For developing, unsigned artists, there can certainly be a bit of a “Catch 22″ when it comes to funding the activities they need to find their core fanbase, engage with this fanbase, and ultimately monetize this fanbase. How does a developing artist fund the marketing initiatives necessary to generate a core fanbase, without having a fanbase to tap into? It’s something we talk a lot about in the courses I teach at Berklee.

For developing musicians, it’s important to consider the fact that without the ability to speak with fans in a direct way online, your opportunities for monetization are limited. The collection of permission-based fan contact info, through an email address, a Twitter follower, a YouTube subscriber, a Pinterest follower, a Facebook fan, and other existing and not-yet-existing services is a necessity before starting any extensive funding initiatives.

For established or legacy artists who have a dedicated, engaged, and growing fan base – and are communicating with that fan base regularly – generating funding can be a bit smoother.  Continued awareness, acquisition, and engagement is still necessary, of course, but the opportunities to engage in creative forms of funding increase exponentially if you have a base to communicate with.

Frank Zappa and the Zappa Family Trust have pushed the boundaries, creatively and entrepreneurially, for years.  Little known fact: Frank Zappa introduced a proposal for a subscription-based digital distribution service in 1983!  Recently, the Zappa Family Trust launched a new fan-focused initiative to coincide with the release of a new Vault live recording: All Roxy, No Elsewhere –  76 minutes of never-before-released Frank Zappa master recordings from the Roxy Performances of December 9th and 10th, 1973.

The ZFT is providing 1000 licenses (Roxy by Proxy) to Zappa fans for the purpose of manufacturing and distributing All Roxy, No Elsewhere on their own.  This license, in Gail Zappa’s words, provides fan with the ability to:

 “…make as many copies of the record as you can possibly distribute – AND except for reporting to us your sales & customers (just like any other record distributor) and paying us the publishing, YOU keep the money. AND you get to collect royalties from what is sold at Barfko-Swill AND you will also be entitled to a special wholesale price available to the OLAZRBPDs (Officially Licensed Authorized Zappa ROXY BY PROXY Distributor) exclusively.”

The revenue generated from these licenses (available at $1000 a piece) will go towards raising funds to cover the expenses related to releasing The Roxy Performances – The Movie in time for the 40th anniversary of the shows.

I think the Roxy by Proxy idea is interesting for a couple of reasons:

  1. This is a great example and a creative implementation of Clay Shirky’s “Pool of Participators” idea, outlined in his book Cognitive Surplus.  Engaged fans want to use some of their free time to help artists that they love – they just need a platform to do so. More from Clay on that idea, here.
  2. It has the potential to build trust within the Zappa fan community.  The ZFT will be working directly with fans on marketing collateral, distribution minutia, royalty payments, and more.  While this could become a complete nightmare scenario for fans as well as the ZFT, it could also open the doors for a more transparent and mutually beneficial relationship.  Guster, for example, build huge trust within their community in the early days with their “rep program,” where the band would send their fans CDs to sell on spec, with the fans sending the band checks for any sales after the fact.

Full Details on Roxy By Proxy here.