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Johnson Explores New Musical Money Ground

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Johnson Explores New Musical Money Ground

Singer/song writer Greg Johnson is recording his ninth album, nothing remarkable in that, but this time he is asking his fans to fork out their money months before the work is released. He speaks to Dave Williams of NZPA.

Greg Johnson's new album, Secret Weapon, isn't due out until November, but you can already buy it now if you wish -- contributing to the recording and marketing costs of the record.

There are four different packages for fans to choose from, ranging from $30 to get the album one week before it hits the shops, through to $3,000 for the "executive producer version", which will get you a signed album, a credit on the album, a T-shirt, show tickets where you can meet Johnson, and he will write a tune for your cellphone.

Packages also include an acoustic recording of nine Johnson tracks and progress reports from his website on the new album being recorded.

Johnson, still based in Los Angeles, says he is excited by the prospect of this marketing initiative, which is new to New Zealand and released under his own label JMA, or Johnson Music America, after his contract with EMI expired.

The first single of the album, The Way I Feel, has been released for radio play and is also available to listen to from his website.

Johnson, on the phone from his home in California, says the pre-order system has been done "here and there by one or two people so far around the place".

"There may be someone in New Zealand that's done it before, but I think I am probably the first established act that's tried this with an existing fan base."

One of the first to try it was British rockers Marillion, who asked their fans to fund the recording of 2001's Anoraknophobia. There were more than 12,000 pre-orders, which raised enough money to record and release the album.

Johnson isn't quite in that league yet, but has already sold around 100 pre-orders, mainly the $50 version.

"Rather than sitting around wondering what went wrong with the old music industry, we are looking forward and trying to do some new ways of marketing and selling records. It seems to be working so far.

"I think a lot of people are interested in the process. It's kind of fun to get little video updates of what's going on and meet some of the players and musicians. Just get the fans involved that's what people seem to like, the personal touch."

It's an expensive process to produce an album and fans are also buying direct from the artist, rather than the middle man, he says.

"I could put the money up myself but it's great to have the whole thing like a beautiful project that works within itself."

The bulk of the album was recorded at his own studio in Santa Monica, with a large pool of musician friends.

One of the new faces is Texas singer Taylor Cornelle, a musician Johnson has been producing and "sounds like the chick from the Mamas and Papas" -- Cass Elliot.

"I am really gone for the whole palette. I hadn't done that for a couple of records, I had tended to stick to the rock sound, so I have decided to go back to my roots a little bit.

"The first band, the first versions of the Greg Johnson Set, were a combination, I had a synth player and had horns.

"I realised I do enjoy doing music without drums, a more empty, acoustic vibe. So there will be a bit of that as well, my voice really suits a little bit of space around it. That's something that's been left out in the last couple of records."

The album will be promoted when Johnson tours here with a five-piece band in November, although the dates are not yet settled.

Johnson, who has been in Los Angeles since 2002 and is married to stuntwoman Kelli Barksdale, says he hasn't cracked the States on his own as an artist but has had nation-wide radio play.

He is now concentrating on soundtracks for documentaries, small films and television. He is also starting to pitch a lot of songs to other artists, such as British pop singer Leona Lewis and Irish boy band Westlife.

"It's really a lottery whether or not you get your song through," he says.

"It's been very hard times here in terms of the last couple of years, it's been a pretty shocking recession actually, and that's made it hard for everyone across the board.

"But I think it's turning around, we have survived and are still smiling and still putting out music. You can't ask for much more than that."


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