Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Jill Sobule's Internet-Funded Album, "California Years," Debuts Tomorrow


We consider Jill Sobule to be the musical muse of ATD–which we desperately need since we are obviously way, way too jacked into the matrix.

That’s precisely why we have the gifted singer-songwriter appear annually at our D: All Things Digital conference–to kick off each day’s sessions with one of her songs and, more to the point, add a lot of much-needed levity and nontechie soul to the proceedings.

And tomorrow, Sobule’s Internet-funded album, “California Years,” produced by the legendary Don Was, debuts. I urge everyone to click the link here and get a copy–online, of course.

And by Internet-funded, I mean that the $75,000 needed to produce the album was raised entirely through an innovative Web initiative Sobule ginned up in late 2007 via a site called Jill’s Next Record.

Sobule wrote about the effort several times in our Voices section, where you can read about her asking for ideas here, launching her fund-raising site here and, finally, talking about the result here.


Sobule (pictured here in cartoon form)–whose big mainstream hit a few years ago was a much-better-than-hopelessly-dopey-Katy-Perry “I Kissed a Girl”–had worked her way through four record labels (she was dropped by two and two went belly-up) with six CDs.

Sick and tired of the way musical artists had their work funded, she essentially asked her fans to become her record label, writing on her site: “It would be a sort of patronage thing, where you guys are the Medici family, except I give you prizes for donations of certain amounts.”

The $1,000 “platinum” level, for example, got the donor a theme song and the $5,000 “diamond” level got a house concert by Sobule.

And what her fans are getting now in the completed album is superb–a sometimes funny, sometimes sad and always moving work. (My young sons cannot stop singing her perfect song, “San Francisco,” for example.)

As Sobule writes:

“‘California Years’ was written over the last three years, following my move to the West Coast. It was influenced by the sights and sounds of the Golden State, especially the seductive, but not always sunny Los Angeles. Maybe the next record will be ‘The Utah Month’ or ‘Back to Brooklyn.’

“The whole thing was made possible by a small but mighty fan base. They gave me the love, encouragement and the dough to do this. I was truly surprised and so very grateful. This record is for them.”

Let’s cheer on efforts like Sobule’s and hope for a hit. Because hers is indeed a small but mighty effort, as all kinds of content creators try to figure out businesses in the new digital age, unafraid of the changes inevitably coming (AP might want to take notes about this).

Here is Sobule in a long interview on NPR last week (which you cannot embed, bad NPR!) and another video below on CNN about her digital project:

And here are two videos I did with her about the effort. The first has one of the songs on the new album, called “Nothing to Prove,” and the other an update on what she wants to do next, digitally and musically speaking:

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik