Crowdfunding Art

Artists just can’t seem to win these days. If a streaming service like Spotify isn’t pulling most of the profit from the songs, then chances are iTunes is doing the same exact thing, or maybe it’s Tidal, Apple Music, whatever. Or perhaps the artist is releasing music on Bandcamp where a total of 10 people, if you’re lucky, will listen to the album, but that’s better than a record label treating the artist like a puppet to suit their needs, right? Don’t forget the good old illegal downloads as well– kids are still more willing to convert a Youtube video into an awful quality mp3 file before paying a buck to support an artist. There’s a reason behind the “starving artist” stereotype, and that’s due to the limited methods for distributing creative content not at the expense of the artist (I’m talking about you, bloodthirsty music execs).

AA2123.jpg

That is, until artists discovered the power of crowdfunding. Platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon have drastically changed the way artists connect with their fans, creating a synergy with fan bases that was missing via traditional listening channels.

crowdfunding-featured5.jpg

Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls, a dark cabaret/alt-rock duo, achieved a degree of mainstream success in the early 2000s, and actually opened for Nine Inch Nails in 2005. But after being signed by Warner’s Roadrunner Records, Amanda quickly wanted to free herself from the reigns of the major label. She stated, “I, like many artists, fundamentally detest being told what to do by others… that’s why most of us became musicians to begin with.” After a fall-out and digital wilderness, Amanda Palmer began a Kickstarter for her own album a decade later and was able to crowdfund a whopping $1.2 million dollars.

tumblr_nevtr9ZL1E1qzozjoo1_4001.jpg

Amanda’s story is pretty extraordinary and by no means the norm for most artists, but it alludes to the power of connecting with an online fanbase. The role of social media in this process is also important to highlight, since for crowdfunding to be effective you need the audience to be engaged online. And what better way to do that than to spread the message via Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, etc?

In case you haven’t heard of Patreon, its basis is similar to Kickstarter but fans pledge their support per piece of work or per month instead of funding a big project like an album. As a result, creators are able to get paid regularly and hopefully be full-time artists. As of January 2016, more than 17,000 artists, ranging from musicians to photographers to webcomic creators, joined Patreon. And although Patreon takes a 5% commission of pledges to support its function, the platform clearly respects artists and seeks to empower them. One of my favorite creators, 8-bitfiction, takes screenshots from old NES games, runs them through Microsoft Paint, and then adds “sappy, somber, sordid, stirring and sometimes silly text.”

abhxgiI.png

Not every artists seeks to be the next Andy Warhol or Adele, and that’s perfectly alright. Utilizing platforms like Patreon will allow artists do what they love in a capacity that they’re comfortable with, and in many instances it allows ideas to be brought to fruition that would have been stifled otherwise by real life commitments.

Jack Conte, the creator of Patreon, actually got his start as a Youtube sensation in 2008 playing a variety of instruments and creating “videosongs.” As Conte sought to release an album, he realized there was no winning in attempting to monetize on his creative talents. That’s how Patreon was born. Conte said,

“There are now tens of thousands of content creators on YouTube with hundreds of thousands of subscribers each, some of them with millions each. Why aren’t these people making a living doing that?”

Sure, popular Youtubers could get quite a bit of income by accepting money from advertisements, but that seems sort of inauthentic in today’s day and age. Connecting with fans directly is a much better approach, in my opinion.

In the words of Amanda Palmer,

“There’s this mass of middle class musicians out there using Kickstarter, using Patreon, doing small tours, not hiring publicists, never getting any ink in any paper, but gathering their community around them enough to maintain a sustainable existence.”

I don’t believe Patreon is the silver bullet for the music industry, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. I think there’s a ceiling in terms of how popular any project can get on Kickstarter or Patreon before the artist needs a team of people to support its growth, and that’s where artist to manager/publicist/booking agent relationships get tricky and you see the exploitation start to occur. But if one thing is for sure, artists need to be paid a livable wage that values creativity on par with any other professional skill-set.

7 comments

  1. emmaharney21 · ·

    Great post! I especially found this interesting as a Studio Art minor. You primarily focused on music which is incredibly relevant as this is a media source that is drastically affected by digital business. I think that in some ways the internet makes it much more likely an artist will be recognized. This is because content can be generated quickly and shared to many. However, it is still true that the masses receive their music content through huge commercial platforms such as Spotify or iTunes. I am particularly interested in the studio art side of this. This post made me think of an old blog post of mine about Artlifting (https://isys6621.com/2016/09/18/b-corps-and-digital-business-artlifting/). This organization makes art from disabled individuals available for sale to large amounts of people through leveraging commerce. In many ways for this kind of art ecommerce is an method of crowdfunding. Sites like Etsy or Ebay allow for starting artists to catch a break and gain a following. I am a painter and I am regularly looking for opportunities to share and sell my work. I really enjoyed your post, I think it was incredibly informative and interesting.

  2. kdphilippi18 · ·

    Wow – really interesting post. I’ve familiar with crowdfunding, but haven’t heard of musicians doing it. Whenever you hear about Spotify, Pandora, etc. I usually just think about artists like Justin Bieber, and Beyonce and don’t feel that bad because they are already making millions. This post brings up an interesting point about the thousands of other artists out there that are being taken advantage of. I think this platform is a great way for artists to find fans who really connect with their music. It is great that they are able to make a livable wage. It is extremely important for up and coming artists to have an effective way to connect and build a fan base.

  3. I’m so happy you wrote about this! I’ve never heard of Patreon but it definitely addresses a strong need for new artists in the music industry. I’ve read a few case studies about how several artists have had major issues with big record companies refusing to release them from contracts (notably, Prince.) Patreon seems like a great way to avoid a situation like that from the start by giving the artists the funds that they need to make their own decisions. As Emma mentioned, it’s also a great way to give visual artists the support to focus on their own work and grown their small businesses. Great post!

  4. I doubt music will ever go back to the model of “selling songs.” Rather, they use digital media to promote live events. Artists, however, have always relied on this patronage model, and having it come from the “crowd” is somewhat interesting.

  5. mikeknoll98 · ·

    I never knew Kickstarter got its roots based in the music industry. I also think this topic is an extremely tough one, as we talked about in class. As you said many artists are truly struggling to get revenue and I can now see how Kickstarter is a great place for funding. Not only does it allow artists to collect funds, but it gives them another platform to get their mission and brand to their fans. Great Post.

  6. I 100% agree with one of the comments above. I didn’t think about the struggle of musicians in the middle who are actually trying to make it big. My only direct experience with this has been celebrities complaining about not getting paid “enough” or my friends starting up a band for fun and getting their music put on Spotify. I always found it sort of ironic that Steve Jobs was such an ardent supporter of music and arts, yet created the platform that legally stripped musicians of much of their profits. Great to see that other members of this community are developing ways to help one another out.

    Thanks for highlighting both the destructive and rebuilding effects of digital business — great post!

  7. Aditya Murali · ·

    Very cool post! I never knew about Patreon before, but it is definitely a very interesting idea. On one hand, I think crowdfunding is cool because it gives contributing fans a sense of ownership; the idea that their money has directly gone into the music they get to enjoy. On the other hand, I completely agree that this business model has a ceiling in terms of growth, and there might be a negative stigma around music created by this model. With that being said, social media has definitely leveled the playing field, and it allows for anything to go viral if it deserves to. It will be very interesting to see the future of the music industry, especially since labels are increasingly hated, and music can almost always be downloaded for free.

%d bloggers like this: