CASH Music: Helping Musicians Achieve Success By Disintermediating The Music Business

CrowdfundingWhen it was originally begun, CASH Music was catering to the needs of only a few choice musicians who believed that the traditional label model was not for them. CASH Music instead worked to directly connect fans with artists as a means of financing their music. Since then, crowdfunding has only increased in popularity, as has CASH.


Guest post by George Howard

Jesse Von Doom is on a mission. The particular windmill that Mr. Von Doom tilts towards — via his organization, CASH Music — is helping artists create sustainable careers without relying on labels or other “intermediaries.” Unlike others, Mr. Von Doom comes at this approach in a truly evolved manner. For instance, Mr. Von Doom made a statement during our wide-ranging and free-wheeling conversation (which can be heard in its entirety below) that has literally kept me awake at night since we spoke last week:

“You can go after money, credit, or change.”

Are these mutually exclusive? Is it analogous to the “Project Management Triangle” of: “Choose two: You can have it fast, cheap, or good?”

While I and others ponder these questions, Mr. Von Doom doesn’t bother with such trivialities, and instead focuses squarely on “Change.”

Jesse Von Doom

Jesse Von Doom, Co Executive Director of Cash Music (bonus points if you get the photo reference). Photo credit: Taryn Mazza

To this end, for roughly the past eight years, Mr. Doom has been the co-executive director, along with Maggie Vail, of CASH Music. [Disclosure, I was one of the original CASH board members many moons ago, but for the past years have limited my involvement to simply being a fan and informal advocate.]

CASH Music – like so many entrepreneurial enterprises — originated as a solution to a problem that, at the time, seemed only relevant to a specific few people (cf. my recent conversation with Ryan Leslie). Specifically, Kristin Hersh, her manager, Billy O’Connell, and Donita Sparks ofL7 and her manager, Robert Fagan, determined that they would be far better off devising a model in which their fans were able to directly contribute to sustaining their artistic output than they would going the traditional label route. Through solving this problem for themselves, it became clear that the solution they originally devised for their own needs, could also benefit others, and, CASH was born.

As familiar as the concept of connecting directly to fans sounds now, back in 2007, this was revolutionary. I genuinely don’t believe that Ms. Hersh/Mr. O’Connell nor Ms. Sparks/Mr. Fagan get the credit they deserve for “Kickstarting” the whole “Patreon-age” type system of fans “Pledge[ing]” in order to support Indie[gogo] artists without having to rely on labels or other systems that too often are full of [top]spin.

But, again, as Mr. Von Doom says: “Money, credit, or change.”

Over the years, CASH has certainly brought forth change by enabling artists to better and more-efficiently connect with their fans. To date, roughly 7500 artists have created CASH accounts, and the embeds of CASH tools utilized by these artists have been seen by 3.6 million people.

Beyond the “money, credit, change” dynamic, what strikes me the most about what CASH is doing is the long-term accumulation of knowledge about fan/artist relationships.

The music business has for too long been an ad hoc enterprise, (wrongly) believing that nothing is to be gained by the experience of others. To my mind, beyond the tools, CASH’s true value is accumulated knowledge. CASH is empirically discovering: What works? Why? When? What’s verifiable and repeatable. What falls under the dreaded “correlation without causation”/post hoc ergo propter hoc.

The good news is, true to its Open Source ethos, CASH will not only move forward by providing the tools, but also its learnings. The two together — tools and knowledge — of course, are what the industry truly needs, and this combination explains why newer artists like The Joy FormidableZola Jesus, as well as artists/labels who have seen the other alternatives – such as, Bikini KillLenny Kravitz, and Relapse Records — are increasingly turning to CASH.

Run The Jewels

Run The Jewels Live. Photo Credit: dvphotovideo

Recently, for instance, CASH played a role in the explosion that is Run the Jewels. I had the opportunity to discuss this with Run The Jewels’ manager, Amaechi Uzoigwe:

George Howard: How does CASH fits into your overall strategy?

Amaechi Uzoigwe: While Run the Jewels is able to work successfully with traditional partners like record labels, we’re still very much a DIY operation in both spirit and action. Our general approach focuses on strategic relationships that align with our core ethos plus business goals, and ideally delivers value to both us and our audience.

More than anything, we’ve been able to build a business around good will (i.e. giving the music away for free) and creating a value exchange with our audience that’s been very rewarding (hopefully for both sides!). Achieving that hasn’t been easy, nor has finding the type of partners who truly understand and embrace our POV but we’ve been lucky. CASH is a perfect example of that.

GH: Give me some specifics on how you utilize the tools that CASH provides?

AU: The relationship Run The Jewels has with its fans is sacrosanct and managing that relationship is of primary importance, which means we need to exercise as much control over all facets of it as possible. CASH helps us achieve this.

From powering our free download to site development & design to mailing list management to analytics, they provide the kind of platform that helps an operation like ours to gain the type of autonomy and empowerment we’re looking for, and within a context that feels right for us.

GH: What are the challenges, and how does CASH address them?

AU: While the digital ecosystem has evolved greatly over the past few years, there’s still a long way to go until it truly coheres, so for those of us who’ve charted a course of independence the journey can be a bit more challenging, but also potentially much more rewarding.  And choosing the right kind of partners and platforms is critical to that end.  I feel really fortunate to be working with an organization like CASH to help our digital growth, and not simply because they’re incredibly smart and cool people who care deeply about music & artists, but because they do great work and deliver the tools that make their passion a reality for many of us.

I urge you to listen to the entire interview with Mr. Von Doom, where you can learn more about CASH and their work with Run The Jewels and others.

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George Howard is an entrepreneur, educator, advisor, and angel investor. He was the President of Rykodisc, one of the original founders of TuneCore, and manager of Carly Simon. He recently co-founded Music Audience Exchange, is an Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music , and advises numerous creative companies. He is most easily found on Twitter. 

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