The summer after freshman year at Princeton, Cameron McLain ’10 was floating in a boat down the Mekong River in Laos while reading The Future of Music, a book on the transformation of music in the digital age and its availability on the Internet.
The democratization of music is great, McLain thought as he drifted along, but how do you find something you really want to hear on the Internet, and how can artists reach the listeners they want? As he pondered this question, the idea for McLain’s Web site, theodes.com, was born.
“What musicians really want, in this day and age, is to be heard above the din,” says McLain, a religion major who is pursuing a certificate in music and writes folk songs for vocals and acoustic guitar. “I wanted to build an interactive community that promotes unsigned artists, especially those in college.”
A self-described “technophobe” before his venture, McLain became convinced after a semester of computer science that he couldn’t build a Web site himself. So, after adding funding from family and friends to his savings, McLain outsourced the site, called The Odes, which launched in September.
“I wanted The Odes to be an easy way for people to discover music, and a fair way for artists to get some attention” and get paid for their work, says McLain, a London native. The site charges listeners 50 cents per song and keeps the first $5 generated by each song, with 70 percent of additional sales going directly to the artist. (The Odes uses its revenue to operate the site and has realized no profit to date.) A sort of iTunes for undiscovered young musicians, the site had sold about 600 songs and had 80 artists as of mid-January.
Artists can join for free and upload their work, but all content is vetted by McLain and friends who volunteer “untold hours” maintaining and promoting the site. They include Asher Weiss ’02 and Princeton students Felipe Cabrera ’10, Sophie Morrison ’10, Matthew Gleason ’10, and Erinn McGrath ’10.
The site features artists from 20 colleges around the country, including all of the Ivies. (Other musicians are not affiliated with universities.) The 15 Princeton acts include the Footnotes and the Tigertones and musicians such as Jason Harper ’09, who will be taking his Chicago-based band, Scattered Trees, on tour after graduation.
The site also has a blog with reviews and a video section with artsy, edgy films (one risqué). McLain has not sought advertisers, but he’s hoping to find new backers to expand and improve the site and to promote The Odes as a brand.
And why “The Odes”?
“It was inspired by Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn. We wanted something a bit more upmarket,” says McLain. “We’re hoping the site has the intellectual quality of poetry.”
Alicia Brooks Waltman is a writer in Hopewell, N.J.