The Wisdom of Crowds
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
Why Crowdfunding Is Something We Should Not Judge and Scorn
LATER on today…
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
I am focusing on an album that made a huge impact on music and, in 2018, it is something we need to see more of (in terms of its quality and originality). That album is the debut of Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys: the majestic, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. The band is returning with new material this year – about time too! – and, I feel, are one of the most durable and important bands we have around. There are other like-minded acts but none like Alex Turner’s crew. What amazes me if the way they have managed to remain relevant and captivate as the years have progressed. A lot of their music deals with youthful indiscretion and folly. That record came out in 2006 and, back then, there was nothing like it on the scene. It was a bit of a gamble releasing an album that year. In a year that saw The Raconteurs (Broken Boy Soldiers) and Muse (Black Holes and Revelations) release material; it would have been easy for critics to overlook the newcomers – favouring the reliable riffs and grit of bigger musicians. Luckily, that album struck and registered. I mention this because, despite its rather urgent and direct sound; it is a complicated and detailed album that might require a bit of additional funding. The lives of Arctic Monkeys has changed since their debut but one wonders, now, if they were recording that record – would they need a leg-up and financing from their fans?!
IN THIS PHOTO: Zach Braff (who is among a number of Hollywood stars who has turned to crowdfunding)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
I can understand a certain trepidation from artists, on an ethical level: they feel uneasy asking for money; almost like it is ‘begging’. This piece has been compelled by She Makes War. She is currently in the midst of her own crowdfunding endeavour (she might have completed it by the time I get to the bottom of the page...). You can contribute towards the Bristol-based musician’s next record - and check out all the rewards on offer. What affected me – regarding her piece – is how angered the writing is! It is just as well: some of the accusations levied at artists like her is enough to motivate retaliation and upset. I can understand a modicum of unrest regarding crowd-sourcing. Sites like PledgeMusic and Kickstarter have been going a little while now – the former was established in 2009. The only downsides to these websites (and many like them) are legalities and controversies. Some projects have offered licensing rights and unsubstantiated riches; some have created fake profiles and used the site(s) for nefarious and greedy purposes. It is hard validating and verifying projects: there have been a few where a celebrity’s status has been brought into question. Zach Braff, when he pitched his 2013 film Wish I Was Here, was questioned regarding the need to ask people for money – considering he could amply afford to fund it by himself! Those debates were quelled by an important point: those who fund these larger projects will, in turn, fund smaller ones...
IN THIS PHOTO: The cover for Amanda Palmer's album, Theatre is Evil/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
There is a chain of benevolence that means the average funder will look to assist others. I know, through the years, there have been projects that have raised eyebrows. Some have raised money for films/projects with a liberal agenda; there have been questions regarding political and graphic nature; projects and pitches that could be seen as controversial and divisive. There have been relatively few pitches that have been outright corrupt, fraudulent or greed-driven. The majority of creatives use these platforms in order to assist their process; to get their material to the people. One can claim big film stars do not need to tap the public for money. Not only are they not doing that: it is aimed to get people more involved with the filmmaking process; to divorce the enigma and calculated process of film. By offering something more communitive and involved; it means the funders can see the film’s creative process come to life and reap rewards – the person who pitches an idea on these sites offers backers rewards. Some big musicians have used crowdfunding to make their dreams come true. Amanda Palmer split with her label before recording Theatre Is Evil. It was an album received with positive reviews: the only reason it came to light was down to fans and funders. She raised $1.2 million - and ensured her fans were involved in every step of the process.
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
De La Soul turned to crowdfunding for their ninth album, ...and the Anonymous Nobody. They separated from a major label – claiming they infringe on the creative process – and, within a month of their pitch; they raised over $600,000. That is another reason crowdfunding is important: artists, big or small fish, can gain independence from labels and ensure they control the creative process. There is a reverse-logic for new artists: they do not have lucrative contracts and have full creative control. Despite the best-meaning dreams and strongest material; it can be hard finding the money to fund a record. There are some who say those who have a label should count themselves lucky and be happy with it! The label is a way of getting music spread further and having support, it is said. That is not to say (the label) will let the artist do what they want and not interfere: too often, artists find their label becoming too involved and demanding. It is not a cheat to go to crowdfunding sites and establishing some creative control. For newer artists, mind, you have to ask that question: why go through that process?! It can be hard, having those ambitions, and finding your project is under-funded. These pitches are only funded when all the money is raised – some sites do not operate like that – so it can be hard to hit the target sometimes.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
I pitched an idea once (not the best thought-out) where a group of musicians would cover Elbow’s One Day Like This. It would be filmed in London and it would, essentially, be a one-off music video. Even for something like that, fairly easy to plot and realise…it can be tricky. There is an assumption musicians have loads of money to burn and crowdfund so they have more money for beer. There are, sure, some artists who have a bit of money but want to get away from the label’s grabbing hands. For many people it is about being able to fund a song/album: many do it so they can involve their fans in the process. Music is about recording songs and putting them into the digital ocean. There are various steps in-between but, at any stage, do you really give followers a chance to get involved with the music itself?! Artists put social media updates out – but there is never a sense you are connecting with an artist that much. A lot of crowdfunding projects have physical rewards. Backers can feature in a music video; they might be credited on an album’s sleeve – big backers might get to spend a day in the recording studio.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
Depending on your target; you are never really asking that much of any artist! I have backed a lot of projects and, in most cases; it is never more than a tenner. Those who criticise crowdfunding labour under the assumption innocent members of the public are being gouged. That is strictly not true. The stress and burden is never on the backer: the responsibility and hard work falls with the artist. THEY are the ones who need to get the word out and promote their stuff. It is a relentless and tough process where you are always keeping one eye on the counter – seeing if the numbers are going up; how far away you are from the target. An artist puts their heart into the project and always hopes to reach the target. The sheer relief at hitting that target – check She Makes War's social media... – lets you know how much it means! In a lot of cases; it can be a Bond-esque race to detonate a bomb: hitting the fund target a day or so before the deadline! It is not a case of the musician watching the pennies roll in and not doing any graft. I shall come to the most obvious reason why crowdfunding is good but, before then; I want to bring an article in:
“The costs of making music have come down drastically as well, and independent albums today sound better than many major label efforts of the 80's and 90's. Quality still isn't cheap though, and the costs of manufacturing and publicizing a release still put a truly professional campaign out of the reach of many indie artists. We do have access to one incredible resource however: our fans!
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
Crowdfunding has become an important tool in the arsenal of many indie artists, and it’s a strategy that has helped level the playing field for artists who don’t have label money propping them up. I’ve had a lot of success on a variety of platforms, and I wanted to pass along some of what I’ve learned. Buckle up!...
My most recent crowdfunded project was done through PledgeMusic. There are a lot of similarities between PledgeMusic and Kickstarter, but there are also a few big fundamental differences.
Like Kickstarter, PledgeMusic makes you pick a goal amount, and expects you to reach that goal or refund the money. PledgeMusic is WAY more hands-on right from the start, though: they assign you a project manager, take stock of your band as a business (by looking at your social media stats and your level of fan engagement, as well as other metrics they don’t publish) and they try to help you set a realistic goal that they’re confident you can attain. Goals on PledgeMusic tend to be much more honest than on Kickstarter. This hurts their reputation a little bit when artists are comparing the two platforms, because Kickstarter artists SEEM to make a lot more money (since they regularly hit 200% or 300% of their artificially modest “goal”)”.
There are two things that come out of that case study: depending on which platform you use; there can be drawbacks and risks. It seems PledgeMusic is a better platform for musicians, at least.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
That hands-on approach and lack of risk – not having to refund money – means it is the go-to choice. The other point might mislead: the fact music is a lot cheaper than it was. That is true but, if you think about it; how many unsigned artists did you hear during that decade?! I don’t know about you but my musical tastes (from that time) are chart acts and those who were signed. It is true you can make a song/album a lot less expensively than back in the 1990s. Most of the artists around in that decade had a label and did not have to struggle the same way as modern artists. There is a lot more competition today and, as people spend more time working and less time socialising – happiness levels are decreasing. That is why people go to crowdfunding wells: financial aid. It seems like, on paper, the costs of recording an album are dropping. You can put together a record on your laptop and produce a dozen songs for as little as a couple of hundred quid – or less in many cases. You can then do all your promotion and digitally release it without breaking the bank. Most artists, mind, use instruments and have greater ambition.
IN THIS IMAGE: She Makes War (Laura Kidd)/IMAGE CREDIT: She Makes War
They want to ensure they stand out from their peers so use better microphones and spaces; take more time and employ more components. Songs are bigger and, in order to entice more fans; they release material onto C.D., vinyl and cassette. Look at She Makes War’s article in order to get an idea of costs and the breakdown of an album. She has recruited eight-hundred-and-fifty-eight backers (at the time of this piece) and is right at her target – she will probably hit her goal before this goes live. It has not been a smooth and easy ride for her. The album, She Makes 4, is practically funded but, before rounding off; a few thoughts from She Makes War herself – regarding the reason she is crowdfunding:
“Why? Because making high quality albums, even in these playing field levelled times of DIY digital recording, is expensive. Really expensive…nice-second-hand-car up to deposit-for-a-house expensive – and as a solo artist it’s down to me to pay for all of it. I don’t know any independent musician who doesn’t rely on the income from their merch sales to pay or part-pay for their living expenses, and I don’t know anyone who has between £5-£15K hanging about in their bank account.
Yes, we could all make albums ourselves on laptops (and that’s how I write and demo my music without the need to pay for anyone else’s time) but I have no real desire to become a truly brilliant engineer or mixer, and I want my albums to sound as massive and incredible and wonderful and magical as they possibly can. I’ve always wanted to produce material of the quality you’d expect to be released by a respectable indie label, whether or not I ended up with the backing of one (and I’d love the backing of one).
While musicians are expected to do a lot of things for free/promo opportunities, recording studios, engineers, mixers, CD/vinyl/cassette printing companies and the Royal Mail all understand that exposure is something mountain climbers die from and charge accordingly. Every aspect of making music costs money, so in order to release music of the quality I want, I have to find the money somewhere”
A good point is made: austerity is terrible in the North - which means it is ethically hard asking some for money they cannot afford (She Makes War is in Bristol and struggles like everyone else). Given rent prices in London; many artists are unable to afford to live AND record music! I find myself in a position where I have to live at home and, despite a full-time job; I am unable to make a full move to London. The only reason I can keep my blog going is because I do not have to fund it.
IN THIS PHOTO: She Makes War/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Artist
I want to interview artists and do more videos but the cost of that is the cost: travelling around and getting the equipment is too much of a burden. Musicians have the same trials and struggles. Many have to work a full-time job (or two) and are seeing stress and anxiety levels go up. The demand and competition in the industry mean artists are spending time on social media; they are boiling everything down to numbers – chasing a carrot and stressing themselves into poor health. For artists like She Makes War; there are fewer opportunities and less money available - even less for those who live in northern England. Many of her peers are going through a testing and unhappy time. They want to bring music to the people but the only way to do that, and make it as good as it can be, is through crowdfunding. There are many more compelling argument to back up my point but the facts remain: artists are not doing it to bilk people and take an easy way around. The crowdfunding route connects an artist with their fans and builds closer ties; it means they can expand their horizons and reduce their anxiety levels. At a time where so many musicians are struggling and suffering poor mental-health; we should not begrudge them the opportunity to receive backing from fans. I understand why some artists want to go their own way and self-fund – that is good for them! Those who choose to crowdfund should not be judged or accused. They have very good reasons for doing it; they either face financial difficulties or want independence – and that need to connect more readily with their followers. In the case of many musicians – including She Makes War – it is a wonderful and enriching way to make their dreams…
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
COME true (...and She Makes War has just hit her funding target!).