End Run Around The Labels: Pat DiNizio Offers New Way To Distribute Music

Smithereens frontman forms Patrons & Artists Together, which offers select group of fans access to his music with series of custom CDs, intimate living-room shows.

Plenty of artists like to make you think they're performing just for you during a concert or on an album. But the Smithereens' Pat DiNizio really means it. With the launch of Patrons & Artists Together, the longtime alternative rocker is aiming to offer a select group of fans an unprecedented level of face time and access to his music with a series of custom CDs and intimate living-room shows.

"To pioneer a new concept, you have to give a lot," said DiNizio, 47, whose band is known for such '80s pop rock hits as "A Girl Like You" and "Only a Memory." "I'm purposely giving much more than anyone has done before, but it's necessary to prove that the idea works."

DiNizio's idea is to pay for the recording of new albums and touring with Patrons & Artists Together, a subscription group limited to 100 members who will pay $1,200 each for access to a string of albums from DiNizio and the promise of an intimate home concert at the venue of their choice.

Among the first numbered, autographed albums patrons will receive beginning this summer are the two-disc set This Is Pat DiNizio, which the singer describes as being influenced equally by the Beatles' White Album and Johnny Cash's Rick Rubin-produced series of covers albums for American Recordings. A shorter, edited version of the album will be made available for free download from DiNizio's Web site. After that, a new album should arrive every three months, DiNizio said.

Among the releases slated for patrons are Dark Standards, a standards album featuring backing from a jazz quartet and a big band coupled with a second CD of techno mixes of all the tracks; and Carbine Williams, an all-star 1970s rock-influenced album with DiNizio on bass joined by an as-yet-unnamed jam band. There's a children's album, The Little Schoolhouse; a holiday album, Merry Christmas with the Pat DiNizio Trio; a sneak peek at the next Smithereens album, Pat DiNizio Demo Recordings for the Next Smithereens Album; an instrumental surf album, The Fearmakers; and Songs by My Favorite Unsigned Bands, on

which DiNizio interprets tracks by acts he discovered while serving as program director for XM satellite radio's "Unsigned" channel.

Each album will come in a bundle of 50, with patrons free to distribute the extra copies to friends and family. Patrons also get two free Smithereens tickets and backstage passes to a local Smithereens gig, or any Smithereens show of their choice and Patrons & Artists Together T-shirts.

But wait, there's more. DiNizio will also perform a private "living-room concert" for each patron, followed by a DVD and audio dub of the show for everyone in attendance. DiNizio will also play a local fundraiser for the charity of the patron's choice. The living-room shows are a continuation of a series DiNizio has been performing for several years. So far, DiNizio said, 11 people have signed up to be Patrons.

One of them is Mark Verheiden, the fortysomething producer of "Smallville" and the screenwriter of the film "Timecop." Longtime Smithereens fan Verheiden met DiNizio several years ago when the Smithereens wrote a song for "Timecop," and he said his patronage was cemented when he saw one of DiNizio's living-room concerts in Los Angeles last year.

"[The concert] was great and I'd support him in anything he does," Verheiden said. "It is a bit pricey, but you get a lot for the money, and, if this is a way to help him keep producing music, then it's worth it." Verheiden said he and his wife had a serious talk about plunking down the $1,200, but that they agreed that DiNizio has given them so much pleasure with his music over the years that the expense was justified.

Similar initiatives have been launched in the past by everyone from David Bowie to Prince and the Alarm, with each offering free, unreleased songs, exclusive albums, private shows and rare merchandise — some customized down to the specific user — for a membership fee. DiNizio said his patrons will not only allow him to offer the abbreviated albums for free on his Web site, but will also fund a free national tour of larger cities that will follow his six months of patron living-room gigs.

"It's about setting the music free and doing an end run around the way the music business does things," said DiNizio, who also works as a talent scout for Columbia Records. "I believe that artists and audiences have to go back to the patron-of-the-arts model to keep music alive. That model fueled some of the greatest art and literature we have from Michelangelo, Beethoven, Mozart and Shakespeare. These patrons are allowing me to give the music to my audience for free."