Why Matthew Ebel Is Leaving SellaBand

image from www.hypebot.com Last week's bankruptcy and resurrection of fan to artist funding site SellaBand caused many to take a closer look at the model. Indie artist Matthew Ebel, familiar to Hypebot readers for his success selling subscriptions to his streamed basement concerts, has decided to pull out of SellaBand entirely. While this guest post shares Ebel's story, there's a broader message about the cost of putting anyone between an artist and their fans.

image from llcdn.myxer.com A modern artist really doesn’t need microfinancing of any kind. Especially micro- financing that’s badly managed to the point of declaring bankruptcy. The easiest way to cover this is a simple comparison between Sellaband and my own subscription service, Matthew Ebel dot net. Of course, by “my subscription service”, I mean “what any artist can offer direct to their fans”.

What Sellaband OffersMatthew Ebel dot net
Artists can ask their fans for album funding.I get funding directly from my fans on a monthly/yearly basis.
Believers are promised one new album once $15k (or whatever) is reached, if ever.I already give my subscribers 2 new songs, fully produced, every single month.
If the target is ever reached, an artist can hire a professional studio, engineer, and producer.For as little as $5,000 I can buy better equipment and hire a professional engineer in my own studio.1
If the target is ever reached, believers get one album (retail value $10) from their artist.Every year my subscribers get one or two albums’ worth of new material and, depending on the subscription level, stickers, mugs, shirts, etc.
Sellaband holds onto believers’ money until the artist’s goal is reached, if ever. If they disappear, so does the money.Subscribers’ money goes directly into better studio equipment, goodies for the annual goodie bags, the annual Beer Bash, touring, rent, food, etc. with no one holding the money hostage.
Sellaband charges a percentage to handle the money, on top of anything PayPal takes.PayPal is the only middle man taking a cut, and even that may change soon.
Believers may, if the artist allows, share in revenue generated from the album if it is ever produced.Subscribers can use affiliate links to share in revenue from referrals for as long as they stay subscribed.

I’m sure there are other comparisons to make, but frankly this was enough for me. What it all boils down to is one simple equation:

If every fan who bought a Part via Sellaband spent the same money on a Matthew Ebel dot net subscription instead, I would be able to make much better music and they would get music and goodies immediately.

This is true for any artist, not just me. It’s why I’m leaving Sellaband, and it’s why I think artists should take a much more critical look at micro-financing schemes before jumping on board with them.

1 – Don’t ask “what if I don’t own a studio?” All of the gear I use right now, including the MacBook, cost me less than $6,000 and some of it is unnecessary for a band on a budget. I recorded “Beer & Coffee” in a dining room with Apple’s Garageband and “Goodbye Planet Earth” in my bedroom.

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  1. What about people who aren’t satisfied with a “pretty good” sounding recording? Garage Band can only get you so far, and in my opinion the drum sounds Matthew gets are quite mediocre. Yes what Matthew Ebel does works for him, that’s great. However, to say that this is how every musician should operate shows nothing but an inability to look outside of one’s own circumstances.

  2. Ebel should be given credit for his innovative ability to monetize his grassroots fanbase, but I have to agree with Ryan Sprute (above post) here- he mentions the lack of production values in Ebel’s music, and how it may suffice for him and his fans, but may not for more discerning listeners/fans.
    This is one of MANY examples that render people like Ebel and Amanda Palmer exceptional. What they are doing should be praised and studied, but it is far from the norm to model the new music industry. Singer-songwriters are nimble little creatures, and can do shit like this- bands are large, cumbersome, more unwieldy entities. They SHOULD be doing the direct2fan stuff that Ebel is engaging in, but it probably won’t be sustainable for the full group.
    Rightfully proud of his success, Ebel still is very insular in assertion that “an artist doesn’t really need microfinancing”. Bullshit.
    Of course they do. Somewhere in the zeitgeist of hypebot articles and comments we’ve established that band/artist needs some semblance of a TEAM of people around them- a manager, lawyer, graphic artist, and finally…A FINANCIER!
    This could be a rich uncle…or it could be (suprise suprise) a record label!
    This uber-DIY stuff is getting a little tired. Yes, there are many best practices to be taken away from the Amanda Palmers of the world. And any serious artist needs to be doing those things in spades. But why aren’t we talking more about moneyed institutions (record labels) making more mutually sustainable contracts with artists? One’s that don’t fully collateralize the artist’s creativity, but also present a gainful opportunity for the label? Sorry, this turned into a rant.

  3. Ryan-
    Believe me, I agree with you! As I mentioned already in the article, though, “For as little as $5,000 I can buy better equipment and hire a professional engineer in my own studio.” Right now I’m making a living with what I’ve got, but if all the people who poured money into Sellaband poured it directly into my Paypal account instead, I could hire a real engineer for 2 songs a month and actually get beyond mediocre drum sounds.
    At this point I do all of my own engineering and I have ZERO training in that field. But as the subscriber base grows, the budget grows and the costs stay the same. This will eventually afford me (in order, actually) a dedicated engineer, a real drummer, a real guitarist, and better equipment for them to work with.

  4. James-
    I can appreciate a disagreement, but to simply call “bullshit” isn’t very productive. I have never had a booking agent, a manager, a lawyer, or a financier other than my fans. Lord knows I’d love to add them to my team, but not until I can afford it. The fact that I’ve NEVER been on a label or had team support and yet I’m still earning my entire living doing this speaks to the viability of fan-funded ventures. And I’ve never needed a micro-financing site to make an album.
    On that note, of course, I invite you to read my response to Ryan’s comment above.
    As for sustaining a band, I can’t speak to that as I’m a singer/songwriter. It’s possible that something like http://matthewebel.net could sustain a band, but the fan base would have to start much larger to make that happen. If nothing else, regular releases via subscription could fund road trips (like they’re doing with me) so the band doesn’t LOSE money before getting to the gig.
    I’m curious, then, what your suggestions are on how to improve the way a music entrepreneur does business (and “get licensed for an iPod commercial” doesn’t cut it, no matter what Billboard considers “advice”).

  5. To an outside observer, this reads like you’re calling “Bullshit” on a sentence you didn’t understand correctly.
    Seems to me Ebel was saying artists are better equipped to do their own micro-financing.

  6. Justin, what’s to misunderstand about Ebel’s statement that “an artist doesn’t really need micro-financing of any kind”? I think Ebel made a small rhetorical mistake, because he says this, and proceeds to map out his success with a differently modeled micro-financing strategy. I don’t want to argue semantics, but yes, I understand Ebel’s argument of the comparative advantage of personally managed micro-financing versus operating via Sellaband.
    But you chose not to engage my main discussion, which was the viability of Matt’s model for bands, and more generally, for the music industry at large. We’d love to hear your thoughts.
    Matthew, my post was never intended to critique you in anyway. As an independent musician myself, I can’t sing your praises enough.
    Per your request, i do think licensing is one of the more viable ways to advance a band/artist’s career. Sure, not everyone can have their music paired with an Ipod dancing sillouetes, but just as there has been a huge increase in ind musicians in the digital age, there has also been a massive influx of independent filmmakers- i.e. more content that needs music, more opportunities for exposure.
    There’s so much more, and I don’t pretend that I have the roadmap. My general disagreement was not with you and what you’ve done, but my perceived connotation that this was how to launch artists in this digital, post-label, whatever you want to call it age. This is touched on in the last paragraph of my previous post.

  7. I think it’d be interesting to see a slightly different version of sellaband/Ebel’s model — sort of a crowdsourced ‘commission’ of songs/albums, in which donor-fans put up the money for the artist to write and record music that is released free under creative commons licensing. The artist gets paid, and the fans get the music they want as well as the satisfaction of contributing to a ‘public good’.

  8. James and Justin-
    Regarding the micro-financing concept, let me clarify here… I think artists ARE better equipped to do their own micro-financing (i.e. album pre-orders via PayPal. That paid for Goodbye Planet Earth). The only thing Sellaband had that I didn’t was an engaged community. That being said, I honestly, don’t think an artist needs to micro-finance anything anymore:

    • Album duplication can be done for $1 per disc on-demand via Kunaki.com with full-color printing. There is no need to pre-finance a $1-per-disc duplication cost.
    • Recording can be done adequately at home for less money than a week of studio time. The quality of output depends mostly on the engineering ability of the artist/band, not the equipment or room.
    • http://matthewebel.net is not micro-financing. My fans are not waiting for some album that hasn’t happened yet, they are paying for goods that they receive every month.

    Ideally I’d like to have enough subscribers to pay a professional engineer, buy some better gear, tour more, and release LP-format albums. Here are the two important things to remember: My business is bringing in more money than it is spending. My customers are receiving product, not waiting for me to reach a dollar threshold so I can make that product.
    As for bands vs. solo artists, it’s simply a matter of volume. 50-100 subscribers can pay all my bills, but I’m one man doing everything from writing to recording to website development to marketing. If I had 3 other musicians working as partners, I believe we’d be able to reach more fans more efficiently and effectively. We’d need 200-400 subscribers to feed all of us, but we’d be putting out 4x the promotional effort of a solo artist.
    I honestly can’t point to a band who’s been successful doing what I’m doing, but that’s only because I can’t even name another band that’s doing what I’m doing. I’ll let you know when I gain enough subscribers to hire a drummer and a guitarist… 😉
    Finally, as for licensing, I hear that. I hear the hell out of that. My music has been licensed for online videos, indie films, and corporate promotions. Thank God for indie filmmakers, at least those who take indie music seriously!

  9. My subscribers don’t seem to think so. At the 2009 VIP Beer Bash here in Boston, most of them were telling me I wasn’t charging enough for what I was giving them.
    That being said, please go forth and create your own subscription system where the entry level is $1 a month. If you can make it work, please tell all of us what you’re doing!

  10. That’s not a bad idea at all. I encourage you to go try something like that! I do have a couple of subscription tiers where people get custom-written songs… the VIP’s are entered into a bi-annual drawing for one and the Entourage each get a guaranteed song.
    CC Licensing, on the other hand, is something I’m still not so hot about. I encourage my fans to share my music with anyone they think would become a fan, but I certainly don’t consider the music “free”. This is an issue for a different forum/article, though, one that’s been discussed for years now.
    Thanks for commenting!

  11. One thing I forgot to mention: If you’re an artist and you really need to micro-finance a project, why not just open a Paypal account and use a widget from http://chipin.com instead of some complicated system? Those widgets are free, money goes directly to the artist, and they can be set up with a specific goal or a specific date deadline.

  12. You can actually set-up PayPal with add to cart buttons for your site. Each button can then be customized with a different quantity thus making limited editions of exclusive content available.
    So with that in mind you don’t even need the chip in widget.
    As Mathew pointed out the only thing Sellaband really offered was the community even though they had enough expertise to offer a minimum of advice they never did. For any crowdsourced platform to be truly useful it will need both an active community and some sort of tools that both help and educate artists and fans.

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