Arts, Culture & Media

Fans heart Jill Sobule


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As long as there has been a record business, musicians have had a tortured relationship with it.  And for the last decade, as the record industry has imploded, it has only gotten worse.

One day, not so long ago, the singer-songwriter Jill Sobule had a wakeup call.  After getting fed up with the way things were set up, she decided to go about making a record in an unorthodox manner.  She asked her fans to donate money to pay for the production of her new album, and they responded with $75,000.

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Sobule's new fan-financed album, titled "California Years ," has a full quota of her witty pop songs.

"I had the idea a couple of years ago.  The one great thing is that I keep close contact with the fans.  It's not a huge, huge fan base, but it's a mighty fan base.  They are very loyal, and I think part of it is because I always write back."

She sent an email to her fans and asked, "What do you guys think about becoming my record company?"

There was some strategy involved from the start.  "First, I had to think about how I would do it because I didn't want to say, 'Just give me money,' it had to be in return for something, sort of gifts and services."

"Sort of like public radio," says host Kurt Andersen.

"It was a very public radio idea that I had.  So, I had a couple of glasses of wine, and went over the different kind of levels of donation and what they would get. ...  There is 'theme song,' where I would write you a theme song; that was like $1,000." 

Sobule also would show up at your house to play for a donation, and offered name mentioning in the liner notes of the new CD, or in the last song in the CD .  "The best one was -- this was a total joke; I didn't think it would happen -- 'weapons-grade plutonium, where you get to sing on my record.  A woman came in from the U.K.  She did a bang-up job, I must say."

The money raised from fans was used not only to record the albumm and hire a producer, but also to fund the things that a record label would normally do.  "The $75 (thousand) wasn't jsut for recording, that was probably just half of it.  It was really to figure out -- to try to do what a record company does: marketing, publicity, distribution."

Even though she wasn't "working for the man" in recording this album, Sobule says that there was a different kind of pressure.  "For the most part, it was better.  The scary part was you better make sure that the people who donated, liked it.  It was way more intimidating than 'working for the man.'"


PRI's Peabody Award-winning "Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen" from WNYC is public radio's smart and surprising guide to what's happening in pop culture and the arts. Each week, Kurt Andersen introduces you to the people who are creating and shaping our culture. Life is busy — so let "Studio 360" steer you to the must-see movie this weekend, the next book for your nightstand, or the song that will change your life.