Here’s the deal. It’s never been easier to make music and present it to the public. Conversely, it’s never been harder to get paid for doing it—or even get people to pay attention to it. You may have noticed that the world’s overflowing with music, which presents listeners with an overwhelming surplus. What’s the humble upstart musician to do? Seattle entrepreneur/musicians Christian Fulghum and Justin Pinder (aka rapper J.Pinder) have a plan to help what they call “emergent independent musicians”—basically, artists who can’t afford to quit their day jobs or stop dipping into their trust funds—build an audience and monetize their creations with a streaming community called Gyld. Artists can begin uploading their content this week, and the alpha version of the site is expected to go live in August.
Interviewed at The Stranger’s office, Fulghum—who used to run Fin Records; Pinder was one of its artists—said that Gyld will offer a better deal to musicians who don’t make livings strictly from their musical activities (yet) than what he calls ISPY: iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube. “Everything that's been built out in I-SPY is analogous to a big-box store,” Fulghum says. “It's for consumers. Unless you know the name or song title of an obscure act, you can't find it except by accident.” He explains that I-SPY’s good for established musicians, but it’s not beneficial for up-and-coming, obscure artists.
“It's gotten more difficult for an independent artist to get from that place where they've got a day job to actually being able to go out and tour,” Fulghum continues. “We're trying to solve a problem for these guys. How do you build an audience when you don't have a label or a label without a budget and you don't have radio play? How do you get out of this silo?”
For the last two years, Fulghum and Pinder have been working on ways to solve this problem. The name Gyld derives from the medieval spelling of “guild.” Fulghum says, “It goes back to when artisans got together and said, 'We're the candlestickmakers, we weave tapestries, or we compose love songs, and we're going to band together to make sure we get paid by the king and his retinue and also that there are some standards in what we're doing.' It was a way in which early artisans and curators got a chance to have some power by helping each other out.”
Toward that end, Fulghum explains, musicians can place one piece of “virgin-to-the-internet content”—a single, EP, or LP—on Gyld’s site for 18 months. Gyld takes none of the artists’ publishing and claims no permanent ownership. At the end of that period, artists can take their content anywhere they want or choose to remain. Artists can bring in back catalog, too. “Because copyright is not protected on the internet in any meaningful way,” Fulghum says, “certainly if you don't have an attorney to go after anybody who violates your copyright. We think it makes no sense to sell your music on the internet. We think you should be renting your music on the internet, which is why we're strictly a streaming subscription model.”
Once they’re on Gyld, artists can invite their fan base to pay a monthly $5 fee for access to the content. The concept is to get people who’ve attended shows and bought merchandise to further support their favorite artists through a subscription model. “This is a new model where we're going to have just artists like us and people like you who love discovering new music under one roof,” Fulghum says. “Only instead of it just being Seattle or just Portland, it'll be the entire USA and beyond. And there's an ability to interact with other discovering listeners about things they like that are below the horizon. Because you can find stuff, but it's not on the radio yet. It might be on a blog somewhere, but it's hard... If you want to find the top new crazy hiphop from Little Rock, Arkansas, where do you look? I think that's pretty hard to find. [Gyld] gives you a place for that and nothing but that.”
For its first two years, Gyld plans to have no advertising on its site. Off the top, 65 percent of the revenue goes to the artists and 35 percent to the company. “That's not after any deductions or anything else,” Fulghum says. “There's no aggregator in between. If you were going through I-SPY if you're a new band, you're getting maybe 49 cents on the dollar and not in real time. We pay every 30 days and we give analytics to the artist about who's listening and where they are.”
Fulghum emphasizes that “The key thing is to drive people who want to discover new music to a place where it's absolutely not available anywhere else. So scarcity rather than ubiquity is the key.”
Gyld’s $5 monthly fee allows subscribers access to all its artists. Artists get paid in two sections. “One part is the initial audience you bring in, which is probably a local or regional audience. Say you have a thousand people on your mailing list and 500 say, 'I'll risk $5 for one month to try this.’ That's your yield. Our goal is to be compelling in such a way that we have very little churn in that regard. Because we're not locking people in the way most of these deals are nowadays, we're not locking in anyone. You don't feel like you're stuck, because you're not.”
Other benefits Gyld intends to offer are informational editorial content from music critics and metadata that will allow artists to learn who’s listening to them and where they’re located. These analytics will potentially help musicians to better schedule tours.
Fulghum says that Gyld has raised some angel-investor money, and adds, “Once we feel we've proved the concept, we'll be looking for enough money to scale it nationally. The venture-capital model is designed to make enormous companies with enormous revenues and enormous groups of people. We don't want to go in that direction. We want to do something that is small and independent which is well-funded by its own cash flow because people actually like it and want it. So we'll only raise what we need to raise to scale it up, but it should be self-sustaining.”
Gyld won't rely on conventional marketing, Fulghum says. It's geared to be an artist-driven community in which they directly ask their fans to join. Promotion for Gyld will come primarily through shows, Fulghum says. “We want to get a good, authentic buzz first and then it'll make sense to talk about it in more conventional ways about marketing. What I learned the hard way from Fin is if you have a marketing budget but don't know how to reach the right people, you can spend a lot of money experimenting and not necessarily succeeding. It's important to us in the same way that bands get popular by magic—they put something together and people start showing up and tell other people who show up next time. We're looking for that organic buzz first before we try to enlarge how we market it.”
Gyld’s A&R team consists of Jacob Dutton (aka Jake One, renowned hiphop producer), Steve Fisk (Stranger Genius winner, Pigeonhed member, revered producer), and Jodi Ecklund (former Chop Suey talent buyer). Thig Nat from Physics is doing Gyld's UX design.
The staff has talked to over 100 artists, mostly in the Pacific Northwest, about joining Gyld. Fulghum didn’t want to disclose names until they’ve confirmed everything. He stressed Gyld is not aimed at established artists, as the current system’s “more or less engineered to help them. By controlling the availability of their music [with Gyld], the artists are taking it back essentially. If you want to support what we're doing, it's going to be here. It's not like we're just doing our website, which wouldn't have the critical mass. There's going to be a lot of neat stuff to discover here musically and also other people who are, like you, into music.
“If as our research suggests, there are 75 million people in the US who really care about music, maybe 7 to 10 million are what we call 'discovering listeners.' They want to hear new music that hasn't been heard before. We're aiming to capture a significant portion of that number. It's a very narrow band, and yet it's the future of music. This scene in aggregate [struggling/rising indie musicians] is where all the future talent is going to come from.”
“We're saying to artists, don't give your music away, get paid for it. Don't have your music everywhere when you're at this stage of your musical life. Have your music in one place and when you're ready, move on out of there. We're meant to be a step, not necessarily a home. Gyld may become a home for some people but right now we're going to start with this and see where it goes. The music business needs something new.
“This is about putting the emphasis back on the music community at the appropriate level and for those artists for whom this helps as a step up,” Fulghum says. “If nothing else, you spend 18 months in Gyld, you're in a position with the analytics and you know what your revenue is, you know who listens to your record and where they are. You're way better off if you're going to get a deal with a major or indie because you know things you wouldn't find out any other way. It's a new model designed to deal with this problem of how things are structured right now.”