Sellaband to crowdsource free music

German startup is hoping to leverage the wisdom, and cash, of the crowd to produce high quality independent music for free download on their site. It’s a fascinating prospect even if it seems unlikely to succeed.

The way it works is this: bands upload sample music to, promote the heck out of their profile page and ask fans to chip in $10 per share of a recording that will be produced when the band raises $50,000. The fans can take their money back out at any time before the goal is met. Once recordings are made, they are offered for free on the Sellaband site, where ad revenue will be split between the bands (60%), Sellaband (30%) and the hired producer and manager. Fans each get a copy of the recorded CD and bands are free to offer them any other benefits, like concert tickets, that they wish. Sellaband retains rights on the music for 12 months. The company seems confident that bands will be able to find 5,000 supporters (called “Believers”) willing to put up $10 apiece.

One week since signing on, most of the 130 bands on the site have raised between $200 and $500. One Goth band from the Netherlands has raised $4500. Sellaband says that the $50,000 goal is what’s needed to provide the kind of quality equipment and support that a major record label could provide. The company takes none of this money, only 30% of the site’s ad revenue. The company is made up of people who used to work at major labels and you’ve got to admire what they are doing. You’ve probably also got to give them some credit when they say that they can produce a better album with $50,000 than you or I could, they may well be right.

The web site is very well designed, has clean URLs for profile pages and could work well in conjunction with other social sites. In fact, one quote on the site calls Sellaband “the next step in the mypace generation’s guerrilla assault on the industry.” Unfortunately, it’s one thing to get thousands of teenagers to accept friend requests from a band and I think it’s another to get them to enter a credit card number and buy a stake in a band on the internet. But maybe I’m wrong. If there was some option to pay even smaller amounts, via cell phone text message perhaps, then this would seem more viable.

Perhaps though the prospect of building a site filled with free music from bands that large numbers of people agree are good, and getting a CD out of it, will be motivation enough for lots of people to part ways with $10. Of course they can get a refund at any time, but the likelihood of remembering to go back and get your $10 put back on a credit card seems small. Grant Robertson writes over at the Digital Music Weblog that Sellaband is the type of thing he’s expected to see for some time, but reserves judgment on the strategy.

I like the new business model idea for music, I like it a lot. Last month Mike reviewed another service called Amie Street, where people purchase individual tracks at prices set according to demand – starting at free or for pennies. Users who recommend songs in that system get to share the revenue from sales. I’d love to follow up in two years and see which, if either, of these systems has proven viable.