Rundgren going online with works in progress

(The Hollywood Reporter, Monday,Feb. 3, 1997)
Reprinted with permission

Seeks second wind with fan 'patronage'

By Jeffrey Jolson-Colburn

Rock artist-digital entrepreneur Todd Rundgren is presenting a new type of online entertainment company to sell subscriptions that allow fans to access each new song and musical take as he creates them.

Rundgren said the name of the company, called PatroNet, "comes from the Renaissance idea of patronage. But in this case, it's not kings but the audience underwriting a work. It gives people the opportunity to experience the creative process as it happens."

As Rundgren records a tune, or adds an element such as a new instrument, he would send it up to the site where subscribers can download it. "This is not a disc, but a relationship with an artist over a long period of time. There may be chat sessions with the artist or special concerts. "It can be two years from the time the first song is written to the time an album is released," Rundgren said. "This is like the old days when acts kept releasing singles until they accumulated enough to create a 'long-play.' "

The cost would be $25 for the duration of the creation of an electronic "album," though the physical album pressed when the period was over would not be included, but likely sold through conventional means and specially priced mail order. Subscribers could, of course, download the last version, but memory limitations on most computers preclude long-term storage of large audio files.

Rundgren, who has divested himself of all previous contractual ties to labels or publishers, said, "I have spent the last couple of years getting out of other obligations, which makes you poor if you're an artist -- it means no advances."

Eric Gardner, no longer Rundgren's manager, but his partner in PatroNet and parent Waking Dreams Entertainment, said, "If we can get only 20,000 people to subscribe, that's $500,000 for Todd -- more than a traditional record company will pay. It automatically provides funding for the album and there will be a decent amount of money left over."

Gardner added, "Plus, after the online period is over, we could release the record through regular retail channels. What we're hoping is that other classic rock acts and cult acts would like to do it as well. Even 5,000 subscribers means $125,000 to record an album. PatroNet takes a 10% or 15% cut, not an 80% cut like a regular record company. It completely reverses the traditional manner of compensation."

Rundgren added, "It's a totally new way of thinking for artist and audience. Eliminate all these middle men. We think the model will work in other areas as well. Say a movie, where you could see dailies."

Rundgren and Gardner will take the concept into the book publishing arena when the artist's biography "The Individualist" comes out through Avon Books. Prior to release, it will be serialized online.

Rundgren, who has had a steady career in rock stretching back to the late 1960s, has had mixed success with his relentless pursuit of artistic applications of new technology. His CD-Plus release of his last album "The Individualist" suffered as it came out before industry standards made enhanced-CD releases easier to make. His plans for CD-Plus' only record label appears to have petered out as well.

"That might come later," he said.

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