I recently had a phone conversation with Brian McTear, the Founder and Director of a brand new non-profit called Weathervane Music (http://weathervanemusic.org/projects).
I had heard about them from a friend, and after looking at their website, I was very intrigued, so I decided to contact them. When on the call, Brian and I talked mostly about my business model, Beat-Play, (http://musicwithoutlabels.com) and about some other alternative industry models. After my discussion with Brian, I was still a little curious about his non-profit model. I knew that it has amazing potential, but I needed to know more. I sent Brian an email with some questions…These are his answers:
What is the Weathervane Music Organization? What is the overall Goal of the project?
Weathervane Music is a small nonprofit organization determined to support and promote independent music in our society, and in doing so to bring about career changing opportunity for the sophisticated artists that participate in our programs.
Weathervane hopes also to have an influential role in the emerging new models for the music industry. We’ve pinpointed several details in the traditional industry model that are still essential to future models, but that are less and less supportable in the for-profit industry. These include artist selection, project funding, and artists advocacy (roles once reserved for record labels exclusively in the past). Weathervane’s programs revolve around these details, but since we prioritize the artists’ potential career success, we realize that the content we create must be easily licensable in the for-profit sector while insuring that the artists who make the music retain the majority of the financial benefit from revenues generated by the recordings.
Our first major project is a series of audio and video recordings produced for the web called The Weathervane Music Project Series. The series features a limited number of select artists each year. Weathervane provides recording studio time for the artists, for now to record a single song with a producer and staff. The session is also recorded in high definition video, with a focus on the artists and their vision for the music, while highlighting the technical and creative processes in the studio.
We launched the Project Series in June of 2009, on our website, http://weathervanemusic.org/projects.
Can you tell me what experience you bring to the project?
I’ve been a record producer and engineer for the past 15 years. I work out of Miner Street Recordings, my recording studio in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia where I’ve recorded somewhere in the realm of one hundred records in that time.
Who came up with the idea and where did the name come from?
I came up with the idea for Weathervane back in 2002 with my friend Matt Pond (of the band Matt Pond PA). A year later began developing the idea with my high school friend Bill Robertson.
Why did you see a need for a model like Weathervane?
Over the years I’ve been building a great recording studio, while nurturing my own career as a musician and producer. By the mid 2000’s it just wasn’t adding up. I had more and more critically acclaimed albums under my belt, but artists just weren’t selling records. Obviously we know peer to peer was depleting record sales, but I had a sense, even back then, that the industry wouldn’t last much longer, at least the industry that all of my aspiring artist friends were working so hard for.
It was clear that labels were going to pay less and less money for artists to record, and that soon, there’d be no incentive to support unknown artists. It seemed the only way we as a society would have great new independent music would be if society itself could support unknown artists. Nonprofit seemed the way to go. Of course I had a LOT to learn, because it’s not simple…nothing is.
How many people are currently involved in Weathervane’s operations?
There’s five of us: Myself, and Bill, and then we have a grant writer, a PR/Marketing manager and a web designer.
How old is Weathervane?
The idea goes back to 2002, but Weathervane launched last year in 2009.
What are some struggles Weathervane has had to face in trying to be successful in its goals?
Money. Plain and simple. They say you have to spend money to make money. Well, you have to spend a hell of a lot more money to make money in a nonprofit model.
What are some successes Weathervane has had?
We’re young. I think the Project Series has been a success so far. At the very least it’s a great start, but we have a long way to go. We’ve also been successful in assembling a great board and have had encouraging interest and support from other organizations and corporate sponsors.
How is Weathervane able to support itself while giving such a tremendous value to the artists for free? Who are your biggest contributors?
The project series was funded by a small group of founding financial donors and corporate sponsor who provided recording gear to the sessions. The actual money we’ve raised so far has come from about ten people, but that couldn’t begin to cover the expense of the amazing audio and video technical crew, and professions who donated their time and services.For future Project Series, we’re working on building a membership program that would allow fans of the series and of the organization in general to support the costs (similar to the way Public Radio and TV is supported). We’ll continue to apply for grants from nonprofit and government arts programs, and we’ll continue to grow our corporate sponsorship relationships.
How does an artist get chosen by Weathervane?
The Project Series is a curated program, meaning that each year there are a limited number of available artist slots, and one person, ie. the curator, selects those artists. I functioned as the curator in our first year. Next year, and each year from here forward, a selection committee within Weathervane will select a new curator. That person will have the strongest effect on the shape and feel of the Project Series.
How does Weathervane go about marketing and promoting the artists they select, once they have been professionally recorded and produced?
That’s what we’re working on, and we’ll probably continue to work on forever. Right now we use the free open sources of the web. We are working to collect data about our audience that we can maintain and take with us in the future (this is often referred to as “data portability”, and it’s a concept that anyone building a community with the internet needs to be aware of). For now we are building an email list. Additionally we’re continually building a fanbase through Facebook, twitter, etc.
We’ve had early success with public radio in Philadelphia, particularly WXPN, which is listener supported radio from the University of Pennsylvania. We’ll continue to reach out to public radio as well as traditional print press as well.
What are the plans for the future of Weathervane? Do you wish to expand into other cities eventually?
I guess what people need to understand is that Weathervane features artists from potentially all corners of the earth. Though it takes place in Philadelphia, and though part of our mission is to shine light on the Philadelphia independent music community and its production resources, but it is not exclusive to Philadelphia artists. Our first artist, Sunset, came to Philadelphia from Austin Texas.
What is your view of the future of the music industry? Where do you see it going?
I am not sure how the industry itself will work, but I am sure that successful artists will derive income from a portfolio of revenue sources as opposed to a single source (ie. “record sales” as it once was in the past). Artists will be much more likely to be independent of large organizations, and will maintain their revenue portfolio almost the same way a stock portfolio works in a mutual fund. Long story short: artists will have to be MUCH smarter than they had to be in the past.
I have a strong belief in the efficacy of our model as one of many possible models for bringing music to society and opportunity to artists. There will always be for-profit industry, and we’re not trying to bring down the system. We’re really trying to strengthen it.
Weathervane Music is a GREAT example of the love, respect, and courage that people have towards music in general. That someone could not want to see the day that independent artists are extinct, so much that they developed a model where society could, through this shared love and respect for music, support all of its growth and development in the most direct and basic ways, is a testament to the spirit of music itself and the impact it has had on nearly every single person on the planet. We must believe in this. I hope to see this model in some shape or form, expand throughout the world.
However, this model does have some hurdles to jump over in order for it to be successful. One of the big ones Brian talked about above was promotion. That seems to be a big toss up no matter who you ask…Unless you ask me. I like to tackle things from a bit of a broader perspective.
For me, the Independent Music Industry is missing 6 Crucial Pieces of the Puzzle in order for it to be successful as a whole, on all levels:
Piece # 1: Cheap, Effective, Wide-Spread, Easily Accessible, Fun & Customizable Promotion
Piece # 2: Multi-Platform, Multi-Revenue-Stream Distribution
Piece # 3: Easy, Independent, Wide-Spread and Cheap Concert Booking
Piece # 4: A Solution to the Piracy/Music Sharing Issue
Piece # 5: An Alternative Investment Source for Independent Artists to get their Music Professionally Recorded, Mixed, and Mastered
Piece # 6: ONE solid artist/fan interface where fans can stay in touch and updated with their favorite artists. (Myspace not so stable?, Facebook not so Music?)
If we don’t get ALL of these pieces in place, and soon, we will fail. However I don’t think failure is in our future. I’ve actually designed my model around these missing pieces, and it turns out that Beat-Play itself can put into place at least 4, but 5 if necessary, out of the 6 pieces. The only one which Beat-Play can not itself put into place, is number 5. But it turns out that Weathervane Music’s model fits this need fairly suitably. The only thing that could be better would be a non profit that provides free studio recording time and production for ALL independent artists, any time and anywhere, but something tells me that is a long way off. For now, Weathervane music is a great alternative.
The One Suggestion for Weathervane that I would make, as fellow Industry Model Creator, would be to spread slowly to other cities, and eventually have each city’s headquarters be focused on the artists in that city. I think lot of people and cities could really use that. This way there would be more artists selected over a greater area and also more funding resources. The organizations impact could increase greatly. But for now, while just in Philly, it does make sense to branch out and allow for artists to come from all over to take part.
Thanks to Brian McTear for this interview and discussion opportunity.
To Donate to Weathervane go to: http://weathervanemusic.org/
To Check out their Artists & Videos go to: http://www.youtube.com/user/WVmusicOrg
Written by: Dante Cullari – Founder & President, Beat-Play LLC