Better Know a FlashFWD Nominee: CASH Music

by Kyle Mammarella

The digital music landscape has proven difficult for musicians and the recording industry alike to navigate.  It could be argued, though, that unsigned independent artists have had the hardest time traversing the digital minefield.  While it has offered countless opportunities for them to produce, market and sell their music, the latest business model du jour – streaming music services – has resulted in artists struggling to keep afloat, seeing only a fraction of compensation after all other parties get their piece of the pie.  Everything starts with musicians, but they are the last to see any of the money in music.   Enter CASH Music.

Started by programmer Jesse von Doom and indie rock lifer and former Kill Rock Stars VP Maggie Vail, CASH Music is a non-profit whose aim is to build open source digital tools for musicians and labels to empower them to cultivate a sustainable future in music.  “What WordPress did for bloggers, we’re doing for musicians,” reads their website.

What CASH Music is ultimately trying to do is give musicians support in an environment that often feels alienating and hostile.  “We want to help them navigate the Internet, build their own online communities how they see fit, and give them the tools they’ll need to make their road a little easier,” says board member Dave Allen.

For a company with such grandiose ambitions and a sanguine vision of the future of the independent digital music business, CASH Music has had relatively humble beginnings.  Like many of the artists they strive to help, they turned to Kickstarter to raise funds for a hosted version of their platform.  Within three days, their $30,000 goal was reached from donations from over 300 people.  At the close of their fundraising period, they had raised over $61,000, almost solely by word of mouth.  Given the immediate and overwhelming response, it is apparent that people understand the need for an open source platform of tools that give artists the functionality they need to thrive in the digital environment.

“For musicians the key is simplicity of implementation. For music fans it’s the ability to support their favorite artists by dealing with them directly, without the middlemen,” writes Allen on the CASH Music blog.

Songs featured on the site are released under the Creative Commons license to download or be remixed. Musicians retain control of their music.  For consumers, the site offers subscriptions ranging from $10–30 per quarter to one-time payments of up to $5,000, each with corresponding benefits.  Since CASH Music is a non-profit, the service is completely free for musicians, relying solely on voluntary contributions, (for the time being, anyway).

According to their Kickstarter page, “what [CASH Music] did was build a whole lot of things that musicians can use, do it in the open where it’s all totally free, and do it as a Nonprofit so Sony can’t come along and buy it all up.”

There are already a number of musicians and record labels using the service, including Iron & Wine, Portugal. The Man, Domino Records, FatCat Records, Kill Rocks Stars, Saddle Creek, and many more.

In addition to co-directors von Doom and Vail, CASH Music is guided by a board that represents many different facets of the industry: Dave Allen, Anthony Batt, Jonathan Coulton, Tishaun Dawson, Leslie Hawthorn, Kristin Hersh, Dick Huey, Zoë Keating, Nick Palmacci, Eric Steuer, Tobi Vail, and Emily White.

CASH Music is also a part of the WebFWD program. WebFWD (“Web Forward”) is Mozilla’s Innovation Accelerator program, where makers of the next great Web advancements participate as WebFWD Fellows in Mozilla’s global network, receiving mentorship, infrastructure support and other resources that help move the Web forward, together.

Kyle Mammarella is a New York based artist manager and music enthusiast.