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Cutting out the middleman

For many musicians, finding a record company to produce and distribute their tunes is only half the battle. Making money in music is tough - especially considering record companies generally pay a pittance when it comes to royalties.

For many musicians, finding a record company to produce and distribute their tunes is only half the battle.

Making money in music is tough - especially considering record companies generally pay a pittance when it comes to royalties.

A new internet-based nonprofit organization is now looking to offer artists an alternative, better deal.

It’s called Pay Who You Want Online and this is how it works:

Artists can upload their songs or albums to the site and, in this way, distribute their music throughout the world.

You can then visit the site and listen to any song, in a variety of different genres.

If there’s a song of album that you like, you can download it and pay whatever you think is fair and can afford.

There is a minimum price of $5 per album and 50 cents per song, but after that it’s up to you.

And you get to see exactly where the money is going.

Buyers are shown how much of their money is going to keep the site running, how much is going to the artist and how much will be donated to two charity organizations.

If the buyer chooses, they can decide not to donate to that charity and give all of the money to the artist.

Kim Le launched the site in March 2009.

The idea came when Le attended a concert for Canadian chanteuse Jane Siberry.

Siberry, who has been performing for nearly 30 years, was sharing with the crowd some of the problems she’d had dealing with the music industry.

“I had heard many different musicians expressing their frustrations with the way things work,” said Le.

“But to hear it from somebody at that level just blew me away.”

Siberry had decided to move to an internet-based pay-what-you-want, pay-what-you-can or pay-it-forward system

“The idea behind that is that she just wanted people to be able to enjoy her music without having to go through all the trouble of dealing with a record label,” said Le.

“She was taking her career into her own hands.”

Siberry isn’t the only big-name artist to circumvent the record label to release music to their fans.

In 2007, Radiohead released an album on their website in a pay-what-you-want format.

Buyers were given the option to pay nothing at all and download the album for free.

A year later, the band announced that across all mediums - CDs, records and downloads - the band had sold 3 million albums.

Their previous three albums had sold in the low hundreds of thousands.

Despite (or because of) the downloads, the band sold 1.75 million physical CDs and 100,000 box sets, as well as selling out concerts worldwide.

Not bad considering more of that money went to the band instead of into the pockets of its record label.

Le, who had a background in computers and web design, decided to create a site to let small independent artists make use of this new phenomenon.

The site currently has about 100 artists from across Canada - the Yukon’s Lauren Tuck is one of them.

The site has been going well so far, said Le.

People are generally paying the recommended amount of $10 an album, but some generous buyers have paid up to $40.

“People like to have the choice and like to be able to support people they like,” said Le.

“We’re helping them make the change and buy consciously. We’re offering fans absolute control and transparency so they know exactly where their money is going.”

As mentioned above, some of this money goes to other charitable organizations.

The two charities Pay Who You Want is currently supporting are UrbanEx and Sketch.

UrbanEx raises awareness and advocacy for those at risk on the street by offering weeklong excursions through Toronto’s troubled areas.

This helps teams of youth, university students, social agencies, media, corporate executives and artists to see what it’s like for people living on the streets.

Sketch is a community arts initiative for youth age 15-29 who live street-involved or homeless lives.

As well as empowering the youth by teaching them to express themselves artistically, Sketch also helps kids earn credit, which can then be used towards earning a high school diploma.

UrbanEx and Sketch were selected because some of the artists that Pay Who You Want features are or have been homeless, said Le.

“A lot of the artists wanted to give back to that community.”

The website is trying to raise $100,000 for both of these organizations.

Le has other big plans for the future.

A concert is being planned for July, which will feature many of the artists from the site.

This will offer them a chance to make a little money and get more exposure.

Le would also like to reach out to more mainstream, community-minded artists, like Jane Siberry and the Tragically Hip.

To buy some tunes or sell some of your own, go to

Contact Chris at