Amazon Helping To Change The Business Of Music

The signs are everywhere that a revolution is taking place in music. DRM is history, the price of music is falling towards zero (and sometimes even free isn’t enough to slow piracy), and even big music sites like Yahoo are beginning to break ranks with the RIAA and labels.

But Amazon may be doing more than anyone else to change the way music is discovered, promoted and sold. Not only do they have a music store that only sells DRM-free music, but they are experimenting with startups who are trying to break the stranglehold that labels have on discovering, promoting and marketing new artists. These startups are giving artists a different path to find their fans. And Amazon is helping them.

Today Amazon announced that it is partnering with a European startup called SellABand and will sell music from SellABand artists. We first covered SellABand in August 2006 – unknown artists upload music to the site and ask fans to chip in $10 if they like what they hear. Once the band gets to $50,000 they’ve proven themselves, and they get to record a CD in a professional studio. Each fan gets a limited edition CD. If the artist doesn’t reach $50,000, the fans can get their money back or give it to another artist.

Earlier this year we noted that the model seems to work. Today, more than 6,000 artists have uploaded music to the site, and a lucky few have been picked by fans to record albums. The top artists will now have their music sold on Amazon UK as well, making the model even more attractive.

See our coverage of Strayform, a different startup with a variation on the SellABand business model.

Amazon also invested in a different startup in the music space – Amie Street. Amie Street is a company I have long admired – we first covered it in July 2006, and last year I added it to my list of “web 2.0 companies I couldn’t live without.”

Amie Street has a model for selling non-DRM music that simultaneously earns artists money and ranks artists by popularity of downloads. All songs start at free. As users begin to download a song, the price rises steadily until it reaches $0.99. So the more a song costs, the more popular it is. Most of the muck is filtered out by $0.25 or so, and the site has some really excellent music. Even some well known artists have tried it out.

Amie street says that the average first time purchase on the site is close to $10. Members spend an average of nearly 8 minutes on the site each visit, listening to some of the 850,000 songs available for download. They also recently inked a deal with CDBaby, where those artists can get their music ranked on Amie Street. And they just opened a Japanese version of the site that is selling anime as well as music.

OurStage, a Boston based startup we recently covered, has yet another way of ranking indie bands.

What’s similar about SellABand and Amie Street is that both startups remove the need for a label to “discover” new artists and promote them in the hope that they sell CDs. Instead, the crowd is deciding what they like and showing it by donating to the artist (SellABand) or downloading songs (Amie Street). If either succeeds, they’ll have Amazon at least partially to thank.