Here's how things were different the last time Ben Folds Five released an album, without digital music stores, social networking, or anything like Kickstarter: Ubiquity was a possible outcome for rock-and-roll albums.
Not just from huge names, either--in the same way baseball's late-90s power binge put luminaries like Greg Vaughn and Dante Bichette in the company of much better players on the all-time home run leaderboard, the overheated market for CDs at the turn of the twenty-first century ensured that the all-time bestselling album list would make room for Hootie and the Blowfish and No Doubt forevermore. Ubiquity wasn't just possible--it was weirdly common.
Napster, and then iTunes, and now Kickstarter and Pledge Music, the Kickstarter-like site Ben Folds Five chose for reasons of modesty and charity), have done a lot of great things for music and music-fans, but it's worth remembering the permanent dent they've made in arena-sized fanbases and watercooler-based music conversations. One piece of popular music doesn't have the power to force changes in mass culture than it once did, and in return for that we've already gotten a la carte song purchasing and the god-given right to never buy another CD tower again.
But Ben Folds Five's Pledge Music model for their new album--they released the above track as a teaser--and Kickstarter success stories like Amanda Palmer and Five Iron Frenzy, might be the best payment we've gotten yet in exchange for the permanent niche-ification of rock and roll in particular and music in general: The chance to fund and, in an ancient-Athens, direct-democracy kind of way, vote for specific albums we want to hear.
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