The development of the Gestation Project

21 Nov 2010

How Nick Kelly, former singer of Fat Lady Sings and now an independent musician, let his fans participate and help create his ‘Nine Lives’ album through the internet.

Kelly, also known as Alien Envoy, has had a long history as a musician. He spent 10 years with Fat Lady Sings and in subsequent years made music with other musicians.

A year ago, he decided to make his next record a more collaborative effort with his fan base.

“I had the songs written and what I’d usually do is spend more or less a year with musicians in studios and do it all in the private sphere,” said Kelly, speaking at a recent seminar hosted at Google’s Irish HQ in Dublin and moderated by the chairman of Digital Rights Ireland.

“I wanted to create a story around the record so by the time it came out there’d be a profile about people who were actually interested in seeing what happened in the story and I wanted to build a community around the record.”

Input from fans

He set up the Gestation Project, a nine-month project, giving his fans the opportunity to participate in the creation of his next album.

Each month, he’d perform different versions of the songs he created with musicians live and then uploaded them to the blog he created for the project. His fans would then provide feedback on the songs and make suggestions to potentially improve the songs.

This way, he could let his fans experience the music, both in an online space and in the offline world.

For example, his song ‘Arthur Ashe’ initially was recorded with just his voice and a piano. Many different versions appeared, including one with a female singer and a band. The finished version ended up containing brass elements. Kelly noted that a lot of the responses he got from this process were quite interesting.

“Over the course of this, I discovered some things about the song and got lots of feedback. People said a great thing about the song, saying, ‘it sounds like a rally, getting faster and faster and more intense,’ ” said Kelly.

“And that was a fantastic thing to say for somebody. It’s not like I took everything and immediately changed it based on that, but it was really interesting (feedback) for when you moved onto the next month and worked with the next group of musicians.”

Artwork welcome

The creation process was not limited to people commenting on his work. He also invited fans to send in photography and artwork for the sleeve of the album, which were included into the finished product.

Kelly also came up with an idea of encouraging pre-sales, by telling the fans that if they bought it in advance, they’d be credited as a sponsor on the album. This move ended up raising €4,000, paying for the cost of pressing the records.

The finished album ended up containing nine tracks out of the 20 demos he posted on the site.

Kelly felt the project was a great experience, as it fostered a sense of community throughout.

“I think they all felt they owned the record and that was very positive and I could distribute it much, much easier,” he said.

Kelly noted there were still a lot of problems in the music industry right now, with many musicians struggling to get by. He voiced his concern that good musicians could get lost and it was really the ones who were the best at marketing who got heard.

He also hit out against online music piracy, encouraging people to pay for the work that musicians create.

“I think there’s a really big issue about the ethics and people don’t understand how hard it is to make art and how precarious the existence is for artists,” he said.