Ben Sollee guest lectures at U of L

By on November 2, 2012

By Genevieve Mills–

The music industry, with new means of buying and sharing music rapidly being created, has seen many changes in recent years. Physical record and CD sales have dropped, countered by a rise in digitally-distributed music. Anyone who has noticed their local CD store closed could tell you this, but what most people cannot tell you is how this has changed the way musicians reach their audience. Ben Sollee, a 28-year-old singer and cellist and independent artist, came to a U of L music class to give an insider’s explanation of what is currently going on in the music industry.

In Professor John Rieger’s sociology of music class, Sollee, who was born and raised in Lexington and graduated from U of L, spoke to a relatively small group of about 20 students or so. Sollee, whose concerts see “an amazingly broad demographic”, according to Rieger, has released four solo records and participated in other collaborative pieces, which gives him more than a little authority as to how the music industry works. Last Friday, he talked about the music industry’s response to the digital revolution of music. He explained that in the past, large record labels served as the main hub of music production, and these labels gave CDs or records to distributors, who in turn gave the CDs to actual music stores.

Now, however, the distributors, of which there are only a few large companies such as Time Warner, represent different record labels and make deals with companies like Spotify, Pandora, iTunes and some physical stores, to sell musicians’ records, both physical and digital.  Sollee said, “Instead of being the middle-man, the distributors have become the main-hub” of music.

As an independent artist, Sollee has created his own record label, Tin Ear Records. He then hired a for-hire label, Thirty Tigers, to represent him to the distributors, who then get his music available for sale on places such as iTunes. As for the money he makes from sales, he currently gets about “36 to 38 percent, if a record label was involved, I’d get like 11 percent.” He prefers being an independent artist over working with a large record label for various reasons. He doesn’t have to worry about getting an unfair deal from record labels and is in charge of his CDs and concerts, with a direct connection to his audience. There are less boundaries between the artist and the audience in being an independent musician. Said Sollee, “I can just put up a track online and you can download it, and I feel connected with the audience.”

For more information about Ben Sollee’s music, read previous articles at

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Photos by Val Servino/The Louisville Cardinal

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