Musicians Rethink Approach to Money Making

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In a time of plunging CD sales and the growth of Internet file sharing, musicians have to rethink their approach. WNYC's Lisa Chow reports on how some people could make music pay.

REPORTER: It is possible to make money making music even if some don't see how.

MACLAINE: The realities of making a living as a chamber musician are so incredibly difficult. Let's all go home and find financial investors to marry.

REPORTER: Maybe not marry one, but how about think more like one? Julia MacLaine and five others recently performed, for free, in apartment on Central Park West. Jeffrey Cahn hosted the event.

CAHN: I was simply opening up my apartment it was no big deal. These amazing musicians are coming in. It's their art, but I really felt a part of it in a way I've never felt before in any kind of performance.

REPORTER: And Cahn also sees a money-making opportunity. At the end of the night, he pulls aside Michael Reingold, who organized the event. Cahn says find five people in the music world, and five rich people to sponsor house concerts.

CAHN: Boom you guys have a board. You guys could have a revenue stream of each one of those people putting in $1,000 or $5,000 or $10,000. You're providing an amazing service. I look at it this way. Why are you giving me a free evening for me to promote how cool I am to my friends? For me to show off my fancy apartment.

REINGOLD: You are so cool.

REPORTER: So the money the wealthy board members give could go to paying the musicians. And why would they contribute in the first place? Because of their friends. Cahn's wife, Lili Schad, is a filmmaker and daughter of a plastics industry multimillionaire.

SCHAD: Once you get in into this city with a certain group, and one group has it, everybody else has to have it. And people love to show off their apartments.

REPORTER: The organizer Reingold needs a little time to take it in. Schad's husband leans in.

CAHN: You don't realize to do what I had the opportunity to do tonight in my apartment is worth a lot of money.

REINGOLD: For you a special price. Jeff is right. And I appreciate the sort of nudge to be more entrepreneurial. And I can see it moving in that direction as long as I can do the sort of idealistic aspect at the same time.

REPORTER: Reingold's reservation is by making people pay his concerts would be limited to the rich. And for Joanna Frankel, who performed that evening, economics doesn't even enter into it.

FRANKEL: In my experience with playing a house concert to a fault, I'm not thinking about money because this to me is something very pure, honest.

REPORTER: Perhaps she could learn something from singer songwriter Ruth Gerson. Gerson agreed to corporate underwriting ... and let Pepsi sponsor a series of her concerts.

GERSON: Nobody was asking me, we want to promote really giant gas guzzling cars at your living room concert, in which case I'd have to go, well, let me think about that. So it was a pretty easy decision.

REPORTER: Over the years, Gerson has built up a wide network of hosts and fans playing house concerts. And last year, a marketing agency working with the big beverage company approached Gerson about using her concerts to promote a new zero-calorie drink. Cassie Hughes is with Grow Marketing. She says house concerts are a perfect place to introduce Pepsi's new drink to consumers.

HUGHES: The drink Tava is being targeted to someone in their mid 30s and older. This is a person who loves to entertain at home. So by going in and talking to a few of the right people you can create word of mouth around products and brands.

REPORTER: Pepsi brings food, drink obviously, and instead of passing the hat, Pepsi pays Gerson. The singer songwriter says she doesn't feel like a sell-out by accepting the company's offer.

GERSON: Any time you deal with any product, or anything, then you have questions of course. But if you're going to make a living making music, you're going to have to answer that question every where you go, all along the way. I mean, having your record on a label. A label's a corporation. You're being sponsored by corporation.

REPORTER: So Gerson helps a company find consumers. Other musicians could give people the chance to show off their homes. The roadblock, perhaps, is the purist in them. For WNYC, I'm Lisa Chow.