Ghostly International, a music label started more than a decade ago from a University of Michigan dorm room, has thrived in uncertain times for the music industry. In 1999, as Napster was wreaking terror in the hearts of record execs, founder Sam Valenti IV decided to create a label that was foremost a brand—he designed a logo before signing a band—where the album art and music, and eventually an online retail store that shills everything from wallets to calendars, were all part of its ethos. Building on its model of label-as-tastemaker, this year the company launched its most ambitious venture yet: a subscription-based music service called Drip.fm.
To capitalize on the loyalty of independent record labels’ most ardent fans, the service allows labels to send subscribers every album release via e-mail for a flat monthly fee. For fans, it’s a convenience product. For labels, it’s a reliable stream of revenue every month. It’s not meant to supplant other ways of accessing content, whether that’s buying music on iTunes or streaming it on YouTube; it’s an alternative for a subset of listeners—a modern fan club. “So many digital services have been released in the last few years,” says Jeff Jank, digital manager of Stones Throw, a Los Angeles-based hip-hop label that launched the service for its fans in late January. “This is a rare service that is custom built for our niche.” So far, 500 customers have pledged $10 a month for Stones Throw’s “drip.”