Chris Rizik: Asking fans for help -- great promise and greater responsibility

2012 was the breakout year for "crowdfunding" of music. The concept is that in this new DIY world of music, where there are fewer record companies around to foot the bill for recording an album or making a video, an independent artist can get his or her fans to fund it in advance through contributions. For those of you who are unfamiliar with websites such as Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and PledgeMusic, they are relatively new online platforms that allow artists to ask their fans to support the creation of new projects.  The artist sets a financial goal for project fundraising, and fans can easily and simply make contributions online to show their support.

2012 was the breakout year for "crowdfunding" of music. The concept is that in this new DIY world of music, where there are fewer record companies around to foot the bill for recording an album or making a video, an independent artist can get his or her fans to fund it in advance through contributions. For those of you who are unfamiliar with websites such as Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and PledgeMusic, they are relatively new online platforms that allow artists to ask their fans to support the creation of new projects.  The artist sets a financial goal for project fundraising, and fans can easily and simply make contributions online to show their support. In most cases, in exchange for the contribution the fan will receive a copy of the finished product. Many artists have even offered other items, ranging from autographed pictures to in-person "living room" concerts, for larger contributions.

Crowdfunding has been VERY successful, both in the arts and in other areas. In 2012, on the Kickstarter site alone, over 2 million people pledged in excess of $300 million for various projects. Musically speaking, over $1 million was raised by singer Amanda Palmer from her fans on Kickstarter, with her resulting album becoming so popular it topped the Billboard charts. And several "highly recommended" albums on SoulTracks during the past year began with Kickstarter campaigns.

So there is no doubt that crowdfunding provides yet another important arrow in the quiver of artists trying to advance their music in a time when broadcast radio and major record labels are, at best, in flux.  And, with the artist/fan relationship being more important than ever, crowdfunding can serve to tighten that bond, as the fans' contributions play a pivotal role in the fulfillment of the artist's musical dream.  But, as Spiderman's uncle told him, "With great power comes great responsibility."  So when an artist asks for contributions to a crowdfunded project, he or she has received a special trust from fans -- one which should be taken very, very seriously.

With the great responsibility that crowdfunding brings, I am shocked by the number of stories I hear from fans about artists and projects that don't quite deliver as promised.  Performers such as Lauryn Hill and, more recently, pop phenom Justin Bieber, have learned how they can alienate their closest fans by showing up to perform at a concert 2-3 hours late. Well, it's even worse when a fan makes a leap of faith and contributes to an artist's project and then never receives what was originally offered: A singer promises an autographed CD to all contributors and instead delivers an emailed mp3. A singer promises an autographed picture and sends nothing. And the result is like the Lauryn Hill concert: an occasion that was supposed to enhance the bond between artist and fan instead becomes a wedge that drives them apart. Fans love artists for their music, but also want to like them as people. And nothing can destroy the latter more than an artist who breaks his or her first direct promise to that fan. So instead of being part of a happy musical family with the fan, the artist more closely resembles the fan's good-for-nothing cousin who owes them 20 bucks.

All this is to say that crowdfunding is a wonderful new tool that may be a big part of the future of popular music. But artists who look at crowdfunding more as a source of money and less as a means of enhancing their relationship with fans are missing the most important lesson of crowdfunding. The raising of the money from your fans is simply a small first step in the process of what should be the real goal: creating and delivering to them your absolute best project.  A failure to live up to your crowdfunding promise is not just a violation of trust to your closest supporters; it's a career killer.

By Chris Rizik

 

.

 
SoulTracks Choice Cut - Toni Redd - "Underneath My Skin"
Song of the Month - Stokley - "Level"
CD of the Month - Phil Perry - Breathless
Pre-order now! - Norman Brown - Let It Go

Leave a comment!