Mash up Model Pay-What-You-Want Download
When the Pittsburgh-based musician who calls himself Girl Talk announced that his new collection of songs, Feed the Animals, would be released on a pay-what-you- want download basis, it didn't get quite the same level of attention that Radiohead got when that band did the same thing last October. That makes sense: Aside from being first, Radiohead also happened to be a chart-topping critics' darling that had sold millions of records over the course of a years-long major-label career. Girl Talk (real name Gregg Gillis) has also won critical praise but is not likely to land a big-time contract, commercial radio play, a spot in an iPod ad or even distribution on iTunes. This is because Feed the Animals is composed almost entirely of more than 200 samples of other artists' music, ranging from Lil Wayne to Kenny Loggins -- none of which Gillis has obtained permission to use.
The release is the 26-year-old Gillis's fourth, and a CD version will be distributed in September by a small label called Illegal Arts. (You get the CD if you pay $10 or more for the download.) Girl Talk started when he got a laptop for his freshman year at Case Western Reserve University, in 2000 -- a time when Napster was huge and both computer-made music and sampling were long established. He still uses relatively simple software called AudioMulch to splice digital music files together. The pleasure of his music is in the juxtapositions of both styles and eras and the faster-than-your-remote-control- finger pace. Maintaining that copyright law stifles creativity, he ignored it.
All of which suggests that Feed the Animals could be a kind of breakthrough, although that is hard to judge so far. Illegal Arts is run by a guy who declines to give his real name and is a bit cagey about sales figures, for the understandable reason that Girl Talk's music is a lawsuit waiting to happen. But speaking about two weeks after the release of the digital version, Gillis told me that he had noticed a wave of blog reviews from people who've never heard of me before." And he had just returned from a gig in Tulsa, Okla., where he had sold out a 1,600-person-capacity venue, compared with a crowd of less than 1,000 he drew his last time through. That's not exactly a Radiohead number, but it would probably be a welcome turnout for many indie musicians. Gillis will head out on a 30-city tour this fall, playing in spots that are a step up" from those he played after Night Ripper," he says.