Ben Folds Five's Kickstarter-y New Album Is The Good News From Music's Niche-ification

Back when Ben Folds Five released this album, people had to pirate it with NAPSTER.
Back when Ben Folds Five released this album, people had to pirate it with NAPSTER.

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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