The internet is a reflection of every grandiose and malformed perversion of the human psyche that can be imagined. Dave Chappelle did a great job illustrating this in a skit on his all-too-short run of his hit TV show, “The Chappelle Show,” on Comedy Central. Every weird and disgusting perversion can be found to satisfy your kink. Every weird flight of fancy you may have, like buying a razor that is also a clock radio can be filled. You can get insurance on the fly and can find out every stat for every baseball game ever played. You can satisfy any desire from a movie you want to watch to pirating films that are still in theaters. Anything can be accomplished through the internet, even philanthropy. The trend that has exploded on the net is the advent of social fundraising websites like Kickstarter and PledgeMusic, to raise money for arts projects on a peer-to-peer level. Gone are the days of an artist grinding it out and scraping together cash for a new LP, book, or short film. Now, you’re able to go directly to your fan base or those with similar interests to ask for money to get your project off the ground. But are these sites the new business model? Is digital panhandling and fundraising the new way for independent artists to get their work made while side-stepping the pitfalls of signing with a major label or company?
Kickstarter you can find any myriad number of things to support. There are people raising money for putting out a first edition of a Vegan magazine, Chickpea. There are photographers trying to get books made of gay men in America or even photographs of lift bridges in New Jersey. There are fashion designers raising money to produce lines of clothing. There is even a project for a mobile library driven by bike to lend books to the homeless in (where else?) my hometown of Portland, OR. There are more projects from a wide array of areas that you can donate your money to. Kickstarter is centered around art and design. You can go to this site and give your money to a guy trying to fund a film about two old Jewish ladies in Berlin. There is a feature length film about fucking Minecraft (video game nerds? Anyone?) that you can give your hard earned dollars to. If that’s not your flavor, why not give your money to a dance troop in Tempe, AZ? If anyone needs a little culture, it’s Tempe.
In addition to Kickstarter is the music site PledgeMusic, which is dedicated to, well, music. There you can give money to your favorite musicians trying to raise money for an LP, EP, a tour, or even just a trip to Nashville. Surely you’re willing to buy dinners and hotel rooms for a struggling musician whose singles you’ve enjoyed over the years? Between the two sites, and others, you are able to support your favorite artists and musicians to keep them creating the music and art that you love. Pledging dollars for new art to be made is like the pre-pre-order. You are now buying music and works that haven’t even been made yet. Instead of the label fronting money, now we are a board of investors in our artist to see to it that the best possible thing comes out of them. They’d better fucking deliver though.
I have to question this business model though. Is this how underground music and non-label artists are to raise funds to create from here on out? In the past you had to grind it out on a street corner or ask for tips at an open mic just to make a living. But with the success of sites like this, now you can panhandle from the couch in your boxers and pander to your fan base and any Joe The Plumber that likes your project. Can this be the next step for good music to continue to be made by your favorite nobody?
|MC Lars (Photo Credit: Wesley Bauman)|
This model has not come without its success and its detractors. MC Lars, a favorite of mine, recently raised over $20,000 on Kickstarter to release Lars Attacks, his new full-length LP, from Horris Records; the label he started seven years ago, by the way. Lars explains: “I raised $30,000 just by asking the fans to help us put out the music. That was great. That’s the new model. You make it directly or the people. Talk about eliminating the lazy middle man... I’m like, ‘look, I know you’ve been stealing my stuff for eight years, if you wanna hear the next record then let’s have a few bucks. You can have it, and here’s a cool T-shirt with my drawing that is only for you.’” Currently, on PledgeMusic, Delaney Gibson has raised 110% of her goal for a new LP she is now able to work on in New York. Is this such a terrible thing? For these artists to be able to reach out to their base and get the money necessary to create a product off-label?
Sage Francis seems to think so. Despite being on a track of MC Lars’ mixtape, Indie Rocket Science, which he released between Lars Attacks and securing the funds on Kickstarter to make it, Sage tweeted that he had no respect for any project that started on Kickstarter (paraphrasing). Though Twitter often lacks the agility in 140 characters to convey irony, I am thinking Sage was serious; he generally is. Sage Francis started Strange Famous Records through blood, sweat, and tears, and seems to have no respect for the business model of digitally panhandling to your fan base, yet he can be found on a mixtape by a man who raised his money for an album through that very avenue Sage seems to loathe. I’m not sayin’, but I’m just sayin’.
Astronautalis has a different take on the idea of funding your artist of choice. In an interview with Disarray Magazine he told me: “Supporting an artist has become almost political in a sense because there is music that you may like, but you’re not necessarily in love with the artist. I mean, people pirated Watch Your Thone because they didn’t care to give their money to Jay-Z or Kanye West.” Asronautalis seems to think that support of an artist is more of a statement in today’s day and age more than it is simply a financial transaction. You can rip anything off the net, but for real fans of an artist, they seem to be willing and ready to shell out hard earned dollars in support of not just the music, but the cause behind the person. They want to support an artist individually, and they can do that no more effectively than with their credit card and a project goal on any of these sites.
So, if extrapolating the Astronautalis model, is this the great political break from the status quo to a model of peer-to-peer support? No longer are you giving your money to A&R departments, research guys, demographic guys, promoters, agents, etc. Now you’re fighting the machine by financially voting for your favorite music and seeing that it gets made by giving your money directly to the artist in question. This seems like a great concept to me, and one that MC Lars obviously saw the genius in.
Before you get all bunched up in the trunks, let me tell you that artists of all kinds on Kickstarter, and musicians on PledgeMusic, have adopted the very successful PBS business model. They aren’t asking for money to make an album and then giving nothing in return as they then charge you for the very thing you helped fund. With a small donation you can get a downloadable track, you can get an autographed hard copy for a bit more. You can get shirt packages, signed this and that, and even the notebook where the lyrics were scribbled or the occasional cocktail napkin of sketches and MC Lars even offered up his laptop he recorded the album with, if you donated enough scratch. Hell, with enough money you can get a musician to perform in your basement party, sleep over, and then make you breakfast in the morning. Who doesn’t want Delaney Gibson to cook them Eggs Benedict? Or to send Weerd Science to Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee and pastries after a night of killer raps? Best frat party, ever. Gone are the days of lame tote-bags, now you can get everything shy of a lap dance if the price is right. Savvy, musicians, savvy.
So where does this new business model leave us? It seems to be working with all the pledges I am seeing out there on the sites. Delaney Gibson made her quota for the album and then some in the span of a month or so. Lars had hoped for $5,000 and got nearly $30,000. Astro seems to think that this is a musically-generated political statement, to pay your artists you love, and steal from those you really don’t care about. And Sage? Well, he seems to think it’s all a bunch of bullshit. Classic, Sage. Love ya, man. So, as the internet marches on with copious amounts of porn and rock-bottom insurance quotes, there is a small bastion of hope in this otherwise sticky “series of tubes” that is the internet. Check these sites out, Kickstarter and PledgeMusic. Look them over and find the projects you want to see in the world, from an LP by your favorite “soon-to-be-somebody” or if you want a magazine to get published or see a flash mob at your local mall. Support that shit with your wallet, because as we all know, and as Sage Francis will remind us on his amazing corporate watchdog site, Knowmore.org, in a big-corporation world, the only vote that counts is the one you make with your wallet. Support indie music, and other indie shit, too. If anything, your friends will think you’re really ‘in the know.’
About the Author
Wesley Bauman, author of Doggy Paddling in the Deep End, is a writer/photojournalist originally from Oregon who makes his home in Ventura, CA. He's contributed to the VCReporter and maintains an active blog (http://projectpoppycock.com/) where he writes on political and social satire regularly. Follow Wesley on Twitter @myownfalseidol