Rachael Yamagata’s latest album “Tightrope Walker” is her most inventive recording to date. (Courtesy Laura Crosta)

Rachael Yamagata gets more experimental and creative

Singer-songwriter Rachael Yamagata has come to believe in the barter system when it comes to her music.

She proved it with her latest album “Tightrope Walker,” which she issued on her own Frankenfish imprint after financing it through fan perks and favors she marketed on the crowd-sourcing site PledgeMusic.

In exchange for financial contributions, she offered an exclusive anthology of covers (including Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” and 10 CC’s “I’m Not In Love”), an acoustic re-recording of her 2004 debut “Happenstance” and 10 promises to pen a personalized song — a high-priced item that sold out in a few hours.

“I also came up with this kitchen-sink rarities album of 17 songs that I curated — demos, unreleased tracks and alternate versions,” says the keyboardist, who will sell some of the aforementioned items at her show in San Francisco this week.

Some performers offer more intimate items like home-cooked meals through PledgeMusic or KickStarter, she’s noticed.

She says, “If I could cook, I would do that. But there are so many ways to connect with people and invite them into your world. I think it’s just up to how creative you can be with your ideas. The world is your oyster.”

Yamagata also funded her last record, 2011’s “Chesapeake,” the same way.

In a digital era when major labels no longer hold sway, she’s delighted by how well this composer-empowering system works.

But it’s no cakewalk, either.

“I’m not sure everyone understands the realities of how expensive it can be to market and promote a tour,” she says. “But I’ve been well supported by my fans, and most of all, they’re patient. It’s been a two-year campaign, so they’ve really hung in with me.”

As for the 10 recipients of specific odes, Yamagata has recorded most of them, but she’s still vetting the publishing legalities of releasing the originals to individuals: Will they post and share them? Would they all one day agree to assemble them on a single album?
She found the process to be an enjoyable undertaking. The winners sent in one-page stories representing their lives; Yamagata used the material as inspiration for her songs.

“I spent four to five hours on each writing, then a full day in the studio to figure out the best presentation of it,” she says.

“Tightrope Walker” ended up becoming Yamagata’s most inventive disc, from the clanking blues of “Nobody,” to the clackety “EZ Target,” to the Wagnerian “I’m Going Back,” and the forlorn ballad “Black Sheep.”

She says, “Honestly, there is such creative freedom in this new world that I’m in. And in that setting, I could be very experimental.”

IF YOU GO
Rachael Yamagata
Where: Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Oct. 21
Tickets: $22
Contact: (415) 771-1421, www.ticketfly.com

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