A New Music Model Buy a Concert Ticket, Get an Album

Record companies aren't happy, but popular German singer-songwriter Clueso may have found a new way to make money despite the prevalence of illegal downloads. Fans who buy tickets to his concerts get the new album for free.

Tino Sieland

At a concert not long ago 31-year-old Thomas Hübner stood before a packed hall and asked fans who had his new album, and most of the crowd raised their hands. But when he asked how many had paid for it, most of their arms dropped.

Convinced that illegal online downloads would continue destroying album sales, Hübner, who performs under the name Clueso, opted for a radical new model to earn money. A few days ago he set off on another tour for his new album "An und für sich," or "In and of Itself." Fans who by a ticket also receive a code to download all 17 songs online.

The German-language album has recently climbed as high as number two on the country's charts, and Clueso regularly sells out large venues. At least 150,000 fans have already purchased the ticket-album combo from his website.

The Erfurt-based artist hasn't raised ticket prices for the new scheme, either. At €30, they remain moderate. As the first musician in Germany to take the counterintuitive free music approach, he may have found a plausible way to make money in the struggling industry, but his success is unlikely to please intermediaries such as record companies and event organizers, who are left out of the profits.

Unlikely to Recover

After putting in two years of work with his team at independent record label Four Music on the album, a number of livelihoods rely on its commercial success. But with sales unlikely to recover in the face of the online downloads, he took the drastic step of combining album and ticket sales.

Clueso says people who download music illegally are not criminals, and he doesn't believe he is "giving away" his work, but placing a value on music that is already available for free online.

Not only does it create a direct connection with fans, it also puts money directly in the artist's pockets, he says.

He put up an enormous fight to arrange the scheme, but its success will likely force the German music industry to reconsider the battle plan against its oft-prognosticated end. They need to be flexible and give customers more freedom, Clueso says.

Art Itself at Risk

Many musicians remain under contract with record labels because it is a comfortable existence, allowing them to avoid the bureaucratic tangles that accompany a successful career. Meanwhile the companies they work with endanger their existence by assuming they can earn money with CD sales alone.

Another tactic known as the "360-degree Model" -- where labels try boosting revenues by taking a cut of all artist merchandise, including T-shirts and concert tickets -- is also controversial.

At home in Erfurt, Clueso works with a network of musicians and independent creative companies called "Zughafen," advising young professionals on which contracts to sign, and those they probably shouldn't. He hopes to bring a lawyer in to help creative beginners make a better start, he says.

Music and creativity has value, he says, and if this goes unrecognized then the art itself is at risk.

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