Crowdfunding: Music patronage gone viral


Why crowdfunding?

Symptomatic perhaps of a greater shift in, or decentralisation of the music industry, is the trend of up-and-coming artists increasingly looking towards alternate streams of revenue such as crowdfunding. No longer a new concept, crowdfunding has become a rather well established means for bands and solo acts to finance musical projects they traditionally would have had to raise by non-musical means or with more conventional music-industry supports.

The artist will typically make a pitch for, say, an album, detail what recording and releasing that album will cost, and ask their fans and the general public to pledge particular amounts of money to the project, if, they deem it to be worthy of their patronage. The fans in turn receive the album and/or particular rewards from the band/crowdfunding platform in return for particular levels of patronage.

All going well, the target is reached, the artist realises their project and their fans have made a personal and financial investment in the project as well as the artist; they have also received a reward directly from the band themselves. On top of this, the artist(s) retain their independence, have an opportunity to engage directly with their fanbase and get some good promotion along the way. The fan in turn gets inclusivity and another level of access to their favourite band, for example.

Tootawl is a good local Irish example of an emerging singer-songwriter who is currently crowdfunding. Popular in the songwriting community, the Cork-based singer is crowdfunding for his second EP ‘Twisted Paranoia’. As a solo artist the benefits of crowdfunding are two-fold. Not having the backing of fellow band-members to chip in, and given how difficult it can be to gig alone acoustically and get adequately compensated for it, crowdfunding makes a lot of sense for talented songwriters who don’t have/want the cover/wedding gig option. His particular campaign covers mastering, CD duplication, and a promotional video for a single release.

An interesting offshoot to these campaigns is the novel/creative rewards being offered apart from the EPs/albums themselves: in particular the new music/art that is emerging as a byproduct of this kind of fundraising. An example of this is the ‘medici’ reward, whereby you can commission Tootawl to write a song for you, or anyone else; other creative rewards include short stories written for you in particular, private/public gigs are offered too.

Sarah Beth is another example. Currently raising funds for her EP ‘Your Muse’, her list of rewards include distinct artworks/paintings; music lessons; having one’s name in the credits and lyric sheets/sketches. It is a means of financing artists can literally get creative with. The rewards can also potentially offer punters some degree of input in the creative process of a project, for better or worse. There is consequently less of a disconnect between the artist and their fans. There is active engagement and inclusivity.

Crowdfunding platforms geared towards musicians, or particularly well tailored for their needs, such as PledgeMusic, Indiegogo or Kickstarter are now very well established. Some prominent Artists such as Kate Nash, for example, have recently ditched their label in favour of crowdfunding for their next album (her fourth, and kickstarter in her case). The platforms benefit too of course, and bands/acts are increasingly expressing a preference for this option. Crowdfunding seems to be, with requisite transparency and responsibility, an everybody-wins approach. The manner in which it is done can raise questions however:

How legitimate is the need for funding?

Let’s look at a typical project for recording a basic EP. Costs entailed are studio hire; hiring a studio engineer for recording and latterly for a mixing session; you can add a producer if so inclined; gear may need to be hired; the cost of session musicians, as required; the cost of transportation to the studio (tricky if a drum kit is involved); mastering engineer; then there are packaging/release related costs such as CD duplication, ISBN numbers and packaging. There can also be considerable costs in terms of instrument maintenance/repairs as recording normally brings these issues to a head.

Even with a very well rehearsed, efficient and well equipped band walking into a studio down the road, the costs can stack up very quickly. A day rate for a decent studio/engineer will probably come to 250 euro. If the band manage the four tracks in just two days there will still be a mixing session and the cost of additional edits following the usual correspondence with the engineer: another 200 at least. Then the band needs to get each track mastered (anywhere between 60-120 per track depending on quality), let’s consider the absolute budget cost of 240.

So even before we talk about promotion, videos, the EP launch, the packaging and art design/CD-duplication/ISBN codes/distribution etc, the guts of a grand has been spent. The costs of being a musician are considerable apart from this. If you a serious musician, instrument maintenance is a serious expense, let’s not even talk about the price of instruments themselves, there often is rehearsal room hire, petrol/travel expenses, PA system hire etc. It can seem endless and at times insurmountable, especially as an original artist, given that most venues are not keen on paying original acts (though a minority are, of course, wonderfully supportive).

Crowdfunding is therefore very appealing to musicians who are not yet sufficiently established to support themselves on touring, local gigs and sales. The costs are real and there is a justifiable need. With such a great opportunity comes responsibility however, there is a right way to crowdfund, and there is most definitely a wrong way to do it.

As long as bands don’t abuse crowdfunding and start looking at their fans with a sense of entitlement, there’s no reason why bands should not pursue it, and no reason for fans to suspect it. It’s very important for bands to scale rewards the right way, a digital download should be significantly cheaper than a physical copy for example. Transparency is key, as are follow-ups regarding costs, accountability etc. The choice of a reputable and transparent funding platform is key also, something quite evident in recent reports of alleged fraudulent activity on a major funding platform (not a musically-specific one).

Outside of the regular support network of family and friend, what’s really in it for the regular music fan/patron?

There is undoubtedly the chance to directly support an artist/musician you like; from an ethical standpoint if you think someone is really worth listening to, and you can afford it, why not support them? It is up to you how much you contribute, you can quite literally assess what worth their work is to you.

The rewards can be unique, personally very valuable, and in some cases, legitimate investments. Buying an album or EP through a crowdfunding platform is very different to say buying it from a CD store or even buying it from a digital store: you know the the artist will be taking the vast majority (based on the platforms I’m aware of, between 77.5-92.5%) of your money.

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