Musician making his own way

He’s 12 weeks in, and Ari Hest hasn’t gone crazy. At least not yet.

One year. Fifty-two songs.

That’s more than some artists release in an entire career.

None of this is lost on Hest, who’s the kind of guy who’d leap off a cliff and look for a place to land later.

“I don’t know if I’m going to ever do this again,” the New York City-based singer-songwriter chuckles. “I’m trusting myself that I’ll be able to get through this. And enjoy it.”

Having parted ways with his former label, Columbia, awhile back, Hest is trying a new approach to getting his music out there: selling songs via a subscription service on his Web site, with one new tune available every week for a year.

The subscriptions range from $20 for just the songs and lyrics, $35 for extras like an autographed photo and other fan items and $75 for a deluxe package that includes a ticket to a show and behind-the-scenes video footage.

It’s a novel approach of producing music without having to rely on a record label.

In January, I wrote about Jonathan Coulton, another singer-songwriter who made a song a week available on his Web site last year. But whereas Coulton is a self-professed novice, Hest is coming from an entirely different place.

He’s an established musician with a pair of major label albums under his belt, looking for a new business model that takes advantage of the current state of the music industry, where home recording technology and the Internet are enabling artists and consumers to wrest the power away from major labels.

“My costs to do this are pretty low,” Hest says of releasing material on his own. “I’m playing most of the instruments on everything, in my apartment, on my laptop.”

Having garnered more than 300 subscriptions thus far, most in the $35 range, Hest is off to a decent start toward being financially independent.

Best of all, he doesn’t have to deal with any record industry gatekeepers telling him which songs to put on an album, and there’s an immediacy inherent in releasing material online.

“It’s a nice thing to finish something and put it out within a small amount of time,” says Hest, who will be performing at the House of Blues’ Crossroads Cafe on Thursday. “With Columbia, it was write the song, send it to the people at the label to listen to it, let them listen for a few weeks, get their approval as to whether to record it or not. All these things add up to a lot of time spent.”

A lot of wasted time. But nowadays, Hest is trimming the fat, and as the major labels continue to take on water, he’s refusing to get soaked any more.

“I think the big labels are surviving on musicians who they know already have a big name, who come out with a record every couple of years,” Hest says. “It’s not a plan for the future — it’s not even a plan for the present. That’s why I wanted to get out.”

Jason Bracelin’s “Sounding Off” column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 383-0476 or e-mail him at jbracelin@ reviewjournal.com.

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