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#DigitalSkeptic: A Model for Breaking the Rules and Making Money in Music

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Justin Timberlake might want to take a national tour time-out for a nice long chat with Tim Munro.

"Everything we do is about creating a personal relationship with the audience," Munro said as he explained to me his unlikely, Digital Age music business success story. See, he's the flutist and co-artistic director for Eighth Blackbird, the Chicago contemporary classical music sextet that counts Bill Clinton, The Edge and Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche as fans and collaborators, respectively.

The articulate Australian, and his fellow Oberlin College & Conservatory grads, do what most musicians -- classical or otherwise -- can't: Make real money singing, writing or making art with a very simple business model.

"We are not talking down to you," he said. "We are playing our guts out with this great music. And we hope you love it."

Munro and Eighth Blackbird earn in the lower seven figures annually presenting passionate interpretations of -- get ready for this -- essentially unknown contemporary classical music works. They really do support a staff of six and tour 220 days a year performing work such as Steve Reich's Double Sextet, David Lang's These Broken Wings and Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire. I for one look forward to attending their gig down at Manhattan's The Kitchen in February.

In the process, Eighth Blackbird has earned the street cred of its hard-core musician peers. The ensemble has taken down three Grammys and its members perform routinely in the world's greatest venues, including Carnegie Hall and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, and teach at three music schools, including the nearly impossible-to-get-into Curtis Institute of Music in Center City, Philadelphia.

"My girlfriend says I am niche famous," Munro joked. But he follows up modestly: "We are on solid financial footing, which is very rare in the post-Digital-Age classical music business."

Breaking the classical rules of the Information Age
What's all the more virtuosic is that all this business upside soars smack in the face of the so-called iron rules of the Information Age music biz. First of all, the splashy, large-scale live productions that are supposed to make up for lost CD revenues are anything but golden in today's tarnished classical music business.