The Barr Brothers are finally flying above the radar. That, and I’m admittedly a year behind with this discovery. Thanks to the Line of Best Fit, I stumbled across this Montreal-based band after reading a lovely “Folk Innovators” review. Their self-titled album dropped in 2011, but siblings Andrew and Brad Barr, accompanied by harpist Sarah Page and multi-instrumentalist Andres Vial, have made consistent appearances at various Canadian jazz and folk festivals and toured with the Low Anthem and Alexi Murdoch. In a time where indie folk outfits dominate the airwaves, the Barr Brothers take a similar sound and soar above the limits of folk music.
Their music is extremely well-crafted, from dreamy, endearing singles like “Beggar in the Morning” and “Cloud” to a bluesy, stomping “Lord, I Just Can’t Keep from Crying.” My favorite is the dark “Deacon’s Son,” featuring Psapp-inspired percussion, steel drums, and an aggressive harp solo (never thought I’d ever see that combo!) It seems disjointed, but in fact, the Barr Brothers prove their versatility and innovation around a rich Americana sound.
In the lively “Give the Devil Back his Heart,” the Barr Brothers summon “every moth barreling towards a flame.” After a year of cultivation, the Barr Brothers can count on a trusted fanbase barreling towards new music.
Big music names like Ben Folds and Amanda Palmer did it (although the latter is facing some legal complications because she didn’t do it correctly). My personal favorites Ben Sollee, PigPen Theatre Co., and Elizabeth & the Catapult did it. Crowdsourcing is music’s Next Big Thing. Websites like Pledgemusic, Kickstarter, and Crowdrise make fans donors and “producers” of their favorite artists’ music projects. While fans are usually left out of the loop during the album-making process, these websites break down the industry barrier between musicians and listeners.
The shape-shifting music industry is constantly exploring new ways to make a profit and battle music sharing, streaming and pirating. Some artists increase their tour time and offer more inclusive and preferential concert experiences to early buyers. Others take a less aggressive approach and simply give albums away, hoping listeners will show support through merchandise, concerts, or future releases.
In my opinion, it is a genius idea and perfect for the emerging role of new media sector in the music business. Fans feel inches closer to their favorite performers and are engaged in a very personal process. Musicians receive input, connect to listeners, and ultimately boost music sales (fans who feel part of the process will probably be more inclined to buy the album.) Have any of you every contributed to an album through these crowdsourcing websites? Did you feel more valued?
Take a look at Elizabeth Ziman, also known as Elizabeth & the Catapult. The Brooklyn singer/songwriter has a small but dedicated fanbase, and was able to raise money for her album in about three weeks. During the recording process, donors gain access to exclusive videos and pre-released clips. There are also perks to funding, like dinner with Elizabeth, a piano lesson, and a knitted scarf. Ben Sollee started a similar initiative, which took only 4 days to fund. It’s a win-win situation. Albums are funded, artists gain support from their current fan base (an extremely important new media strategy), and fans are satiated with new music at a faster rate. Publicly funded music projects are an exceptionally great resource for lesser-known niche artists. Since their tours travel to small venues and don’t produce much revenue, these musicians can’t afford to tour at the same rate of artists who sell out large venues. Crowdsourcing helps them produce an album without sacrificing tours. And ultimately, it puts the interactive social world to use in a music business setting.