In early 2005, something happened at the 47th Grammy Awards that had never happened before: an album won its category (Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album) without having been available in any brick-and-mortar record store - only through online sales.
The album was the Maria Schneider Orchestra's superlative Concert in the Garden and the engine behind its distribution was ArtistShare.
In fact, it was Schneider's project that got ArtistShare off the ground in the Fall of 2003, though its CEO and founder Brian Camelio conceived of the idea a full three years earlier in an epiphany one day on the treadmill. It took those years to develop software, secure patents and get other business and legal affairs lined up, but one couldn't ask for much better of an early success story.
ArtistShare is a new business model in the music industry, one where traditional middlemen like distributors are missing from the picture. But more than simply providing the technology for artists to sell their finished product online, ArtistShare promotes an opening up of the artist's entire creative process along the way, sharing that process with the consumer as the work evolves. "It's about the creation of new art, said Camelio. "It's about the here and now, always, because that's the most exciting thing about an artist.
The motivation to create ArtistShare came from the confluence of two trends, according to Camelio. One was the mistreatment of musicians by record companies. But not just any musicians, "because that's been happening forever, he said. "It was the record companies screwing over my friends. Then I got mad.
The other trend was the explosion of online file sharing, where computer users download copyrighted music for free. "Everybody was in a big panic and I thought to myself, that's not where the value in music is, said Camelio.
"To me, that end result has been so devalued, he continued. "Once you put it into digital format, it's game over. It's done. It's out in the universe and anybody can freely pass it to one another. I'm trying to take the perceived value off of the end result and put it on the process, the entire thing.
Camelio cites a number of his best friends, like Jim Hall, Maria Schneider, Dave Binney, Scott Colley and Chris Potter, as examples. "These are the most amazing people I've ever met and, on top of that, their creative processes, how they work, is incredibly interesting.
Grammy-winner Schneider, for one, was eager to try a new approach. "Brian knew my situation and other artists' too, where we were helping invest in records and were seeing absolutely no return on the investment, even though in my case I was selling a fair amount of records, she said. "So when he approached me with this idea that we could expand the product by sharing the whole creative process, it intrigued me and I thought it was a great idea.
With ArtistShare, each artist's website will list different participant offers that give the consumer access to different parts of their work - from video excerpts of rehearsals to lessons in improvisation complete with streaming audio and written sketches. "It's never just about buying a CD, or buying a score, or buying anything, said Camelio. "It's the equivalent of going to a show. You've got cheap seats and you've got good seats and you get to experience this thing as it's happening, but here it happens slowly over time on the Internet and in the end you get a door prize. Artists own all their music and collect 85 percent of royalties, ArtistShare the other 15.
Though ArtistShare has partnered with many jazz musicians, including Schneider, Danilo Perez, Bob Brookmeyer, Brian Lynch and Jane Ira Bloom, it is not exclusive to any genre. In fact, it's not even exclusive to music, as the company is working with painters, photographers and even a writer, according to Camelio. As for consumers, "we get people who are really very dedicated to the artist, because they create an emotional bond with them, he said, a bond formed through witnessing the creative process.
Camelio's path to creating ArtistShare has been an interesting one. He was a working jazz guitarist for many years, having earlier received his undergraduate degree in composition, writing large orchestral works. Ultimately, in the late '90s, he fell in love with computer programming. "It's the same thing as writing music, he said. "You have a language and you put it together creatively to make something that you want.
Jazz guitar legend Jim Hall counts Camelio among his good friends, as well as erstwhile guitar student. He has done two ArtistShare projects, most recently 2005's Free Association, a duo album with pianist Geoffrey Keezer. "It seemed like a forward- looking move to make, said Hall, "and I knew that Maria had done a recording for him and that had gone really well. I've gotten some royalties and Brian's been working very hard at this thing.