You might not have heard of an electronic music artist called Alan Walker, but he has a significant fanbase.
On YouTube the video of one of his songs, Faded, has been played 3.5 billon times, and he has 42.9 million subscribers on the platform.
It is a similar picture on Spotify, where the Anglo-Norwegian music producer and DJ has numerous songs that have been listened to hundreds of millions of times.
While bands and other musical artists have long argued that the streaming services do not pay them enough, Walker, who also earns money from live performances, has amassed a net worth estimated to be as high as $20m (£16m).
For the music industry the fans are normally just the consumers – they pay to listen to the songs and albums, attend the concerts, and buy the merchandise. But last year Walker decided that he would start to allow his fanbase to share in his financial success.
He has done this by giving around 8,000 fans the opportunity to invest in four of his singles, sharing with them his streaming revenues. To facilitate this, Walker has used a new Swedish website and app called Corite, which handles all the financial details, including the collection and exchanges of funds.
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“I wanted to involve my fans beyond just connecting with them on the stage and through my music,” Walker tells the BBC. “We have raised just above $100,000 [from fans] in our projects so far, but this number is not what makes me tick.
“It’s the thousands of backers that have participated in my projects that will now share the success with me.”
Stockholm-based Corite is the brainchild of music industry veteran Mattias Tengblad, who was previously commercial director for industry giant Universal Music Group.
The idea behind Corite is that up and coming artists can skip signing with record labels – which typically make more money from a successful artist, than the artist make themselves.
Under Corite’s model, artists secure financial backing from their, hopefully, growing fanbase.
In return, fans can hope to earn more money than the sum they have invested. Although it is important to stress that they can lose money.
The way it works is that an artist announces a “campaign” via Corite, typically the forthcoming release of a single song. They then detail how much money they are seeking to raise, from just $500 up to tens of thousands, and how much profit they will given to each investor if the song is streamed a certain number of times over the first year of its release.
Typically the rates of return are between 1.4 and 1.7 times the amount a person invests. So if you put in £10 at 1.7, and the song reaches its one-year listening target you’d get back a minimum of $17.
And if the song greatly exceeds its streaming target, the investors will get even more earnings. However, it is a gamble, as if the song flops, and doesn’t hit its goal, then the investors won’t recoup as much much money as they put in. Instead they may only get a few pounds or even just pennies back.
To help people decide whether a song is worth investing in, they can listen to a 30-second snippet via the Corite site.
When the song is ready to release in full, Corite uploads it to all the streaming services, and collects and distributes the revenues to the artists and the fan investors.
“We are challenging the status quo in the music industry,” says Mr Tengblad.
“Corite lets music lovers invest in the music that they love, and artists that they love, and get a piece of the success when songs are streaming on the likes of Spotify and Apple.
“For the artists it can be a cheaper way of funding your career than signing an expensive deal with a record label, that is going to take a much higher slice of their earnings. And even when a record company has all the best intension in the world, nowadays the social media world has made promotion much more complicated.
“Record labels don’t know how to make things happen anymore, and instead artists can use Corite to unleash the power of their fans, who with money invested will become even more vocal cheerleaders. Yet at the end of the day you still need good songs to be successful.”
But can artists really succeed without the support of a record label?
Jeremy Lascelles has been a music industry executive for more than 50 years. Today he is the co-founder and chief executive of Blue Raincoat Music, which combines a record label, with artist management, and music publishing arm. He says that record companies still have a very important role to play.
“The digital age has certainly shifted the power away from record labels, but they are still a very attractive proposition for artists. They still have access to quite considerable capital and funding, they have marketing muscle, and they have access to media, to radio, TV and the like.
“So when an artist releases a single or album, you have an army of people at the record label there to help it be successful. Doing all that on your own is far more difficult.”
One Alan Walker fan who has invested in one of his 2022 singles is student Effie Sampson, who is doing a degree in games designer at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston.
She invested $35, and has so far got back $19.13. However, Ms Sampson says it isn’t about the money. “I did it to support an artist that I love,” she says. “And you feel more involved in the song when you listen to it.”
It is this sense of closer involvement that business psychologist Stuart Duff, a partner at UK practice Pearn Kandola, thinks might be key to Corite’s future success.
“While the financial transaction may be important, of much greater value is the way that the investment will strengthen the relationship between the artist and fans,” he says. “Without even realising it, the artist is creating a stronger psychological bond with the fans.”
Alan Walker says that for him, using Corite, and allowing fans to join in his financial success, “offers me a way of giving back to the community of ‘Walkers’, and showing my appreciation of what we’ve built together”.