Music documentaries happen to make very useful case studies in distribution strategies, because it’s so damn obvious who their core audiences are. And lucky for us, it seems like rock stars past and present have new films about them released every week. Below is a cross comparison of three new music documentaries and their corresponding release strategies that I thought were both useful and entertaining to compare.


Director: Stevie Nicks and Dave Stewart
Synopsis from the website for the film:

In 2010 Nicks embarked on the recording of a new solo album, In Your Dreams, produced by former Eurythmics mastermind Dave Stewart. With cameras in tow, documentarian Stewart and diva Nicks set up shop in her home studio and reveal their collaborative creative process. Shifting dynamically among video formats, painstaking recording sessions and revealing interviews, this magic-tinged musical journey is a loving and tuneful portrait of the eternally bewitching Gold Dust Woman.

Premiere: SXSW
Runtime: 1hr 40 minutes
Theatrical Distribution: One-Night Only tonight -- April 2nd -- in indie-friendly theaters across the country.
The Strategy: Abramorama – distributor of music flicks like Neil Young Trunk Show and Anvil: The Story of Anvil – will distribute In Your Dreams for a single night. Like many short theatrical doc engagements, the run might be at a loss (according to Box Office Mojo, Abramorama film Pearl Jam Twenty directed by Cameron Crowe grossed only $471,334 in 2.5 weeks) but will probably make up for that in the increased buzz for ancillary goods and VOD/digital downloads later this spring.


Director: Not credited on IMDB
Synopsis from IMDB:

Gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at Rihanna's unprecedented globetrotting concert tour that hit seven countries in seven days with seven shows to promote her seventh album.

Runtime: 60 minutes
Distribution: Airs on FOX May 6
The Strategy: Perhaps hoping to extend television success like Beyonce’s record breaking HBO premiere (1.8 million viewers) Rihanna 777 skips all pretense for any critical acclaim or theatrical release and goes straight to TV.  If you have 7,380,018 YouTube subscribers, there’s no point in holding out on this material.
No trailer has been released yet, but here's a clip of the hijinks that ensued on the tour that might be featured in the doc:

THE DIY APPROACH: nine inch nails: [after all is said and done]

Director: fan group and punctuation daredevils a tiny little dot
Synopsis from a tiny little dot:

After more than 5000 hours of work logged on the project, and more than 3 years later, our group – a tiny little dot - finally and proudly presents to the world nine inch nails: [after all is said and done], as an entirely free internet download – a professionally produced documentary of the blistering and momentous “wave goodbye” of NIN, using exclusively fan-shot footage- a labor of love, filmed by the fans, made by the fans, and made for the fans.

Runtime: 3.5 hours
Distribution: Free Torrent or YouTube playlist
The Strategy: Devoted fans make a documentary from 5000 hours of what was thought to be Nine Inch Nails’ last tour. They raised money for the project from other NIN fans, and now released the film completely free. While grumbling from supporters of the project abound for the 3+ year delay and lack of communication from the filmmakers on progress, they could stand to recoup their time and effort with profits from a Blu-ray DVD release of the film. With over a million channel views from production until now, they are off to a good start.

Check out the entire YouTube Playlist below:

So Stevie Nicks fans are probably more willing to go out to a classy night at the theater, while NIN fans may be more on the torrent end of things. (Nine Inch Nails themselves are in the habit of releasing stuff for free on their Tumblr.) It seems obvious, right? When you’re deeply involved in the making of your film, it’s not always as obvious to figure out who exactly your core audience is. (Unless of course, you’ve made a doc with an already established fanbase).  I figure that maybe -- if you can imagine your film as a band -- you can get closer to defining your audience and coming up with interesting distribution ideas that fit with them.

Have you seen any films, music or otherwise, with interesting distribution strategies worth looking at?  What film would you be more likely to tune in to, and which kind would you be more likely to make?


[Top Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. and Kristin Burns]