Digital Music ‘Done Right’

Ramen Music, located in Vienna, is Sudara Williams’ subscription-based model aimed at getting musicians paid for their work

Sudara Williams hard at work on his music magazine | Photo: Marlena-Valerie Koppendorfer

While we all love mix-tapes and can remember creating our own by stringing together songs, most of us haven’t made or listened to a mix-tape in quite a while. Once we started buying single tracks online and loading our mp3 players with music, those well thought-out compilations we used to make for friends seem to have become a thing of the past. Yes, some of us meticulously put together playlists, and burned CDs for friends, but it’s not the same.

Recently, the feeling of listening to a mix-tape came back while having a look at the debut issue of Ramen Music, a new bi-monthly music “zine” that releases songs by independent artists. Tuning in, music flowed from one underground artist to the next, and the freshness and quality of the sound and songs immediately grasped my attention. Songs flowed from one unknown artist to the next, and the freshness and quality of the sound and songs was impossible to ignore.

Set up on a subscription-based model, Ramen Music was started by Vienna-based Sudara Williams of Hawaii. Soon after the website went online in early August, Williams had generated enough subscriptions, at $29 per year, to be able to pay artists $125 per song.

“For most people submitting, this is the first time that they have made money on a recording,” Williams confessed.

The 29-year-old musician and digital entrepreneur has been frustrated for years with the inability of the music industry to leverage digital distribution and pay artists fairly.

“I started to believe strongly that if it costs nothing to distribute a piece of music, we should not actually be charging for pieces of music but rather for an experience,” Williams told The Vienna Review.

The experience that Williams creates has taken the idea of the mix-tape and transformed it into a vehicle. Subscribers are sent a link to their copy of Ramen, which is downloadable in high quality but best enjoyed directly on the webpage. After scrolling past the original album artwork, Williams introduces Ramen: “Ramen Music was created… because today, the music industry still desperately needs innovation and alternatives that treat listeners and artists with respect.”

If respect is Williams’ goal, he does a good job: Each artist has a small panel including photos, track details, where it was recorded, and an anecdote or two from the artist. The tracks flow from one unknown musician to the next, and while the tracks vary musically from acoustic to electronic grooves and melodies, they fit together as if they were, you might say, written for the same movie. The featured artists are all young songwriters from the U.S.A., Canada and also England.

Photo: Alec Longstreth

Once the music has been played, the listener has the option of sharing with friends so they can listen and share as well – making the potential exposure of being featured in an issue of Ramen quite exciting. While not as mechanical as making a mix-tape for friends, it’s easy to share the “zine” with others, giving the site what you might call an “organic” feel.

Williams embraces the artists as part of a close circle, talking about their work in the first person and always explaining any personal ties he may have with the artist. This personal approach to music is refreshing and listeners immediately feel transported into a world that projects a longing for more great music. Many of the songs feel somewhat melancholic, perhaps fitting to the gloomy fall season.

“I try to take songs that have not been heard before, or at least in any major capacity,” explains Williams. “It’s a non-exclusive deal. The artist keeps all their rights. The goal is to be the first venue for them to publish in.”

As Williams begins receiving submissions for the second issue, he expects to have enough subscribers to continue to pay each artist $150 per song, and is proud that he is still able to payout 100% of the subscriptions.  He has also pledged that artists will never split less than 75% of the subscription revenue. Anybody can submit a tune, which is part of the charm–maybe some of these songs sound so cozy because they may well have been written and recorded in the artists’ bedroom.

Williams is not new to digital music distribution, having started a music-sharing site a few years back specifically for musicians. “When I saw how many artists out there are making great music just on their own, it kind of lit a fire for me to really get Ramen going and get these talented musicians heard.”

The name Ramen was coined by American entrepreneur Paul Graham: “As a start-up you can either take investment money, or you can start super scrappy with just what you got. This is called being ‘Ramen Profitable,’ i.e. profitable enough to support your basic living expenses, put ramen on your dinner table, and slowly build something up.”

With Ramen Music, Williams has created something share-able, collectable and genuine in this age of the digital music industry. His hopes were for the future?

“There’s only one goal: To have enough subscribers to pay artists fairly for their work. If we can accomplish that, it’s irrelevant to me what the current industry thinks about what we’re doing. They have largely failed to come up with a model that pays artists fairly for their recorded music. If I can accomplish what they have failed, I’ll be happy.”

 

Ramen Music has made the first issue available for us to enjoy. at www.ramenmusic.com/vreview

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