It’s inevitable…you hear a band you like at a show, you look them up on your phone and decide to follow them on Twitter or Facebook so you can see where they’re playing next, and then it happens. You weren’t prepared for it. You just wanted information and entertainment. You never intended to let money come into it, but there it is on your screen, plain as day…a request for you to back the band’s crowdsourcing campaign.
Don’t be alarmed. This happens to everyone, and there’s a good reason for it. This is where the music industry is headed, and its actually a way to get you better music at a lower cost.
Here’s how it used to work…you’d write a few tunes, record a crappy demo, send it in to a record label and hope that they decide to pick up your band. The record label would front your band the money for studio time, promotion and distribution and would set up a tour for you.
For this investment the band would be on the hook for a huge loan, the label would control the sales of the album and would take almost all of the profit. Unless the band sold 1 million or more albums they would remain in debt. The contracts to these deals are full of loopholes that allow the label to back out at any point and stick the band with the loan, or include some ridiculous clause that require bands to put out an album every year for 5 years (which is why bands usually have 1-2 good albums and then their next 3-5 are horrible, except for one made-for-radio hit, until they switch labels). This is the most inefficient way to make new music.
Here’s how it works now… artists write the songs they want to put on an album. When they are ready to record them they find the studio they click with. The artists then reach out to their community of listeners for the support needed to pay for studio fees. When the album is done the artist has a big party and gives the supporters the music and some additional perks for being an early investor in the project. In this scenario there’s no big corporate middle-man, concerned only with profit, viewing the artists and listeners alike as nothing more than cows to be milked for money. There is a simple equation…artist+supporter=music.
You as a supporter make the album possible! In this scenario you’re not a customer, you’re much more than that. You’re helping to shape the careers of the artists who make the music you care about. In this scenario you’re viewed as a valuable partner and integral part of the album creation process, not as a variable in a marketing plan designed to squeeze as much cash out of you as possible. In this scenario bands aren’t successful because some big media company has paid to flood the airwaves with over-produced flotsam that they didn’t even write themselves, they succeed because they’re making music that people care about, and want to hear more of. This is the future of music production…community.
So why doesn’t the artist just come up with the money themselves? Ah…well… studio fees are incredibly expensive: for good reason, they are providing a highly skilled service and have tremendous overhead in expensive equipment. Music is also not a very lucrative job. The going rate for playing at gigs hasn’t changed much since the 80’s, though the price of everything else has. Trust me, a campaign is a lot of work and if there were another, easier, way to make albums then artists would be doing it that way. Common sense would say that artists could cut costs by doing it themselves, but that’s not true. Sound engineering is an art in itself, one that takes decades of practice to learn well. Artists could produce records in a home studio, but the quality of that music wouldn’t be worth the cost savings. Not to mention…an album is a big project and big projects are always made easier and less daunting with the support of friends.
So when you see those requests to back someone’s project, don’t scroll down in disgust…listen to what they’re really saying. “I care about this music a lot and I hope you do to. I’m asking if you’ll support it and share it with others. I can’t do it without your help.” What an opportunity! So click on them, watch the campaign videos, and if it resonates with you then support the project. If you can’t support it yourself, but still want to help some way, then share that link with your friends, introduce them to the music and encourage them to support it. It’s a really great way to do business that takes control away from the big corporations and puts it back into the hands of the artists and the communities of listeners that support them. It’s the future of the music industry.