Nontraditional Collection of Traditional Music

Jan 30, 2014

Most albums are a group of songs acquired as a single body of music on a vinyl record, CD, or download, but musicians like Max Wellman from Des Moines are challenging this decades old system.  Wellman is a 22-year old jazz singer who has been working full time in the business for three years after dropping out of Butler University in 2011.  Last November he released the CD “You Must Believe in Spring”, a collection of songs by artists like Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Frank Sinatra.  The instrumentation is mostly a string quartet to blend his love of classical music with jazz.  Wellman says “I’m not a jazz vocalist like Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughn.  I sing these songs very much like art songs and there’s an element of improvisation and jazz technique, but I would say I still come at it very much from a classical perspective.”

This album is his third body of work released as a traditional music collection, but it only a small portion of what he’s publishing.  For two years he’s also been releasing a handful of recordings every month called “The Songbook Project”.  It is a music subscription program where every month subscribers are sent an email with instructions on how to download new recordings. Subscribers pay $7.50 a month, or for an extra fee the music is sent on a CD.  

This month Wellman began his third year of “The Songbook Project” with music from his live concerts. Wellman says some people are confused when he talks about having a new album in addition to new songs he releases every month. “It’s been hard to describe the project to people, which is silly really because you know it’s just a music subscription. It’s not the typical studio produced album that you’ll get, but it’s high quality music maybe with a little bit of a rough edge to it, that you get each month.”

Because the music is from live shows the cost of production is cheaper compared with a studio album. Even though it is more profitable, Wellman isn’t sure if he’ll use this model beyond 2014. “In order to make it more sustainable we need more subscribers.  I see it being something that we can continue indefinitely, and I’d like to.  It just makes sense to do.  I wouldn’t be surprised if several years from now there’s more and more people doing the subscription model.”  Between now and December Wellman will send out fifty songs for "The Songbook Project".  He hasn’t recorded all of them yet, but says he should be finished by May.