A Personal Look at Fan-Funded Music Projects
A few of my recent posts have spoken about musicians or labels seeking public contributions in order to get them off the ground. These were specifically ones I had an ineterest in seeing made happen, hence (obviously) the reason for posting about them. Fundraisers themselves are hardly a new concept, nor is the idea of artists initiating projects such as these. If you cut it down, it’s not too many steps removed from the age old tradition of buskers, or if you want to use the more traditional terminology, minstrels. In the era of ‘bigger, brighter, faster, more‘, however, there’s a lot more on offer now than simply the chance to hear music; and since there’s been a few recently that I had personal interest in, I’ve had cause to muse over the whole thing and take a look at the concept from a few different angles.
The first thing I began to wonder was if the perception and/or reception to the music would be altered, from the fan’s point of view specifically. By inviting supporters in at a different level, there’s a slightly different sense of investment. Rather than just walking into a shop, handing over some cash and walking out again with a product, I must surely assume that along with the knowledge that said same cash sent directly to the artist prior to manufacture, there’s an inherent sense of personal contribution to the final product, and I wonder if that results in a greater sense of attachment, pride and willingness to appreciate what you then receive.
I should point out now that I can see where that thought is leading, but it’s not what I’m thinking, nor attempting to suggest. At all. I recognise quite perfectly that most of the musicians who’ve gone this road for a release have done so with their music and fans in mind, not their egos. (I say most as there’s always exceptions to the rule).
Some of the things artists have put up on offer have been seriously cool and highly desirable, and you can tell that they’ve put a lot of thought into what they can do, and the kind of opportunities their fans would appreciate. They range from limited edition releases and handmade/signed exclusives to one-off experiences with the artist(s) or even their personal effects and instruments – essentially a whole host of things that would be very appealing to anyone who’s a fan, a collector, or both.
Of course, there’s the ones where maybe not so much thought has gone into it – whereas The Northstar Session will cook you dinner for $250, The Blackout would like £75.00 in order to give you the opportunity to sell their merchandise for a day. (Surprisingly, in the worst way to me, the former is still available and the latter has been ‘sold’. Personally, I can totally get the appeal of having your favourite artist cook you a meal, but I can’t say I’ve ever sat around and dreamed about getting the chance to sell their crap for them). Then there’s the ‘goodies’ on offer from Princess Superstar.
I honestly don’t know what to say about some of that. For $60.00 she will give you “excellent health and nutrition advice“. I’ll just let that one sit there for a moment. For the big spenders, she’s offering a burlesque striptease for $10,000. I’m quite sure I can have both needs satisfied in a matter of minutes simply by using my fingers… To, you know, google. There’s tons of excellent nutrition and health information available on the net. For free. And while it may well be that I won’t find a Princess Superstar striptease on YouTube, I’d warrant there’s more than enough out there to make up that loss.
These are, of course, personal decisions of the artists themselves, and fairly well exclusive from the basic concept. But it makes me wonder about the how’s and why’s this is becoming an increasingly attractive method for artists to get their music out there. I know there’s some glaringly obvious reasons – cut out the companies, record what you want the way you want, sell directly to fans – lots of things in that that yield many benefits. But also quite obviously, it’s not simply about getting your music out there. These sites (Pledge, Kickstarter, etc.) are run exclusively on the net. So’s Bandcamp, where anyone can upload their music, give it away or sell it, even on physical formats. If it was just about getting the music heard, there’s tons of options available, so it has to be a bit about something else, a different priority – one between getting your music out there, and getting an album made, which are actually two very different things. I can only make suppositions here, because it’s not like I’ve asked any of the artists doing this any questions about their motivations, but my guess is it’s about pride – and not quite the sin-worthy one, either. (Discounting Her Name is Calla’s Pledge Music campaign, of course; which is solely for charity but still offers exclusive music, them being the awesome people that they are).
Creating an album’s worth of songs I’m sure is intensive and time consuming, and at the end of that is (hopefully) a body of work the artist(s) can take pride in. I would think that part of having faith and belief in the art they’re creating is wanting to see it fully realised. I’ve used plenty of different ways for getting my stuff out there and there’s not much I don’t make avaialble for free, but then I don’t have the same level of faith and pride in my work to inspire the level of committment required to work as hard as it takes to get it fully realised and made into something tangible. (I wouldn’t have anywhere near enough fans to rely on, either!)
On a side-note, I never quite understood that just because art is “art” it should be freely available to all and sundry. Accessable, sure, so on one level I undertsand the position, but just because something can be classified as art, it doesn’t mean that the amount of time and money gone into creating it doesn’t deserve to be honoured and compensated for in kind when you get to have a part of it. Yes, there’s lots of different ways you can show your appreciation for an artist and their work, but the most effective one, like it or not, is money. It goes towards paying the costs involved in producing the work, but also hopefully helps ensure they will have the means to continue with their art. Win – win as far as I’m concerned. If you consider that an album – in whatever format you purchase it – is the end result of all that hard work, why wouldn’t it be worth paying for? Jeez, I would much more resent paying $5 for a hamburger than $5 for a download – low-grade meat, greasy and horribly limp vegetables, processed cheese….cheap cheap cheap and little to no effort, creativity or inspiration involved in slapping one together, yet no one objects to the cost. Stuff that, music is far more substantial and nourishing, be it on CD, vinyl or in digital format.
The other thing, of course, is just how hard are we going to expect our favourite artists to work to get our money in the future? It was recently brought to my attention that Martin Carr (Boo Radleys) once initiated a similar project, only it failed to reach its target. There could be any number of reasons for that, but I think it’s worth noting in that particular instance the only thing on offer was the album. Fancy that, eh? A musician offering music. Certainly not conclusive evidence by any means, but I’d still take it as a sign people might be wanting / expecting more from their favourites. While Princess Superstar’s striptease has thus far not been snapped up, would, perchance, Mr Carr’s album have been brought to fruition if he’d offered more bang for your buck? If we’re being offered strip teases now, just how far will an artist have to go to get your dough? Or more to the point, how much further is there to go? I guess it’s a little bit sad the lengths one might have to eventually go to to independently release an album to – apparently – existing fans.
When I pay for a CD or other merchandise in a shop or online, I’m quite aware that portions of my money is going towards many of the same things it pays for when I make a pledge for one of these projects, just after the fact instead of prior, thus the end-of is largely the same from a simple consumer perspective. Where it differs is entirely in the level of that sense of personal involvement, both from the fans and the artists, particularly considering what some of them are prepared to do (as opposed to what some of them are prepared to ‘let’ you do. Contribute vocals to the album = cool. Be in a music video = more cool. Buy someone’s diary for £10,000? Voyeuristic and a little creepy. The same artist is offering her blood sweat and tears for sale. If literal, eww).
It is, then, perhaps the ultimate blend of ‘fan service’, art and business, and one that provides greater opportunities as a whole for all concerned. Let’s not forget, also, that successful Pledge Music projects donate a portion of the funds raised to various charities. I do quite like the idea itself, simply because it gives artists who have developed a following an opportunity to produce something where otherwise they may not have been able, as well as having full control over its direction. While the exclusives on offer like the diary and the striptease lean very much more towards the traditional meaning of fan service, I hope they remain rare exceptions to the norm, else I’ll have to revise ‘good thing‘ to ‘disturbing thing‘. I’ll just say right now that musicians don’t need to literally bend over backwards and/or sell themselves to me to make me buy their albums. I’d much rather they just kept making good music.
Top image: Buskers in Schwerin, Germany, by Keenon Lindsay. (Source).