Aug 2010 20

by Jay Hathaway

If you had told me in the early 2000s — when I was still in high school and saving my summer job money to buy new CDs — that indie bands would one day pay fans to listen to their music, I would have thought you were crazy. Bands make music, and we spend our hard-earned scratch to listen to it, not the other way around … right?

Well, it’s 2010, and artists are so desperate to squeeze their product through the ear buds of trendy scene influencers that they’re actually paying the cool kids to check out their new tracks. A UK pop duo called The Reclusive Barclay Brothers has put their first single “We Could Be Lonely Together” on iTunes, and downloading it enters you to win £27. That’s like 40 bucks (or two and a half CDs, if you’re a high school-er in the year 2000).

[Sinthia Suicide in Strummer]

So, for around $4,000 — there are 100 winners — The Reclusive Barclay Brothers have bought a considerable number of listens, and a good chance to get signed by a label. Will their gamble pay off? I guess that depends on whether the kids who want an opportunity to win some quick cash actually like the song. If the band sells 3,500 downloads, they’ll break even and still wind up with a bunch of free press coverage. This just goes to show that it doesn’t take a major label, or any label at all, to sell out.

In just a few short years, bands have gone from charging for music, to giving it away for free, to paying people to listen. Anybody who’s been paying attention knows that music industry is in bad shape. It’s a big, slow machine that has almost fully rusted. But this stunt shows that music itself might be in dire straits, too. It’s a sad state of affairs if we’ve become so indifferent to new songs that we won’t check them out unless there’s a prize inside.

So, is this is the new artist model, or is it (as the Barclays self-deprecatingly claim) a new low for music? I think that once the novelty of a stunt like this wears off, it’ll come down to whether the music is any good. For now, though, the fact that I’m writing this column proves that The Reclusive Barclay Brothers have already won.

… and hey, the song’s actually pretty catchy.