Questions for the artists out there…

13 05 2012

I love Amanda Palmer.

I have made no secret of this over the years. She is one of my favorite lyricists, a ‘music is for everyone’ approach performer and I have to admit – a pretty foxy liberated lady (I have a mega-girl crush on her!)

See what a cute couple we’d make??

From Bordeaux, January 2010

Ok – maybe not.

But discussing celebrity girl crushes is not what this post is about.

Amanda left her record label a few years back and now operates her business as a professional musican and performer through crowd-sourced funds, mainly using a website which deals purely in crowd-funding Kickstarter. She reaches out to the consumers who want her product (her fans) and asks them to pay in advance for the goods.

Her current ‘pitch’ is seen here in a Bob Dylan inspired video:

If you haven’t got time/patience for the video the summary is that  by pledging here you commit to pay money towards funding the recording, manufacture and distribution of Amanda Palmer’s new record. If you are a fan who just wants the new music as a digital download you can do it with as little as a$1 pledge. Although, if you think the artists’ work is worth more you can contribute more. In order to incentivise ( <– is that a real word? Sounds like management wank-speak) larger pledges, Amanda offers special bonuses depending on the amount commited.

Of course for the fans there is a risk associated with buying something sight unseen (or in this case, unheard) but she has a good back-catalogue, a proven history so therefore I suppose the potential risk for the backers is minimal. After all, people will line up for days to buy the latest Apple product without waiting to see what the reviews are as they have faith that the product will be good based on previous experience and general one-eyed fandom.

Amanda’s current campaign has garnered much internet attention and discussion. So far  it has passed her original campaign target of $100,000 six times over, with another two weeks still remaining in the funding period. It has broken all previous Kickstarter records.  For the most part, the online discussion is positive and even at times slightly awed. Some discussions are even already on the “she did it, and you can too…” wagon (including Forbes telling big businesses what they can learn from Amanda Palmer ). But interestingly, there has been quite a bit of pushback from some commentators, etc.  Such as this:

“the Internet has allowed artists and fans to have a more direct relationship, but it has also given artists a more direct way to shake their fans upside down for pocket change.”

Is that what is going on?

As a fan, and one who has contributed to this and previous kickstarter campaigns, I dont think I’m being “shaken upside down for pocket change” – becuase really it means I can give whatever I can afford to support an artist I admire and want to see more work from. In general, I try to send my dollar to the location where the creator will benefit most wherever possible (i.e purchase from gigs or bands own websites rather than the big machines like Amazon and the rest) – this seems a natural progression from that philosophy.

But I guess, in some way the answer to the quote above is “yes”. The internet has allowed better connection with fans and artists, and yes, it has also allowed a way for the artists to ask their fans for money (“shake them upside down for pocket change” is maybe a little strong).  But I suppose the question is – is that a bad thing? Is it even unusual? Is it all that different to buying a theatre package subscription with a theatre company at the start of a season – pre-paying future productions in good faith based on previous seasons? Or even different to buying sports season tickets – prepaying for attendance at all matches because you support that team based on history, even if you dont know how many of the games to come will be won. Is the offence caused by Amanda asking for money caused because she is a one-person operation or is it because the request is so blunt and blatant and not hidden behind more tasteful terms such as selling a ‘season pass’ or the like? (if anything, doesn’t the fact that an individual artist has no government funding or corporate sponsorship make it MORE ok for her to go out asking for financial support?)

The next question is – can this work for all people in creative industries? Is this, as Amanda promises, ‘The Future of Music’?

Before I go on, I should note that there are some marked differences in the way Amanda operates as an artist.  First off, she comes from a background of street performing where holding out your hat to the punters to unashamedly ask for them to pay for what they have just experienced is par for the course. Her description of this is discussed much more eloquently than my description in Amanda’s presentation to a Harvard crowd here:

However this asking the punters directly for money may not come as easy or as comfortably for some artists.

Secondly, Amanda is a tireless social networker – she blogs, she tweets, she facebooks – she stages ‘ninja gigs’, she hangs out after shows to mingle with the crowd. She has developed a legion of fans who feel they know her warts-and-all and have around the clock access to her. She has come to be viewed as a virtual friend to many and this I think is one of the keys to the bottomless support (financial and otherwise) of her fans – she has become everyone’s slightly kooky, but very talented, mate that you want to see really make it. This works for her, but obviously not for a more reserved, less-outspoken private artist who isn’t interested in being ‘All Access’ . Without that existing fan devotion, the model could potentially start to fall apart.

Finally, while Amanda started independently funding the first ‘Dresden Dolls’ album before getting signed, and while she works independently now – there was still a period of record company funded recording, touring, PR with Roadrunner records. While Amanda has certainly done the majority of the ground work building her brand through tireless interaction with fans and her strong artistic ethos, would she still be in the same position without having had that period of a corporate boost (even if it they did a pretty pathetic job of representing her as Amanda describes it)? I don’t know. But it does make me wonder if you can achieve the same heights from scratch with no industry backing at all. In this age of facebook, twitter and youtube and with break-out programs such as JJJ’s unearthed and places to showcase music such as SoundCloud, I like to think so.

I guess what  I wanted to ask my friends in creative industries; be it music, theatre, film-making, writing, etc. your thoughts on funding your work in this fashion. So, some questions to prompt you:

  • Is this ‘patronage’ model the future of the creative industry?
  • Do you think the consumers are ready for this ‘pay before we create’ model?
  • Can this crowd-sourced approach work from ‘nothing’ or do you always need a machine behind to get you started?
  • Have you or your fellow artists tried to use crowdsourced funding before? What was the experience?
  • Do you feel this method of fundraising a positive step for artists or is it a step in the wrong direction?

And to everyone -

  • Would you be willing to financially contribute to an artists future work sight unseen, based on the strength of their previous offerings, or do you prefer to wait until the new work is complete and make a call as to whether or buy or not then?
  • Have you ever contributed to a kickstarter, or similar, campaign before? Can you imagine yourself doing so in the future? What would be need to be on offer to make you spend your money in this way?
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3 responses

8 06 2012
Dad xoxox

I am touched by your generous attitude in wanting to support music and the arts … perhaps you could direct your benevolence into paying off some of your debts? Try not to think of me as your Australian finance manager but more as a struggling artist needing a kickalong! From, your loving father.

13 09 2012
So, was it all worth it…? « There is no blog title.

[...] The last time I posted on here it was to question people’s thoughts on crowdfunding artistic projects. Here [...]

21 01 2013
Welcome to 2013 and 10 new year resolutions « There is no blog title.

[...] last year! 3 times?! terrible.  One of the posts was my Singapore 30th Party and two were about Crowd Funded art. Not to say they weren’t good – but in such a big year with so much [...]

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