Last year, unsigned band The Crimea made global headlines (and beat Radiohead to the punch) when they gave away their new album online. It was phenomenal, says frontman Davey McManus, but it also would be nice to start making some money, he tells
S FAR AS Davey McManus and the other members of The Crimea were concerned, it was a very simple idea. They had parted ways with their record label and were about to record a new album. Rather than spend months negotiating a new deal with someone else, the Camden-based band decided to offer the album as a free download as soon as it was ready.
The response to giving away Secrets of the Witching Hour in May 2007 overwhelmed the band. “The biggest surprise was how global the news story became,” says McManus. “We were an unsigned band who spent seven months making the album on our own. It was hell on earth to make it. Every song was changed a million times. We did the whole thing on a shoestring, so to get the bloody thing done in the first place seemed like a miracle to me.
“But for it to have such an instantaneous effect was just incredible. We spent four-and-ahalf years on Warner Bros and released one album. We finished this and released it the week after. It felt bizarre.”
Those who downloaded Secrets of the Witching Hour – and nearly 100,000 people have done so to date – were treated to amajestic and dramatic bunch of truly killer songs, all helmed by a hefty share of striking hooks and choruses.
McManus says they decided to give away the album after looking at how some of their
peers had fared after big deals went sour. “We’d seen other bands who released second or third albums without a big push from a label and sold maybe 2,000 copies to their fanbase and just died. We just thought we’d do the free thing.”
The decision affected McManus’s songwriting for the album. “I wanted to make something which any random person could fall in love with, be it a mum or a dad or a rocker or an indie kid, anyone who read about it and downloaded the album. It made me think about the writing more, the fact that it was going to be for such wide consumption. Usually, our music fits into quite a narrow gap and the songs are kind of downtrodden. We wanted to make this brighter and more alive.”
The Crimea hoped the release and attendant publicity would mean a step up for the band but, a couple of months on from the release, McManus admits it hasn’t worked out like that.
“To be honest, it hasn’t been a career-defining change for us. The buzz around the release means more people know about us than before, so that’s great. We did one full UK tour which was sold out, but the venues weren’t a step up in size for us. We’re playing gigs where the fee is £800 to £1,000. We’re not at the stage where we’d get £5,000 for a gig where you can make some money.
“We’ve sold 5,000 copies of the album at gigs and that money comes straight back to the band, but we haven’t made a massive amount from other merchandise. We’re still financing everything ourselves.”
There were also problems when it came to promoting the album. “We found certain things very tough without the backing of a label, like radio and TV plugging for instance. If you want to get on the playlist at BBC Radio One, they want to see proof of a really serious campaign. They want to know how much you’re spending on adverts. They want to see it all backed out so they know they’re backing a winner. I found it really hard to feel like a winner or to be considered as one without the backing of a label.”
Yet, for all those drawbacks, McManus says the experience has been positive, especially when The Crimea play live.
“We put so much effort into this album that to go out and play it live and have people singing the songs back at you is amazing. Yes, it can be hard when you’re in the Leopard in Doncaster and realise you played there 10 years ago and you wonder has anything changed. You just have to take it on the chin and do the gig.”
The Crimea are now demoing their third album and hatching plans for a release. “We’ve had a lot of approaches, so there are a lot of possibilities,” McManus says. “We’ll either do it with a very friendly label or it will be free again.”
After all, everyone else may be about to copy The Crimea. “I was delighted when Radiohead did In Rainbows because it meant more attention for us, as people kept mentioning us and it felt like validation in a way. But I’m glad we did it first because that was our unique selling point.
“I get invited to speak at all these music business conferences about our great idea and I find it very entertaining. There was no great secret to it, we just decided to give the album away.”
The Crimea: from left, Joe Udwin, Davey MacManus, Andrew Stafford and Owen Hopkin