In making six CDs, singer Jill Sobule has worked for two major record companies that dumped her and two indie labels that went bankrupt beneath her.
Now she's turning to people she can really trust — her fans.
Sobule, whose witty and poignant writing first attracted attention with the song "I Kissed a Girl," has set up a Web site asking fans to donate money so she can make a new CD. She set a goal of $75,000 and, in a month, she's made about $54,000.
She's another example of a musician taking control of her career as the business crumbles around her, and doing it with a unique sense of humor.
Contributors can choose a level of pledges ranging from the $10 "unpolished rock," which earns them a free digital download of her disc when it's made, to the $10,000 "weapons-grade plutonium level," where she promises "you get to come and sing on my CD. Don't worry if you can't sing _ we can fix that on our end."
For the $500 "gold level," Sobule will mention your name in a song, maybe even rhyme with it. The $750 "gold doubloons level" is "exactly like the gold level, but you give me more money."
Sobule is surprised at how empowering the whole experience has been.
"The old kind of paradigm, where you've always waited for other people to do things, you'd have your manager and your agent," she said. "You'd wait for the big record company to give you money to do things and they tell you what to do. This is so great. I want to do everything like this."
She set the $75,000 goal because she wanted to do things right. Well-known producer Don Was has agreed to work with her, and she expects friends like Cyndi Lauper and John Doe to sing with her. She also needs to pay for making and distributing the CDs, and promotion to publicize it.
Sobule even wrote to explain all this to some snarky Web sites that pointed out that someone can easily record music for $500 in their basement these days.
"I wrote, `Don't you understand, it's not just the recording budget, it's also my gambling debts,'" she joked, "and they became my best friends."
For a $5,000 contribution, Sobule said she'll perform a concert in the donor's house. The lower levels are more popular, where donors can earn things like an advanced copy of the CD, a mention in the liner notes and a T-shirt identifying them as a "junior executive producer" of the CD.
Besides the studio album (recording starts next month), Sobule also wants to record a live CD and a collection of new tracks with just her voice and guitar, asking amateurs to take a stab at making their own arrangements around her.
One positive, unexpected result from her campaign is getting to know her fans a little, beyond just the faces that stare at her onstage. Many have written messages that are posted on Sobule's Web site and offer suggestions.
Sobule always let the business people do their thing while she concentrated on being the artist.
"I lived like that forever and this time, this is fun," she said. "This is creative."