Kaiser Chiefs' fans invited to design album

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Their detractors claim that you couldn’t pay people to listen to a new Kaiser Chiefs record. That theory has been put to the test after the band invited fans to become retailers by creating “bespoke” versions of their new album and selling copies online.

In an era of declining CD sales, with rock bands the biggest losers, the Leeds group have become the latest to attempt an innovative method of creating an online “buzz” around their latest release.

Instead of asking fans to name their own price, as Radiohead once did, Kaiser Chiefs recruited their followers as salesmen, giving them a financial incentive to sell copies of the album to their friends.

After three years silence, Kaiser Chiefs today posted 20 new tracks on their website. Fans were invited to sample the songs and choose ten to create a customised version of the band’s new album, The Future Is Medieval.

After designing their own artwork for the sleeve, fans can buy the 10-track album download for £7.50. Purchasers are then given their own webpage which acts as an online store and invited to “sell” copies of their album.

The band provided digital posters and banner adverts which can be placed on Facebook pages and blogs, to market the offer to friends. Fans earn £1, through a PayPal account, from every album download purchased by recommendation through their virtual store.

The concept, kept under wraps for a year, was devised by Ricky Wilson, Kaiser Chiefs’ singer and Oli Beale of the advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy.

“We dreamt it up over a fish and chip supper in Falmouth,” Beale said. “No-one had done a bespoke album and then we thought about the practicalities of allowing the fans to sell it themselves.”

File-sharing has decimated sales in guitar-based rock, leaving UK bands which sold millions of albums just five years ago, including Kaiser Chiefs, Hard-Fi, Razorlight and The Kooks, warily considering their next move.

Mr Beale said: “Spotify (music streaming service) showed how people like to recommend tracks and publish playlists. We wanted to give music back some value, to encourage people to listen to a song more than once and feel a sense of ownership over an album they had compiled. I hope people get really entrepreneurial with it and someone makes a fortune.”

The fans are being asked to take over the hit-spotting and marketing functions traditionally provided by a record company. Jim Chancellor, managing director of Fiction, the subsidiary of Universal Music, which works with Kaiser Chiefs, said: “It’s a risk but you have to innovate and use social media. We can’t do things in the traditional way.

“As an A&R person, I’m used to picking singles. But now we’re saying ‘here are 20 songs, you pick the best ones’. Fans will make more money from each sale than the band. If you sell a million copies, Universal will pay you £1 million.”

The 'bespoke' album is being sold for less than the iTunes album price of £7.99, with the band earning more by avoiding giving Apple its 30 per cent cut. But high-street retailers expressed concern that the Kaiser Chiefs record was being sold online by fans, weeks before a physical version hits stores.

The music industry has been accused of devaluing music by selling the new Lady Gaga album Born This Way as a download for just 99 cent through Amazon. The offer accounted for 440,000 of Gaga’s 1.1 million US sales last week. Mr Chancellor said that was a retail decision taken by Amazon which Gaga, also a Universal artist, had little say over.

Radiohead released their 'In Rainbows' album in 2007 as an 'honesty box' download. The band made a profit after selling 3 million copies of the album, including downloads, full price CDs and 100,000 special edition box sets at £40 each.