Big Jazz on SmallsLIVE

Bob Kenselaar By

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"What is viable and marketable these days is the idea of libraries of content—subscriptions, like Netflicks. There, you pay a monthly fee for unlimited usage of this library of films that you can watch as much as you like. So, what I'm currently working on is a mechanism of revenue sharing for artists where our new model for SmallsLIVE will be to convert our audio archive into a more streamlined library and charge a monthly subscription fee for unlimited access. The archive will grow with new content, week after week. And every artist in there will be registered. We'll be monitoring how many minutes of listening time each artist gets, and then they'll get a piece of this revenue pie that we collect every month. What I'm trying to do, you might say, is to create one of the biggest record companies ever, with every artist who plays at Smalls signed to the label."

Peter Bernstein Live at SmallsThe approach is a reversal of what Smalls now does between its video and audio archive. "Right now, there's a subscription fee for our video, and the audio archive is free. But we feel that that's not the right paradigm. We only make our live video free on Wednesday nights. We take down the pay wall and advertise it on Facebook. We'll see as many as 10,000 to 15,000 views in the course of a night, worldwide. So, my philosophy is if I can make this free every night, where we can start generating a nightly audience worldwide, 10,000 or 15,000 viewers or more, we can say, hey, if you enjoyed the show tonight and you want to watch it again or listen again, become a subscriber to our archive. Then we're benefiting everyone, the musicians will get paid, and I think it'll work all around. So that's the new vision, and I think if I can implement that, then, the CD label itself might go the way of the dodo.

"I might still have special projects with CDs here and there, but the truth is it's just not economically viable. It's very hard to recover the money you put into it, between paying the artist, the printing costs for the CDs, and the artwork and mixing and post production. I'm sure that if you talk to anyone at any record label, they'll tell you the same thing. A lot of labels these days are vanity projects where you have wealthy people who just don't care about actual profit. Although, in my case, I don't really care about profit, either, really. What I care about is the dissemination of the music worldwide. That's my main goal. And I think taking SmallsLIVE in this new direction will be a better way to do that. I'm excited to see what happens with it. I think it could be a new paradigm for the music industry in general."

Steve Davis Live at SmallsBeyond his work recording shows at Smalls and breaking new ground with ways to distribute the music, Wilner has his hands full with maintaining the club, managing it and keeping the staff organized, not to mention practicing piano and performing. "There's the lawyers, accountants—it's insane having to stay on top of the taxes—plus the banking and payroll. Everything's on the books; we do Federal withholding for everybody. Then there's the bar management, ordering booze and beer, keeping a wine list. Smalls is very labor intensive. You could just open a bar, and you wouldn't have to work as hard as we do here. But the thing about Smalls is that it's not so much a jazz club as some kind of religious organization. It's really like a monastery. It's a place for art, and there's a very dense community, with many interpersonal relationships that I'm in the center of. It involves a lot of social work. I'll loan money to people, work with them on getting medical help, write letters of recommendation for people to help them stay in the City. Artists come here to paint, writers come to write. We're very concerned with the culture of art in New York, and I want to make sure that our little thing here is still viable in the City because it's so rare now. It's almost gone. That's our mission."


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