"For artists out there who don't belong, or seemingly don't fit into this cookie cutter world of very young pop, it's a great way to get your music out there."
Over Sheryl Crow's 10 albums, she's spanned country, rock, and pop while adapting with the times and growing musically. One of the few common threads running through all her work was its release through the traditional major label structure -- Crow's first eight albums came out on A&M, while the previous two were through Warner Bros.
But that's officially changing with "Wouldn't Want To Be Like You," her new single coming courtesy of digital distribution service Stem. Founded in 2015, the startup is a platform which streamlines and tracks payments for artists and their collaborators (called "shareholders") offering a clear, thorough financial picture including performance data on its shared dashboard, as well as monthly payments.
Crow's manager introduced her to the service while she was between labels, and the nine-time Grammy winner says she felt it was perfect for this moment in her storied career.
"I'm a little bit of an anomaly, in that I'm a much older artist than what gets played at radio, obviously. And I'm a much older artist than what typically winds up on playlists, and I'm also a much older artist than what most labels are interested in putting money into, because they don't make the money back," Crow says. "But that doesn't mean I'm not making good records, it doesn't mean that I'm not staying vital and creative. So for artists out there who don't belong, or seemingly don't fit into this cookie cutter world of very young pop, it's a great way to get your music out there."
Stem, founded by Milana Rabkin Lewis, Tim Luckow and Jovin Cronin-Wilesmith, is one of a number of outfits shaking up the traditional music-industry ecosystem. Lewis had been working in the digital department of United Talent Agency, seeing both rising and established artists go independent and have to pull the difficult balancing act of ensuring that their team and collaborators were paid on a consistent, recurring basis. Some of Stem's most famous users include Childish Gambino, who re-released his 2011 project EP on the service and Frank Ocean, who used it for his 2016 record Blonde, in addition to rising artists like Knox Fortune and Charlotte Lawrence. In 2017, the company received $8 million in a round of series-A funding. Lewis sees Stem as a valuable tool for artists, but not necessarily a replacement for record labels.
"We're not a label killer, that's not at all the position we want to play," Lewis explains. "We just want to be technology and a platform that can make their lives easier and enable them to focus their resources in investing in the artist, investing in the marketing, and investing in the human element of what it takes to launch an act."
Crow made her debut with 1993's Tuesday Night Music Club, and released her last album, Be Myself, in April 2017. She's currently shopping a highly collaborative LP that she says is filled with appearances from her musical heroes and artists who influenced her career. She also says that while she has no plans to stop releasing music, this may be her final full-length LP.
"At this point in my career, I love the idea of having the immediacy of writing songs and just putting them out," she says.
Crow says her collaboration with St. Vincent, who is appearing under her given name, Annie Clark, is "about the climate of truth not being important anymore." The pair have known each other for a few years, and previously collaborated live at Neil and Pegi Young's Bridge School Benefit show, performing Crow's track "Riverwide."
"I called her and said, 'I am dying to have you bring your St. Vincent-ness to this.' And I said, 'You will not hurt my feelings if you don't like the song,'" Crow recalls. "And I sent it to her, and her response was, 'Fuck yeah.' That was a direct quote, as only Annie Clark can respond, which I loved. She did all kinds of stuff on it, and we pretty much used all of it."
As far as her upcoming album, Crow hasn't decided how she plans to release it, but her experience with Stem so far has left an impression on the three-decade industry veteran.
"[This album's] been in the works for about two years, and so we'll shop it and then we'll sort of evaluate where we're at," she explains. "So I can't say specifically whether we'll do it through Stem or whether we'll do a one-off with the record and then come back to Stem, but I love knowing that it's there."