And she’s running her own world tour, too.
Jane Siberry’s career as a musician has been defined by her independent approach to everything she does. The eclecticism of her body of work – which ranges from jazz to liturgical over the course of the 20 or so albums she’s released since 1981 – is challenging for many listeners. But Siberry’s refusal to compromise when it comes to the experimental nature of her music is also reflected in her relentlessly self-determined business sense, the results of which even the most discerning connoisseur of DIY can’t help but appreciate.
Siberry is in the news this week because she just released 17 of her albums for free on her website. The albums are available in mp3 and AIFF format, and each comes with the album artwork. “DOWNLOAD ALL SIBERRY MUSIC HERE,” her website reads. “IT IS FREE, A GIFT FROM JANE. TAKE GOOD CARE OF IT. AND ‘PAY IT FORWARD’ TO OTHERS.”
The Upside of Free
It seems that Siberry made the decision to free her music after struggling with conventional methods of receiving payment for downloads. For several years, she tried to develop a pay-what-you-like webstore, but found it expensive and time-consuming to maintain. Paypal she calls an “old-fashioned wheezy paranoid beast.” The only logical alternative? Make it free.
Siberry owns all the rights to her music because most of her albums were produced independently. Only three of her studio records were released by a major (Reprise) in the late 80s-early 90s, after which she founded her own label, Sheeba, and released all her material from there.
While some artists criticize the free music model (“Buh, if you give your music away for free, nobody’s gonna wanna pay for my music!”) you could actually accuse Siberry of freeing her own music as part of a shrewd business plan. Because the other thing that she’s busy with these days is a completely self-produced world tour – and if you want to do that, as an indie artist, you have to make sure that people all over the world have access to your music.
Rethinking the World Tour
Siberry decided to produce her own world tour because no agents were interested in organizing it for her. Instead of trying to book big venues herself, she used her email list to organize an innovative “salon” style tour, wherein she travels to out-of-the-way locations, and plays small, private shows in the homes of fans.
Based on requests, and through her extensive fan email list, Siberry reinvented the world tour model. She asked fans to get together a dozen or so friends who would pay 20 euro each to see her play. She also requested a few nights in a bed at the host’s home, and maybe a meal before the show. The results so far have been a usually sold-out series of dates through New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom. And in the weeks to come, she’s headed to by-request shows throughout Sweden, Finland, Norway, and the Netherlands.
Siberry travels light, by train or bus, with her guitar, a suitcase, and her dog. She plays everything from private libraries to impeccably restored soiree rooms and arthouse lounges, and her tour dates take her from Paris to tiny Welsh towns, and pair her with eclectic international artists. Compared to the usual dirty dressing rooms of ill-managed clubs, she tells her fans, it’s like a touring dream come true.
Appealing to a Global Audience
It’s not hard to imagine, then, what would motivate Siberry to release her body of work for free. The more people who have access to her music worldwide, the more she can continue to play these intimate (but, it would seem, well-paying) gigs, not to mention see the world from a unique perspective, and meet her fans.
This might not be the easiest business model for a young artist to emulate – Siberry’s international audience is the product of 30-plus years of making music – but you have think: if a 54-year old solo artist who’s never conformed to any musical standard can make her own albums and run her own world tour, than so can I!
Maybe in the end the secret to a successful career in music is as much about bravery as it is about talent, or luck. And not just the bravery to hit the dusty trail with nothing but your voice and your guitar, but the bravery to believe that your fans are true, your music is worth appreciating, and that if you put it out there, and put yourself out there, the world will respond.