Open Band

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"Severed Fifth is a band that I formed in the San Francisco Bay Area. However, it's a different kind of band. Outside of creating music for folks to enjoy, Severed Fifth has two goals:

1. The first is to put open distribution and community at the heart of the band, and to use these elements as catalysts to build growth, awareness and expose the benefits of what I am referring to as the Open Band approach.

2. The second goal is to use these elements to build success around Severed Fifth, so it becomes a great example of how an Open Band approach can work. I want other bands and musicians to be able to point to Severed Fifth and say, "If those guys can do it, so can we!" (


The Open Band Three Tier system

"Severed Fifth is a music project with three core principles, which I have labeled as the Open Band Three Tier system:

1. We give the music away freely: Like open source, this encourages redistribution and awareness, and empowers fans to harness the content, share it with friends, and ultimately bring more listeners to the band (in the same way open source has exploded in popularity due to the free availability of content for users to test and assess if it works for them).

2. We build community: I have taken my experience in community management to build a community around Severed Fifth. This helps fans feel part of a project they can contribute to. We have done this in the form of the Severed Fifth Street Team.

3. We socialize Severed Fifth Fair Pay: We encourage people to pay what is fair and reasonable to them to help support the band. This is powered by PayPal and anyone with a piece of plastic in their wallet can contribute. Thanks to the free availability of content and the community feel, people gain a closer connection to the band. In turn, they are more likely to contribute. We have already seen many financial contributions from fans.

This idea is simple. In a recording industry environment that is widely regarded as ineffective, if we provide a solid example of a band that provides free access to content (which significantly lowers the barrier to attract fans) and empowers those fans with a community, this results in a wider fanbase that feels a closer sense of commitment to supporting their favorite bands. Of course, the same approach could be applied to other creative endeavors: publishing, art, video and more. My goal is to make Severed Fifth a successful and repeatable template." (


"We have made good progress thus far. In October, we put out our 11-track "Nightmares By Design" demo for free. The album is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license, so you can share it with your friends, remix it, and otherwise enjoy it. Response has been very positive, with people not only enjoying the music, but also taking advantage of the rights. They've been spreading it around, putting it on YouTube videos, and making ringtones out of it.

We have also invested a lot of energy in building our community. As noted above, we created the Severed Fifth Street Team. These passionate fans have been putting Severed Fifth posters up in local areas, getting the music played on local radio and in clubs, and spreading awareness online. We have seen tremendous examples of people feeling inspired to contribute: Rob Kielty produced a Severed Fifth Android app, Virgil Brummond is working on a Severed Fifth fanzine, torontomario has created many Severed Fifth wallpapers, and Bungee Brent contributes photography.

In addition to this work, the community has come together to build awareness across many online resources such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, Reverbnation and more. Throughout these resources, the community has contributed videos, graphics and advocacy — each person is harnessing their own skills to grow awareness of the band.

To get a good feel for the progress so far, we have released two short videos summarizing 2010 and the recording campaign. See 2010 Recapped and Severed Fifth Recording Campaign - Jan 2011 Update." (


By thrivable:

"Todd: You’ve said the uniqueness of Severed Fifth is your community, not that you openly give away your music for free (which others do also). Why are people motivated to join your Street Team, be your advocates, and send donations for producing a studio album? Why is the Severed Fifth model thriving?

Jono: Community has taught us that when people feel empowered by a mission, by an ethos, and by a goal; they will feel an overwhelming sense of unity in contributing their skills and abilities to that mission, ethos, and goal. We have seen countless examples of this — be it software freedom with Open Source, public availability of knowledge with Wikipedia, or political resistance with various forms of activism. When a community feels empowered and has the tools and venue to contribute their efforts, great things happen.

Of course, the mission and ethos needs to be one that people genuinely care about. “Getting Jono weekly bagels”, while interesting to me, would not be interesting to most people. I believe that we have seen Severed Fifth gain momentum because this is a problem that many passionate free culture folks care about, but it is also easy for other people to understand and care about too. My goal is to get as many people as possible to understand the mission and ethos we are empowered by — a more open music industry — and to get people on board the Severed Fifth train to produce a great example of success in the new industry.

The challenge is that culture-changing goals such as these can often sound incredibly ethereal and difficult to understand. My goal is to produce a concrete example of something everyone can point to that demonstrates that a band who harnesses their work with professionally produced music, free access to content, empowered community, and fair financial contributions decided by the fans, will be successful. This is what I want Severed Fifth to be – so other bands can point at it and say, “If they can do it, so can we.

Todd: Even with Radiohead’s successful In Rainbows experiment in 2007, it seems bands are still waiting for labels to court them. With Rock n’ Roll’s history of breaking rules, rebelling against cultural norms, and exerting independence, why has this taken so long to take shape?

Jono: I believe part of the challenge is that bands traditionally have not had the tools or skills to get out there and build awareness on the back of the free availability of content. It is hard enough trying to persuade a label to give the content away for free, but then you need to develop a set of skills to really raise awareness of this. Finally, you have the final complicating factor that record deals are so romantic – they hold so much promise for so many bands. Unfortunately the reality in these economic times is often in conflict with the fantasy.

For years bands have pushed their music in their local areas, but it is only in the last few years that we have seen people developing skills in the area of global community growth and empowerment. While I am not suggesting for a second that I am an expert, I have been working on this a lot over the last ten years in Open Source, and I think we are starting to see more and more focus being placed on communities and growth – this is another area in which Open Source has led the curve.

Part of the goal with Severed Fifth is expose many of these techniques and approaches and transition them from Open Source and technology to music. Down the line I want to write a book explaining how all of this worked in a format that other bands and artists can harness. focused on musicians and creative types. We have already seen the impact of digital sharing on the music industry, and I think we will next see the impact of sharing this knowledge about building your own fanbase, and this will contribute to the change.” (