2008.03.26 She gets by with a lot of help from her fans

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

In the music business, there are people like Bruce Springsteen, who seem to make a hit out of anything they decide to record and make millions of dollars. And then there’s someone like Jill Sobule.

A contemporary of Alanis Morissette, Sobule’s style is often compared to the late Warren Zevon. That’s considered high praise in this corner. Interestingly, Sobule and Zevon used to tour together, serving as each other’s backup band as neither could afford one. She sang on the tribute CD released after Warren’s death, sharing equal billing with the likes of other Zevon friends like Springsteen and Bob Dylan.

Like Zevon, her biggest fame came from a quirky semi-hit early in her career. The controversial “I Kissed A Girl,” from her first album, remains the high point in a musical odyssey covering six albums and four record companies, two of which went bankrupt around her.

Attempting to gain some control over her career (and with no other options), Sobule decided to raise the money to put out her next album directly from her fans, becoming, in effect, her own record company. There was some thought given to selling stock and sharing whatever profits the CD made, but the avalanche of paperwork and government regulations involved in such a scheme seemed onerous.

Instead, the decision was made to solicit contributions online and offer thank you gifts to donors. This enabled fans to receive perks usually reserved for music industry insiders.

I always enjoy reading the thank yous in a CD’s liner notes, wondering who the often unknown names belong to. For a mere $50, Sobule offered a copy of the finished CD and a thank you in the liner notes. A total of 174 fans took advantage of the offer (it would have been 175 had I known about it sooner).

Fans with $500 and a big ego could actually get referred to on the CD’s final track, an instrumental on which Sobule promised to mention and maybe even rhyme with the names of donors. This could have been an extremely long track, but with only 23 donors to cite, it shouldn’t be that bad. I’d warn Jill not to release this one as the first single, however.

Or double your donation and Sobule would write your own theme song. Yes, for $1,000, Sobule would write a personalized song which you could put on your answering machine. How much do you suppose Bob Dylan would charge for something like this? Sobule received eight donors at this level.

Getting up into the big bucks, for $5,000, Sobule would come to your home and put on a concert for you. She’s actually done quite a few house concerts in the past, and claims hosts often charge their guests to get their money back. This would seem like a good way for people looking for a career in concert promotions who happen to have a large home to get some experience. There were just three takers at this level, so Jill won’t have to add too many dates to her calendar.

Finally, for a $10,000 donation, you could actually sing on Sobule’s album. I would have expected some “American Idol” wannabes to jump at this opportunity. Jill even offered to fix any lack of singing ability on her end, or “You can always play the cowbell.”

I was amazed that only one person opted to cough up ten grand and sing on the CD, but no matter. Sobule’s original goal was $75,000 to cover recording costs and a few more donors got through before the website quit taking pledges, so 554 fans ended up giving in excess of $80,000. The top 14 contributors alone pledged $38,000 of that total.

Sobule joked on her website about heading to the Atlantic City casinos with the money, but instead promises to make her fans and donors a great record. Since I didn’t find out about the fund raising until a few days after Jill met her goal, I’ve still got the money I would have donated to her. I probably should use it to help some other musician or group, but who?

I couldn’t even buy a ticket to see Bruce Springsteen for $50, so there’s no chance that would buy me a liner note mention. Maybe I could spend the cash to reunite some forgotten group like Adam & The Ants, Brewer & Shipley or Mott the Hoople.

Or do you suppose The Knack would come to Fayette and sing “My Sharona” in my apartment for $50? Actually, that’s a dumb idea. I should start by offering them $25. I might get two concerts for the price of one.

 

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