Kaiser Chiefs and New Business Models for Music

I just finished listening to my version of the new album by Kaiser Chiefs, The Future is Medieval, and I have to say that I’m pretty happy with it.

You may well ask what makes it my version?

The thing that makes it mine is that I picked the 10 songs to go on it, I picked the order they’d go in, and I made the artwork. And I guess I’m promoting it now too, even though what I’m really interested in is the business model.

Here is how Mike Masnick describes the idea:

…there are two key things that the band is doing with this digital (and it’s only digital) release:

  • Let fans create a “custom” album with custom artwork. The band is effectively releasing 20 songs, and users get to pick which 10 they want, and put them in any order they want — and then they get a custom piece of album artwork, based on the choices. The website is fun to play around with as well.
  • Then, once you’ve bought the album, you also get a “fan page” for the unique album that you created, and if you drive others to that page and they buy the copy of the album that you created, you get £1 (the full album costs £7.50).

There are some other little features as well, but those are the two big ones. It’s definitely an interesting idea, and I’ll be curious to see how it goes.

I’m pretty curious to see how it will work too. Masnick has some reservations about the choices that they’ve made – but it illustrates an important point. When you face a turbulent environment, as record labels certainly do at the moment, then you have to experiment with new business models to find out what works.

This is an interesting experiment.

Here is what singer Ricky Wilson had to say about it in an email to The Lefsetz Letter:

We’re quite excited about this. Why not make an album yourself? We wanted to reward the fans for being our fans and thought this could be nice.

We just sold all our tickets for our first two gigs exclusively on our facebook page, which worked a treat and we’re going to be getting fans to use Facebook polls to help us pick set-lists and stuff. God knows if it’ll work.

We’ve used a load of our own money to hire some really clever people to build the site and market it so we’re hopeful.

This definitely isn’t some sort of two-fingers-to-the-system thing. In fact our label Fiction have been very supportive.

It’s not supposed to be a massive statement to the world or a fight against anything. It was just fun and we needed that to be honest.

So what’s different from a business model standpoint? A few things.

By getting people involved it changes the value proposition pretty significantly. If you take an hour to put together your own version of the CD, then you’re likely to feel pretty invested in it. In my case, that worked pretty well because even though I love and have bought a couple of Kaiser Chiefs songs, this is the first full CD of theirs that I’ve ever gotten. Marion Gibbon has a good analysis of some of the issues here as well.

The value network is different too, with fans promoting the record (although here is a critique from Dan Catt of that part of the scheme who suggests that this isn’t necessarily the best idea in the whole experiment – something that I agree with).

It’s also interesting to see what hasn’t changed – the value chain that produced the record is pretty standard. The band was supported by their label to go into the studio to make the music, and all the rest of the process right up to distribution is pretty standard. So it’s not a full DIY value chain like Kristin Hersh is using.

I’ve got no idea if this will work or not. But in a sense it doesn’t matter, because once it’s done, we’ll know something about this type of approach. And other bands and labels can try it themselves, or come up with a way to make this business model better.

The one thing that I do know is that if your business model is in trouble, trying out ideas that involve your customers more deeply in the process of creating things is probably smarter than suing them.

That was the end of the regular post, but here is where I’ll tell you a bit more about my version of the album. Carl Wilkinson has a good discussion of the ideas behind the album, whether or not it is a good idea for artists to give up control over track sequences, and the story behind his version of the album in this story at the Financial Times. Strangely, his first three tracks are identical to mine, even though I’m pretty sure we used a different method for picking songs.

In looking at this and a few other posts about the records, I think I messed up the artwork on mine. In any case, if you’d like to see the artwork, or check out my song choices, you can go here:


I’m pretty sure that the overlap between people reading this blog and Kaiser Chief fans is pretty small:

If you’re interested in hearing some of the music from the record, this is the first single Little Shocks:

If all this grabs your interest, you should check out the new record. But whatever you do, don’t buy my version – make your own!

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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7 thoughts on “Kaiser Chiefs and New Business Models for Music

  1. Very interesting business model. And the music is quite good too. Though for completists choosing songs is going to be tricky. (Suppose that’s why they make it divisible by two.)

  2. Several of the people that have criticised this approach have made that exact point Alex. It’s interesting though. My version clocks in at 37 minutes or so, which is the length of an old vinyl LP. One of the impacts of the CD is that artists have been more likely to just through everything they’ve recorded on to – which to me often leads to bloated records with too much filler. With this approach, there is a bit of regret about missing out on the other ten songs, but to be honest, I’m pretty content with the 10 that I have.

    In any case, it’s definitely an interesting experiment!

  3. Hi Tim,
    The future of the music industry will depend upon new ways of interacting with customers, the Kaiser Chiefs example is a beauty.
    I have just been reminded by a Seth Godin read of the Pearl Jam experiment 10 Yrs ago, releasing 72 live albums in a period of 18 months which were made available for sale on their website and through retailers. An interesting way to reward the existing customer base with a proliferation of choice which must have caused some anguish at the label. Effectively authenticating bootlegs for the enjoyment of their fans, a process which apparently turned a profit on every release.
    The Kaiser Chiefs twist of paying a commission to the album compiler is very neat.
    I can’t wait for Tom Waits to get a hold of this :)

  4. Thanks for the comment Rohan. The Pearl Jam comparison is an interesting one. Tom Waits is exactly the kind of artist I’d expect to come up with something interesting along these lines…

  5. The really exciting opportunity here is the potential for this approach to radically shape or alter a specific musical genre.
    Consider, a Country & Western or Blues album with the order of songs intentially reversed would create a truly happy and uplifting album, by the end of which, the protagonist would have his divorced wife returned to him, his dead dog resurrected, his job re-instated etc.

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