Music

Mission Impozible

30 April 2013

First of all you have to get a hold of some music, so you fork out $20 for a CD, record, iTunes download or whatever other obscure format a band is putting their work on. Then it turns out that they have a massive back catalogue you weren’t aware of. So now it’s your responsibility, should you want to be considered a member of their fan base, to purchase the rest of their records. There goes another hundred dollars.

Now the band have announced a tour—a headlining show at a major venue. Eighty bucks. You realise that your friends won’t know that you went to the concert unless you buy a t-shirt proclaiming your love for the band. So you’d better fork out another fifty for the tour tee.

And now, they want you to support their Kick Starter or Pozible project on top of it all?

For those out of the loop, in recent times it’s become commonplace for artists to ask for pledges from their loyal fan base in exchange for new material or projects. While the concept was first utilised by fringe artists trying to gain some kind of an audience for their work, lately we’ve seen an influx of more successful artists attempting similar projects. This is usually due to a bizarre set of circumstances, and has had mixed outcomes.

In terms of a project that was gloriously unsuccessful we need look no further than one of the world’s leading recording artists—Icelandic vocalist Björk.

Yeah. That’s right. The almighty Björk’s crowdfunding attempt was a complete disaster. Her ₤375,000 ($555,000) project barely reached ₤15,370 (22,747.6). The venture was an attempt to further the release of the smart phone application in support of her latest release Biophilia. Keep in mind that the woman has an incredible fan base—according to her Last FM profile she has upwards of 1.8 million listeners.

So in order to fund her project each of her Last FM listeners would have had to pledge a gratuitous and totally unreasonable 30 cents to the cause.

In recent weeks, Sydney-based musician Brendan’s crowdfunding venture was simple: raise $17,500 in order to record a new album this year. To make a long story short, he succeeded. He was pledged over $20,000.

So what was the difference here?

I had a chat with Brendan to get his take on crowd-funding and he imparted some first hand wisdom on the topic.

The first thing he made clear was that for any crowdfunding mission to be successful it has to remain interesting. You can’t just use a spray-and-pray tactic in order to get your crowd keen.

“People think more tweets will do it or more posts on Facebook will do it, but it really doesn’t matter if you’re shouting at the same 200 people on Twitter. I mean I had 20,000 Twitter followers and I had 450 supporters on Pozible, he said.

We talked at length about the success of Amanda Palmer’s crowdfunding effort. If you missed it, she set out to gain $100,000, but ended up earning upwards of $1 million.

Her secret? She turned what could be a very segregated process into one that involved her crowd. She’d give away books, tape decks and anything else that contained some shred of personal connection to her in exchange for the pledges of her loyal fans.

For Brendan “it was the more personal rewards that did well”. His cupboard of 75 sweaters was shrunk for the cause, with him giving away at least ten. Signed setlists and Meet and Greets were popular too. According to Brendan this is one of the methods in which artists can make concept more ethical.

“It’s not charity, it’s not begging,” he said. “It’s all about you finding a project that you believe in and everybody pushing it over the line together.”

Perhaps it gets unethical when these bigger artists, who no doubt could fund their own productions, start to take advantage of such initiatives.

Brendan mentioned, in particular, the Eskimo Joe campaign as one that he found puzzling. In contrast to Bjork, the band have a much smaller fan base and asked for significantly less, yet earned the full $60,000.

“I’m not sure why bigger artists impose on this land that independent artists should be using,” he said. “I imagine it would frustrate the team at Pozible because it’s all about getting people to places where they couldn’t be.”

For Brendan, what once seemed like charity, has turned into a united front—a fan base banding together to craft a product that they love. And if the fans love it, I guess there’s nothing unethical about it at all.


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