Independent media distributor The Orchard has teamed up with social music service Last.fm to make its catalog of over one million tracks available to the service's users. If you haven't used Last.fm, you should definitely check it out. While it's not for everyone, it's a neat tool that suggests songs you might like based on what other folks are listening to. It's also a neat way to enjoy very narrow channels of music -- from time to time, I'll boot up the 4AD channel on my TiVo.
What strikes me as amazing is the real turnaround story of The Orchard. A few years ago, the independent music community was sharpening pitchforks and lighting torches to chase down the company's founders. Remember that this was the same era in which MP3.com had briefly opened up the wallet and it seemed like there would be this huge infusion of cash into the independent music community. When The Orchard ran into financial difficulty and started missing royalty payments to artists, it looked like they'd wind up on the scrap heap of companies that made big promises to artists before running away with their cash.
Instead, they buckled down, cut loose the products and services that held the most unrealistic (and unprofitable) promises, and focused on partnering with larger indie labels to facilitate digital distribution. And now, they're thriving.
Another interesting thing -- I remember discussing with a friend that The Orchard would run into some branding issues with such a left-field name. It actually helps them -- all the articles about their struggles in the past seem to have been washed away by a tide of community churches and stories about peaches. Since the average lifespan of a band is seven years, most of the folks that were The Orchard's most vitriolic critics have moved on to other things. The deal with Last.fm -- a streaming radio service that stands to survive the impending internet radio implosion -- provides a strong incentive for more labels to sign on with them.
With The Orchard serving indie labels and CDBaby churning away with their cadre of independent musicians plugging into iTunes, there are fewer and fewer reasons for working musicians to feel like the playing field's uneven. Remember, however, that getting into the database is just a small part of the work you have to do to get listeners to connect with your music.