Crowdfunding was supposed to empower the little guy. Independent artists could solicit family, friends and fans in lieu of a traditional advance from a record label. Musicians get to document their art, fans get an album they would have bought anyways. Everybody wins, right?
Except crowdfunding is no longer the realm of the little guy. The majority of campaigns on sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and PledgeMusic (which describes itself as “direct-to-fan” rather than a crowdfunding site) are still for unknown, independent artists. But increasingly, high-profile bands are also turning to crowdfunding.
Past success shouldn’t preclude artists from leaning on their fans for support; the music industry is notoriously tumultuous and cutthroat. But there’s a limited amount of crowdfunding money to go around and fans are more likely to support the artist they know over the one they don’t. Amanda Palmer famously raised over a million dollars with her controversial Kickstarter campaign (and then did a TED Talk about it) and Animal Collective’s Deakin never delivered the promised incentives to fans after raising over $25,000.
Perhaps the biggest culprits are bands who’ve tasted the benefits of the major label system. Their cultural cache may be lessened but their name still carries weight. Here’s a look at the various ways former major label acts are trying to kickstart their revenue streams.
Back From The Dead: The Vines
By far the majority of bands who turn crowdfunding were long considered dead, if not forgotten altogether. Crowdfunding is perfect for these artists as it allows them to lean on diehard fans for whom the band never really went away. The Vines were ushered into the spotlight on the early oughts’ garage rock revival wave. But as the pop culture winds changed so did the band’s fortunes and lineup. Now the Aussie group are back with their original lineup for another kick at the can.
% of goal achieved: 53%
Days left: 10
The Music + “Multimedia” Art Project: Matthew Sweet
Sometimes artists get bored and want to do things other than make music. But more often than not, fans just want them to get back to doing what made them famous in the first place. Case in point: alt-rock power pop god Matthew Sweet got a 3D printer. As an “incentive” to fund the recording of his new album, he’ll send you a piece of “3D art.” Because that's exactly what you want from Matthew Sweet.
The Anniversary: Kittie
Nothing sells like nostalgia which is why bands are increasingly willing to shill any product to fans if they can tie it to some sort of anniversary. London, ON metal queens Kittie are celebrating their twentieth anniversary this year and to cash-in commemorate the occasion they’ve put together a DVD with “never before seen footage” and a tell all book to give fans “the story behind the music.”
Rerecording The Old Hits: P.O.D.
When in doubt, lean on the hits. There are a multitude of reasons for bands to rerecord old material. Sometimes it’s a way for bands to siphon off some of the funds their label makes from the publishing rights of their back catalogue. But we’re going to go with “out of ideas” in the case of Christian nu-metal stalwarts P.O.D., who are currently flogging acoustic versions of old hits (yup, these were hits) like “Alive” and “Youth of the Nation.” Those old tracks will make up half of their upcoming record, which is reportedly half done. Hmm… I wonder which half they’ve already recorded?
% of goal achieved: 38%
Days left: 7
The Double Dip: Headstones
The hat-in-hand nature of crowdfunding tends to be a one-shot deal. Fans give a band the leg up they need to get back on their feet, and everybody’s happy. But that doesn’t stop some artists, like '90s CanRockers Headstones, from heading back to the well. They managed to raise the funds necessary to make their 2013 comeback album, Love + Fury, in just 24 hours. Despite scoring a “#1 single” the Kingston group are again looking to crowdfund their next record. Minus even more points for rerecording the old hits, this time they plan to de-rockify their back catalogue with acoustic guitars and strings.
% of goal achieved: 233%
Days left: 101
The “We’re Even Bigger Than We Think We Are”: Protest The Hero
Figuring out how much money to ask for is a tricky hurdle. Are you just covering recording? Publicity? Tour support? Some bands have been criticized for overasking, but some artists undervalue themselves. Before Whitby metalcore band Protest The Hero recorded their 2013 album, Volition, they decided to go the indie route, hitting up fans for $125,000 to fund the project. They reached their goal in just 30 hours and eventual tripled their original asking price.
The Tour/One-Off Live Show: O.A.R.
Whatever happened to the whole “get in the van” ethos? Touring is an old reliable source of revenue; even when no one wants to buy your record there’s usually someone willing to shell out the $5 cover charge, even if it’s just for access to the venue’s bar. But some bands – perhaps rightly so – need a bit more financial incentive to hit the road than beer and gas money.
The Won’t Compromise With The Wishes of Major Labels: Public Enemy
One of the primary reasons bands turn to crowdfunding is dissatisfaction with major labels. Sometimes that feeling is mutual and the band is dropped. But occasionally an artist decides it would be easier to go it alone and keep their vision intact than to compromise and retain the creature comforts of major label life. While Public Enemy’s post-millennial material lacks the groundbreaking weight of their earlier efforts, the politically-minded hip-hop crew had been doing just fine on the indie circuit for over a decade when they decided to crowdfund their albums, Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear on No Stamp and The Evil Empire of Everything. It’s hard to imagine either coming out on a major and that’s probably just fine with Chuck D and co.
Goal: $75,000 (lowered from initial goal of $250,000)
The Celebrity Vanity Project: Rick Moranis
You can count on one hand the number of actors-turned-musicians who’ve produced records worth listening to. Add in the kind of name recognition that makes record exec knees weak and your average celebrity’s perceived wealth and a crowdfunding campaign seems like a fool’s errand. Yet actor Rick Moranis decided to sell his 2006 country-comedy CD, The Agoraphobic Cowboy, direct to fans via ArtistShare. It was nominated for a Grammy, proving that there’s still some gas left in the Ghostbusters/SCTV star’s tank.
The Post-Grunge Comeback: Trapt
No. Please, just don’t.