TORONTO — Torquil Campbell, one of the singers in Montreal indie rock outfit Stars, is putting his songwriting skills on the open market in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The musician, actor and playwright recently jumped on Twitter to pitch his services to fans, saying that "in an effort to…survive" he will write custom songs for or about them for $1,000 a pop.
In a phone interview from his Vancouver home, Campbell described the project as "an experiment" to eliminate record labels, streaming services and other "middle men" from the financial negotiation with listeners.
Each song's creation will begin with Campbell and his client discussing themes and other ideas that could shape the writing and recording of the work.
A digital audio file would then be sent to the client, who can use it as they wish.
"I'll send them a postcard, which is handwritten, which says you own that song in perpetuity," he said.
"'It's yours to do whatever you want with, love Torq.'"
Campbell says he's been commissioned for about 40 songs since tweeting the message on Dec. 30.
Turning to work-for-hire gigs from fans isn't an entirely new concept. Campbell said the idea was inspired by Scottish songwriter Momus who undertook a similar endeavour more than 20 years ago.
"This is how painters back in the 17th century made their money," he added.
"It isn't a new thing for artists to create work specifically for one or two people. But it does feel very natural to me, in the sense of I write songs that are extremely personal and narrative-driven."
Campbell, who has long been an outspoken critic of the streaming music business model, said the project is his response to the lack of financial support from driving forces in the music industry.
He pointed to Spotify where he said it takes 400,000 streams of a song before his band can make $1,000.
In the COVID era, the economy for musicians has only become more challenging as live music venues repeatedly close under pandemic safety measures, cutting off one of their only reliable revenue sources.
Campbell says Canada's live music industry has "crumbled to such a degree" that he thinks it will need a decade to recover.
"I don't think that people are aware of just how bad it is and how little government support there has actually been for direct payments to artists," he said.
"People see big numbers thrown around about how much arts institutions are receiving in support, which is great, but little of that money ends up funnelling down to actual individuals."
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2022.
David Friend, The Canadian Press