packaging – i mean, if you are getting the music as a download anyway when you buy the CD version, is a fancy box really going to heighten you appreciation of the SOUND??? it looks well made, but do you really want to fiddle with all that bag, box and packaging every time you want to hear a track? I'd rather just click play on a screen…

  • http://xfader.com regend

    i like the music. i don't' think it's begging. the record industry has always been shaped around the concept that someone is going to invest in you. bands banked on an advance to make a living. this concept was always the fat cat giving to the starving artist. now the industry is smashed because in reality they were the middle man to the consumer. in this model the consumer gives direct to the artist for recording, marketing, and promotional material. it really depends on how legitimate an artist is though. i think that a goal of two grand is modest. someone would argue it could have been done for less than that but the beauty is also in the packaging and i would pay a graphic artist for their services if they did a project like this with me. it took 45 people to make this happen and who knows how much they contributed but the fact remains that those 45 people are now invested in this artist. the artist may decide to give those individuals a return on invest through future sales and then meet ROI goals. people, that's how capitalism functions. it's not begging.

  • Darren

    Stunning music—beautiful! The packaging is an extension of the artistic expression..intricate and tasteful. For me, these mediums go hand in hand.

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  • http://www.rolandreinke.com Roland Reinke

    My first impression is very positive. Good work!

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