A steady diet of carefully curated downloads (and more)
Last fall, when Ghostly International's Sam Valenti IV and Miguel Senquiz were in Berlin, we met up for beers and a little shop talk. They wanted to pick my brain, they said, about a new music platform they were developing. They wanted to know what I'd hope for from a label-based subscription service — a service where, for a monthly fee, I could get every new release from my favorite imprints, along with selected archive releases and other goodies. We talked about brand loyalty and back catalogs, record stores and online access and Sub Pop's Singles Club; we talked a lot about creating a culture where paying for music is valorized (by the fans) and, just as importantly, rewarded (by the labels).
Now, their back-of-the-napkin sketch is a reality. It's called Drip FM, and so far it's signed up Stones Throw, Mad Decent and Dirtybird as participating labels, along with anchor tenant Ghostly. This week, they announced Carl Craig's Planet E as the latest addition to the Drip.FM family.
The standard offering goes something like this: For a monthly fee, usually between $10 and $15, users get access to each new Drip FM release from the label they've subscribed to. Those might be new releases, back-catalog titles, DJ mixes, or other exclusives. All are available as 320 kbps MP3s — that's DJ quality — with no DRM restrictions. (Some labels additionally offer WAV downloads.) Subscriptions are accepted from anywhere in the world — a boon for listeners living in countries where they're beset by territory restrictions. There's also a sort of signing bonus, as new members receive a given label's last three releases upon joining. New subscribers to Planet E, for example, receive two recent singles — Kirk Degiorgio's "The Golden Aspect" and Paperclip People's "Throw (Slam's RTM Remix)" — along with 2011's 25-track compilation, 20 Fucking Years of Planet E: We Ain't Dead Yet.
As for how much beat you get for your buck, that'll vary by label, as well as by how much you already have invested in a given label. Planet E, for example, has three Drip FM releases scheduled for May — Daphni's recent "Modular Pursuits" remixes, the new Last Decade EP by Carls David, and Paperclip People's classic 1996 album, The Secret Tapes of Dr. Eich — and two more for June. Mad Decent, on the other hand, only has one upcoming release announced for May, although that could change. Still, as San Francisco's Dirtybird label notes, $10 is less than you'd typically pay for just two or three EPs at most DJ-centric download sites.
And membership has its perks: Ghostly has sent out occasional, unannounced physical mailings of tchotchkes like keychains to its subscribers, and Mad Decent subscribers get actual membership cards, along with occasional discounts on merch and physical releases. (#Swag! Literally.)
"Our vision is to enable labels and artists another frictionless way to keep their fans engaged and happy," says Valenti. As to why labels would be getting into a retail game already dominated by outlets like iTunes and Beatport, Valenti notes one key differentiator: "Perspective is what labels offer in the world of music. It's more than just the music, it's the attitudes and information they share that Drip FM is built on."