Buy Shares In A Band? Think Of The Possibilities

Do you fancy bankrolling Public Enemy’s next album? If you answered “Yeeeaaah booooyyy!” you’ll want to visit Sellaband, where a new venture enables you to do just that.

The veteran hip-hop act, who are currently unsigned, are aiming to raise $250,000 to fund their 13th studio album, the follow-up to 2007’s ludicrously titled ‘How You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul’. Fans can buy shares, or “parts”, for $25 each. The amount raised so far stands at $18,000 – enough to keep Flavor Flav in lurid novelty clockfaces, but not much else.

Still, Chuck D seems optimistic. For him, the partnership signposts a gleaming future for artists, outside the old, crumbling major-label structure. “Sellaband is the new frontier,” he says. “It will completely redefine the way the music business operates.”

No it won’t. The fan-funded ‘model’ has been knocking around for years. We already have Pledgemusic, Bandstocks (which admittedly helped Patrick Wolf raise £100,000 to record ‘The Bachelor’), Slice The Pie and IndieGoGo – all of them united by the fact that they attract more fawning write-ups in the tech press than they do actual users.

What’s the point? If Public Enemy have enough of a fanbase to fund an album, why do they need Sellaband? Why don’t they appeal to their fans direct – as Marillion have been doing since 2001? And what’s in it for the people who stump up cash? Sellaband is vague on the subject: “Artists might even let you get a cut a cut of their revenues.” Yeah. But they won’t, will they?

The whole enterprise fundamentally alters the relationship between band and fan – and not in a good way. In theory, it’s of a piece with Nine Inch Nails ‘open-sourcing’ their back catalogue via their open-to-all, copyright-free remix site, or Radiohead inviting amateurs to make their own videos for ’15 Step’. Putting fans in charge, democratising ‘content’, yadda yadda. But the difference is, in this case, actual money changes hands. The moment you contribute to band’s recording costs, you’re no longer a fan, you’re a shareholder. And if you think that’s cool or desirable, you’re Bono.

That said, the concept of fan-funded music raises some intriguing questions. Namely: if you have financial stake in the album, do you also have a say in how it’s made? In Public Enemy’s case, could you, for example, tell them to ease up on the excruciating puns (‘Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age’? Come on chaps, I’ve heard Carter USM couplets that were less laboured than that)?

But there’s a serious point here: if fans hold the purse-strings, they also ought to have power of creative veto. I envisage a Dragon’s Den-style scenario, where musicians queue up, with pleading eyes, desperate to attract the largesse of fans: “I’m sorry, The Rev, you’re a good guy, I liked ‘He Said He Loved Me’, but your new album sounds like a shit Bentley Rhythm Ace. I’m out.”

You could extend the concept to any band that’s fallen on creative hard times. Do you think, if REM fans were in charge, they’d settle for an album as limp as ‘Accelerate’? Of course not: they’d blockade the studio doors, force them to keep plugging away until they came up with a song as good as ‘Finest Worksong’.

Me, I’d force Muse to ditch the tedious, wobbly-voiced ballads and focus on writing more of those gigantic riffs that sound like spaceships exploding. And I’d assert my shareholder’s rights by telling Arctic Monkeys to give up trying to sound like Queens Of The Stone Age and start sounding like that thrilling, spiky Sheffield band they used to be.

Imagine the possibilities. If you had shares in a band, any band, what would you tell them to do?