Music Monday: Punks Help Haiti

| Mon Feb. 15, 2010 8:30 AM EST

Believe it or not, doing good works and assisting your community in nothing new in the world of punk rock. Because healthcare doesn't come with indie-label contracts and temp jobs, there's bound to be at least one benefit show on the calendar of your local club where the bands have donated their talents to cover the medical bills of a local guitarist or singer. Benefits for disasters like the great tsunami and Katrina are also old hat, and so it isn't surprising to see independent musicians coming out for Haiti.

But of late, one group of indie concerns has been taking its philanthropy to a larger audience online. Punknews.org, Paper + Plastick, and Limited Pressing have teamed up for an online auction of punk paraphernalia to benefit Doctors Without Borders' Haiti relief efforts. It has proved so successful—by punk standards, anyway—that they are now on their third round of the auction, and have raised more than $18,000. Not bad in a realm where tickets, CDs, and t-shirts seldom go for more than 10 bucks. 

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The auction might also point to an alternative business model in an era of anxious major labels and rampant downloading. Paper + Plastick and Limited Pressing exist purely for the love of actual, physical albums: According to its website, Paper + Plastick "started for the bands that still love visual art to go with the music they put out, and for the artists that use their creative energy to produce a backdrop of art for record covers, tshirts, screen printed posters, and every other facet of a band visually besides the music."

This affection for visual aesthetics drives a collector mentality that Limited Pressing helps feed. (Even Christie's has seen the value in punk collectibles, although its 2008 auction was all about profit.) But fans aren't about to pay top dollar for some run of the mill CD. Only seven of the hundreds of items currently listed are CDs; the rest (as of last Thursday) are something most of the recording industry has deemed anachronistic: vinyl.

While Limited Pressing defines itself as a community site where fans can sell off bits of their collections, it also hosts virtual storefronts for bands and small labels, which seem to appreciate the model. Justin August, Punknews.org's social media manager, estimates that about 60 percent of the auction items came from the labels and 35 percent from bands—with the rest coming from fans. "It's kind of fuzzy," he adds, "since some of the people in bands donated items from their own personal collection. So they're still fans in a way."

It seems the only thing holding this model back is scale: While merchandise and buyers have been easy to come by, traffic from a single tweet by Pete Wentz (of Fall Out Boy fame) took down Limited Pressing's website. The LP folks, who eventually managed to get their site back up, responded with a little punk-marketing savvy: "Mr. Wentz, we love what you do, but we're small time. Seriously small. Please accept my apology. See you at the $1,000 a month plan!"

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