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Friday, June 17, 2011

Should Up-and-Coming Bands Sell CDs on a Pay-What-You-Want Basis?

Posted By on Fri, Jun 17, 2011 at 2:13 PM

click to enlarge Sioux City Kid at Great American Music Hall last night.
  • Sioux City Kid at Great American Music Hall last night.

Great American Music Hall was about 90 people short of selling out last night for the CD release show of local roots-rock outfit Sioux City Kid. It was a big showing -- and for a lineup that consisted of three local bands, none of which have toured very far.

The music was good, too. Sioux City Kid sounds like a slightly less scary Tom Waits, but with the old-timey influences floating closer to the top. Singer Jared Griffin has a distinctly deep, gravelly voice, and the band -- which had seven members with the horn section onstage -- issued a tight, fluid take on the classic blues-rock sound that had those at front dancing through most of its set.

One thing that caught our attention at the show was the merch table. There, Sioux City Kid was offering its new album on CD. The price? Whatever anyone wanted to pay.

click to enlarge The merch table
  • The merch table

Our first thought: Why don't more up-and-coming bands do this?

Griffin says he doesn't know how many CDs the band sold, but it made about $400 altogether on merch last night. He seems happy with that result.

"It's just about getting the music out there," he says of the pricing strategy. "I really don't want to deter the music spreading. If they enjoyed the show they should just feel obliged to pay what they want for the album."

Anecdotally, the strategy seemed to work. We overheard the guy behind the merch table explain to a somewhat incredulous Sioux City Kid fan that she could pay whatever she felt like for the CD. She ended up buying one. We bought one, too. Paid $5 for it, which isn't a lot. But had it been priced at $10, we probably wouldn't be enjoying it right now.

Sure, you could argue that bands may not make as much money by letting fans pay what they want. You might be right, or you might not. But for any up-and-coming artist, putting out a record is a money-losing proposition anyway. Griffin knows that. Local indie figurehead John Vanderslice knows that. Making money shouldn't be the point.

It's one thing when a band like Radiohead -- which is going to make money on its records no matter what -- lets fans pay what they want for a digital download. In that case, the strategy is debatable. But for rising artists who just want to be heard, letting fans pay what they want seems to only make good sense.

You can catch Sioux City Kid again August 6 at Bottom of the Hill and Aug. 23 at the Fillmore.

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Ian S. Port

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