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His Fans Lend an Ear (and Their Money)

Singer-songwriter Tom Kimmel once made expensive albums for big labels. Now he's producing them at a fraction of the cost -- with a little help from his audience. <b>As told to Robert Frick.</b>

Why did you turn to fans to help finance your latest album? I had a lot of projects going on and money was tight, so I gave fans an opportunity to be patrons. With a minimum $500 investment, I promised to pay them an 8% flat-rate return, which should take at most two years based on past sales. I needed only $15,000 and turned down offers.

The Voice of Tom Kimmel

Click on the Play button to listen to "When You Know" from Tom's newest album, Never Saw Blue

What's the album about? The whole album is a collection of songs I've written for movies and television shows. It's called Never Saw Blue, which is the title of a song I wrote that was in the movie Runaway Bride.

Why did you switch to indie albums? I came up through the publishing and major-label system. My first album, 5 to 1, came out in 1987 on Mercury/PolyGram, and it cost about $250,000 to produce. Next came Circle Back Home, on Polydor/PolyGram, in 1990. It was a classic instance of executives losing perspective; they spent $400,000 just to produce it. I lost my recording deal after that. Since then, I've done five self-financed indie albums.

What are the economics of one of your indie albums? The most expensive album cost about $25,000 to record. We charge $15 each, of which about $10 is profit. My best-selling indie record has sold 7,000 to 8,000 copies, and that's about the ceiling for most artists.



Recent 'My Story' Profiles

2008 'My Story Collections

2007 'My Story Collections

Is the big-label model dead? It isn't just breaking down -- it's broken down. It always troubled me that the wealth of talent out there had to be filtered through only a few major labels. It's not just that labels decided who was talented and who wasn't; they decided who was attractive enough. Patsy Cline couldn't get an album looking like Patsy Cline.

What's your strategy now? I call this my ongoing experiment. The cutting edge for me is making a new record every couple of years and using a limited, sensible, cost-effective promotion to get it out there. I just need to expose it to people who might like it, mainly through touring and the Internet. I've made a commitment to owning my own work entirely. I've been able to make a living in the music business while doing what is sacred to me.