A remarkable change in the music industry began in 2007 when Radiohead released the album In Rainbows for a “pay what you want” model, circumventing the iTunes monopoly on mp3 purchases, instead giving fans the chance to buy the album directly from Radiohead’s website at whatever price they chose, including for free. Music, especially through the digital medium, had always been sold at set prices, usually $10 per album (often regardless of whether the album was 55 minutes long or only 25). Radiohead’s highly successful experiment opened up the possibilities for future websites like Noisetrade, where albums are given away for free with the suggestion to tip, or Bandcamp, where artists can pick any price for an album but fans have the option to pay extra.
While I’m certainly no expert on the economics of the music industry, something I have noticed is the difficulty of validating why music is a certain price. With the physical CD copies of my debut album, I knew I needed to charge at least $3 to break even: each copy had cost me $1, with the costs of recording, artwork and mastering adding an extra $2 per copy. Of course, every business needs to profit rather than breaking even, so I started off by selling my CD’s for $10. However, after discovering that only close friends and family really wanted to pay that much for an indie album, I moved the price down to $5. Making merely a $2 profit per sale seemed fitting; the quality is surely half-that of a major label release, plus, at only 30 minutes, the album does fall on the shorter side. Time passed, though, and I decided to take upon the “pay what you want” model when selling my CD’s at concerts. As in turned out, this worked the best. For all the people who only paid $1, there would be the random few people who’d pay $20. Plus, I could give the CD away for free to people who didn’t have any cash without them feeling guilty about it.
Putting a price on music became even more difficult when I opened up the Song Shop. Quantitatively arguing what the price of a personalized song should be… Well, there’s no market precedent for that; there is no industry standard. There’s the Max Bemix Song Shop, where fans of Bemis’ band, Say Anything, can receive a unique song that’s basically a lo-fi acoustic Say Anything demo for $150. Or there’s the newer website Downwrite, which was in beta mode around the time I opened my shop for business. On Downwrite, singer-songwriters present different options at different tiers of prices: for example, you can buy an acoustic song for $100 or a full-band recording for $500. Still, the artists on Downwrite–at least the successful ones–are established artists, such as William Beckett of The Academy Is… or JT Woodruff of Hawthorne Heights. Fans of their parent bands can go to these artists they love, requesting songs that will sound like the famous bands. That’s something inherently different than what I do, and the “name brands” behind these established artists makes sense out of the inflated prices found on Downwrite.
I don’t mind lowballing the industry, but still, the services offered by the Ours By Accident Song Shop are a whole different beast: the customer gets to request a personalized song not only about whatever you choose, but also in whatever genre you choose. You aren’t paying me to make a song that sounds like me but for me to make a song that sounds like anyone. I’m well aware that Ours By Accident isn’t a brand name or a moniker with a recognizable fanbase. (Come to think of it, perhaps I should change the name to the Whatever You Want Song Shop?) Recent customers have requested songs in the styles of Kendrick Lamar, Jukebox the Ghost, the Beatles, Foo Fighters, and Elvis Presley, and I’m happy to report that the satisfaction rate still stands at 100%. But perhaps you see my dilemma: how in the world do I quantify prices for such an abstract, competition-less service? (I’ve broken capitalism!)
That’s why I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m changing the Song Shop prices to a Pay-What-You-Want model. If you want to pay $10 for a song, that’s fine! Please do. In all honesty, I’d rather make you a song than not. And you can be free of guilt-free of paying a small amount because:
- I’d prefer having you as a customer than making more money, and
- My next customer could very well pay $200, just like the person who pays $20 for one of my CD’s.
Sure, the difference between paying $20 and $80 might be an acoustic track versus a song layered with harmonies and synths, but no matter what, it will be my goal to get you or your loved one exactly what you asked for: made with as much care, artistry, and ingenuity as I (or my collaborators and I) can offer.
Now, there are a few points I should make. If you need a project finished within 1-2 days, I’ll need to charge at least $50-$75. On the flip side, if you are willing to pay upwards of $200, that means your money can actually be put back into the song: for example, I can get the song mastered; or I can pay to hire a session musician for an instrument not normally available; or I can potentially rent out studio time for a higher quality recording than usual. But outside of an expedited demand or those types of extra costs, I will not turn down any offer you make.
Along with the rollout of this new payment model, I’ve changed the price of my first album to “pay what you want,” as well as my brand new EP, Album-in-a-Day Project, Vol. 1. (Both are available for free download here.) If you are considering the Ours By Accident Song Shop for your next anniversary, best friend’s birthday, or other special occasion, I highly encourage giving that EP a listen; it does a good job of displaying the quality of recordings I’ve been making recently, and your songs would receive at least as much time and care as any of the four songs on Vol. 1. If you would like to discuss a Song Shop project, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the contact form below: