Pop culture from Southern California and beyond.

Jonathan Coulton's 'Artificial Heart' tiered album release: A model for others?

Musician Jonathan Coulton has a new album out called "Artificial Heart." If you don't know Coulton's work, he's best known for doing music with a certain geek flair, building a rabid fanbase by releasing a song a week for a year via his Thing A Week podcast. (He's also well known for writing the Portal video game song "Still Alive.")

OK, so sure, Coulton's new album is great and you should all go listen to it, but what I'm most fascinated by is his "Artificial Heart" tiered release plan. What to do when you have a passionate fanbase that wants to support you?

He's offering four different purchase plans. For 10 bucks, you get a digital download, whose accompanying online text largely puts you down if you make that choice. For $15, you get the digital copy plus a signed CD once the physical albums are done next month. Kicking it up another notch, for $40, you get the digital copy, a signed CD, a poster and a t-shirt.

Then, we have the other option. The option for crazy people/suckers. (The option I may have chosen.) For $100, you get the digital copy, plus what he's labeled "The Big Package of Everything." Coulton plays the reverse psychology game, beginning the blurb with "You know what? Level four is probably not for you. Level four is only for advanced participants." You even have to go through a faux test to determine if you're fit for the higher level.

What comes with this? Well, you get the stuff mentioned above, two more t-shirts, a vinyl LP, a USB stick with everything Coulton's ever put out before and a bunch of other stuff including some mystery treats yet to be revealed.

It's interesting because he's capitalizing on people who want to support him by giving them a floodgate of content in exchange for their cash. It feels like you're getting a bit more than with certain artist clubs and so forth that other musicians have, but then again, I'm biased since I enjoy his work.

He's also practicing that classic infomercial marketing trick of offering the higher level for a limited time only. He hasn't announced a specific end date, but has said it will likely only be through the end of September. He's also only selling it initially through his own site, before ultimately selling it through the usual online music venues.

Could this model be used by other artists once they've developed a fanbase? Coulton himself has described it as a reverse Kickstarter, using this limited time plan to pay for recording costs. It's yet to be seen how successful the plan is, but judging by online comments, there are fans going for the deluxe package. Coulton's previously used his fans in a variety of interesting ways, even hosting a popular Caribbean cruise themed around his work and similar artists.

Coulton's currently on tour and will be finishing up his tour in Southern California; he's not playing Los Angeles, but he will be doing a show opening up for fellow beloved-by-geeks musicians They Might Be Giants in Anaheim on November 16 at the House of Blues.

The album's title track, "Artificial Heart":

My personal pick from the album, "Glasses":

And finally, his video game cult favorite song "Still Alive":

Photo: Shervin Lainez.

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