ARIA Global Blends Good Thoughts with Great Art
by Matt Kettmann
At a passing glance, the whole concept seems naïvely idealistic: a for-profit, Internet-based company dedicated to discovering then establishing hand-selected original musicians, writers, and artists while simultaneously — via online song/art/book sales and concerts — raising dough for nonprofit charities engaged in environmental and social justice work. But then you look at the educational and professional credentials of ARIA Global’s founding “mastermind” Brandi Bennitt — which include a completed novel, a master’s degree in business from Antioch, and stints at some of the more impressive marketing firms on the planet — and it’s hard to find the concept whose motto is “You Download, We Donate” anything short of brilliant.
In short, the company — which is organizing the Remembrance concert for the Goleta postal shooting victims this Saturday, April 29, at the Marjorie Luke — is a cross-promotional marketing and distribution tool, working as a one-stop shop for digital music (and later, art and books), acting as a reliable brand for the artists it supports, and bringing attention to artists and causes via causes and artists. But as that muddled explanation shows, it’s really impossible to categorize ARIA (Awareness Raising Inspirational Art) Global because there is simply no other company like it.
Bennitt explained, “We’re occupying a previously unoccupied space. … This proves we’re an original company because we can’t find a label that fits.” That’s why the Claremont native, UC Berkeley grad, and Santa Barbara resident, who launched the company in December 2005, is anticipating a full year of experimentation with her “alternative” business model to see whether her dreams will play out. Traditional investors were wary of such an untested revenue structure, so the financial weight is firmly resting on the shoulders of Bennitt and a handful of friends and associates.
So far, however, so good, with more than 2,000 hits per week on ariaglobal.org (that number needs to climb to 40,000 a day to make the model successful), about 150 registered users, and a growing list of more than 30 musicians who now sell their digital songs via the Web site. “We haven’t had any artists say no and we’ve turned down more than we’ve accepted,” Bennitt said with pride last month, explaining that the buzz has grown from Los Angeles to Seattle strictly by word-of-mouth.
Via ariaglobal.org, the musicians who are currently selling their wares get about 40 cents on the dollar, which splits the difference between a major record label musician cut (about eight cents) and iTunes (about 72 cents). But unlike iTunes, where it’s almost impossible to find someone new unless you’re specifically looking for them, ARIA Global’s site culls the cream of the indie music crop for your listening pleasure.
Said Bennitt, “Our package is better … you might not know the band, but you’ll like what you find. We’re highly selective of what we put on our site. It has to be well-produced with good musicianship, but the critical thing is that it has to be original somehow.” A team of five listeners goes through every submission and only approves the band if it’s something that can be listened to over and over. Currently, the band list includes such county residents as Ona, Matthew McAvene, Jonas Day, and Jennifer Terran as well as Anacortes, Washington’s The Lonely Forest, San Francisco’s Blame Sally, and the North Bay’s Girls in Suede.
Concert-wise, the company already hosted a singer/songwriter night for the Save Naples Coalition called NAKED, which was so successful that it’s becoming a monthly event starting May 8 at the Unitarian Society.
Future ideas also include becoming a true “e-label,” whereby bands could sell their liner notes at concerts with a code to get the album-ful of music from the Internet; making compilation albums to sell at coffee shops; cross-promoting music with art; and selling eBooks. By the end of 2006, Bennitt hopes to know whether the company will pan out financially. But until then, she explained, “I’m not so concerned about money — I just want to be inspired. Everyone who works for us says that it’s the one company they’ve ever worked for where we’re doing something that’s real and we’re not full of crap.”
4•1•1 Remembrance, a benefit concert for the families of the victims of the Goleta postal shootings, is Saturday, April 29, 7:30 p.m., at the Marjorie Luke Theatre. Scheduled to perform are Crosby Loggins & the Leadbirds, The Lonely Forest, and Jade Redd. Call 963-0761 for tickets. For more on ARIA Global, see ariaglobal.org.