By John Dillon – Standing ‘O’ Project founder
The following is the text of my presentation on a panel discussion on streaming at the annual conference of Folk Alliance International. The other panelists spoke a lot about the virtues of Spotify and how you can actually make money if you get hundreds of thousands of streams. When I said that getting just ONE fan on the Standing ‘O’ Project was equivalent to getting about 7,000 streams a month on Spotify, you could actually hear the gasps and jaws dropping throughout the audience. This is a project designed for working class independent artists to help them earn a living.
The Standing ‘O’ Project is an online streaming community that helps musicians earn a revenue stream. It’s a community building model. Standing ‘O’ Artists get a 50% commission when their fans subscribe. Right now we have about 350 artists participating and the more active ones are earning between $30 and $50 a month. We even have an artist who’s earned over $100 this month.
I recently attended a conference where one of the keynote speakers was Jeff Hoffman, founder of priceline.com. He spoke about a concept that he called “info-sponging,” that is, studying other unrelated industries to get ideas for your own business. He came up with the idea for Priceline by studying the perishable grocery industry. He noticed how the price for fruits or vegetables decreased as you approached the sell-by date. He saw how airline seats were very much like perishable fruit… you couldn’t sell them after the plane took off! Thus, the concept for priceline.com.
That’s exactly how we came up with the idea for the Standing ‘O’ Project. We were looking at the challenges we were facing, not only in the music business in general, but in keeping Art of the Song funded. We saw how many of our touring musician friends were losing substantial revenue as the industry shifted from CD sales and download purchases… to streaming. One such musician saw a 90% drop in his online income. And, in the world of public radio, it’s always a challenge to keep a show funded, no matter how many stations you’re on.
So, we looked at our resources and we looked at our challenges, and we started asking some questions:
- How can we keep Art of the Song funded?
- How can we bring prosperity back into the hands of the music creators?
- How can we make use of the archive of over 300 Art of the Song interviews? And we’ve interviewed folks like Judy Collins, Smokey Robinson, Ani Cordero, Guy Davis, Arlo Guthrie, Vienna Teng, and the late Glenn Frey and Jimmy LaFave.
These are the Resources we had to work with:
- The Art of the Song archive
- The folk music community
- Individual musicians and their fan bases
Then quite literally it all came together for me in the shower one morning (that’s where I get my most creative ideas). And here’s where the “info-sponging” comes in:
At the time I was studying internet marketing and affiliate marketing, and my wife, Vivian, was doing a short-lived stint in relationship marketing a skin care product.
Here’s what hit me: Let’s combine an Art of the Song membership site with a music streaming platform that uses internet marketing, affiliate marketing, and a touch of relationship marketing, to keep us on the air and help musicians thrive.
Then came some really exciting questions:
- What if we could combine all the fan bases of hundreds of musicians and build one giant online music community?
- What if we could pay the musicians a substantial commission for inviting fans into the community?
- Most affiliate plans pan anywhere between 20% and 40% commission, but what if we committed to give a full 50% back to the musicians. And what if we threw in another 10% as a second tier commission for referring other artists?
Thus the idea for the Standing ‘O’ Project was born. This was 4 years ago. We put together a team of marketers and website developers. We’ve gone through several iterations and now we have the site where we want it. We’ve partnered with Folk Alliance to provide fair trade streaming for their websites. We’ve recently engaged a new marketing team, and we’re poised for major growth!
So, what exactly is the Standing ‘O’ Project?
- An engaging website made up of over 350 Artists and their profiles
- Artists join for free and fans subscribe for $5, $10 or $20 a month (there are also 6-month and annual options)
- Each artist’s profile is like a mini Patreon or Amplifi, where artists can share content and engage their fans
- When fans subscribe, they get access to all 350 artists’ content and the Art of the Song archive
- In addition, the site offers educational resources, mentorship and inspiration for aspiring musicians
How do Artists get paid, you might ask?
- They get 50% of the subscriptions they refer
- A share of the bonus pool which consists of 50% of subscriptions not referred by an artist (we’re committed to giving a full 50% back to the artists no matter how the subscriber finds us)
- And they get 10% of the revenue generated by other artists they refer
This second tier 10% commission is also available to non-artist entities like labels, managers, agents and other artist-friendly organizations. For example, for artists who join through Folk Alliance, that 10% goes to the First-timer Scholarship Fund. We have a similar arrangement with Local 1000 of the Musicians Union with the 10% going to their Emergency Relief Fund.
Bottom line, we give up to 60% to support the community. The other 40% keeps the Standing ‘O’ Project growing… and Art of the Song on the air.
We love the folk music community (ever since I attended my first NERFA in the ‘90s, I couldn’t believe the quality of the music and I wanted to share it with everyone I could). We’ve been giving artists a national voice on Art of the Song for over 14 years, and now we see the Standing ‘O’ Project as a way to bring it all into the future. We’re far from perfect. This is a work in progress, and we’re always looking for ideas and partnerships to make it better. We invite you to join us as we grow the audience for folk music and help artists thrive!