Ever since the advent of Napster, musicians and commentators have been sounding the knell for the music industry model that had existed for the better part of the twentieth century. More than fifteen years on, it's clear that the old model lurches on, haggard and zombielike, but no clear and lasting successor has emerged. The à la carte model of iTunes, the 500-pound gorilla
of the digital music era, is now losing ground
to ad-supported or subscription streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify, and the many musicians who by misfortune or by ignorance have failed to benefit from these outmoded or evolving platforms are searching for new ways to be heard.
It's a time of transition, then, but it's also one of experimentation. After releasing In Rainbows
with Radiohead as a pay-what-you-like, DRM
-free website download back in 2007, frontman Thom Yorke more recently partnered with file-sharing platform BitTorrent to release his second solo LP, Tomorrow's Modern Boxes
, for an affordable $6. With her 2013 self-titled full-length, Beyoncé pioneered the "visual album
," a complementary sight-and-sound experience, with iTunes as its vehicle. Using that portal's same expansive reach, the following year U2 dropped their new Songs of Innocence
into personal music libraries around the world whether listeners wanted it or not. Also in 2014, prior to releasing Indie Cindy
, their first album in nearly a quarter of a century, the Pixies stoked hype and maximized revenue by issuing the album's twelve tracks over three chronologically staggered multi-format EPs. They Might Be Giants resurrected Dial-a-Song
and overhauled their fan club to offer tiered membership perks reminiscent of Kickstarter campaigns. And in the world of jazz, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt
has been offering live, freely downloadable MP3s from his website for roughly a decade as a bonus to existing fans ("adding value" in the cold vocabulary of marketingspeak) and a means of introducing new listeners to his work. When tallying all the niche and indie acts along with the household names, the number of musicians who are performing variations on these themes to promote or distribute their work is considerable, and it's growing out of necessity.
Saxophonist Nick Hempton
is among those spurred by the mother of invention. With three well-received albumsNick Hempton Band
(Triple-Distilled, 2009), The Business
(Positone, 2011) and Odd Man Out
(Positone, 2013)under his belt as leader, the Australian expat opted for something more adventurous and, with any luck, more financially viable with his fourth. Titled Catch and Release
, it's not so much a record as a project that aims to adapt the traditional jazz album to à la carte purchasing behavior and the staggered release format.
"It's simply making music and putting it into the marketplace the way people are already buying it," says Hempton. "In other forms of music, there are other revenue streams that aren't available in jazz. You can play huge arenas, sell merchandise. There's a lot more money to be had.
"Even at its best point, jazz never had a huge share of overall music sales. It's a very small market, and a big-band album, for example, is virtually unheard of today because it costs so much money to make. I want to get to the point where we're not cutting corners to make it happen." Catch and Release
officially kicked off last July with the title track, a sultry seven-minute, 24-bar swinger. It was recorded with drummer Dan Aran (who has performed on all of Hempton's albums as leader), pianist Jeremy Manasia and bassist Dave Baron. That was followed in September by the relaxed toe-tapping groove of "Hanging for Dear Life." Here Hempton leads once again on alto sax, and pianist Tadataka Unno steps in for Manasia.
Six weeks after "Hanging for Dear Life" appeared, Hempton issued "The Third Degree," which he describes as "Blue Note bossa" on account of its textural Art Blakey
-like rolls and rim clicks that power a straight-ahead swing. Unlike the first two, it's a quintet performance. Hempton takes up the tenor sax for this one; guest musician Peter Bernstein
features on guitar.
"I like the idea of keeping the regular band and then bringing in extra people," he says. "I'm thinking about doing this in future, and it's something you find on all the albums I've done. Having a track at a time allows a different way of looking at it, and on this one I wrote with Peter in mind. It allows me to write for a particular person and therefore a particular style of playing."