by Francis Bea
The scope of the music industry is changing. We’ve all read the recent Kickstarter buzz around Amanda Palmer, who smashed the Kickstarter record with over $500,000 in funding from her devoted fans – and maybe she’s onto something. Maybe technology, like Kickstarter, is actually the future of music and media. Are the non-executives the only one who can see this?
The middle men like record labels and licensing companies are too cautiously feeling out or even outright rejecting the alien landscape paved by novel technology. A former high-profile music editor and consultant to the big four music labels once divulged to me that Spotify and Kickstarter are in fact opportunities that music industry executives are too arrogant or too “blind” to embrace. Filling in the gaps are musicians like Palmer embracing and adopting the latest technology. After all, we’ve all learned through the failed SOPA and PIPA legislation that you can’t fight the Internet.
Kickstarter has helped fund innumerable recordings and live performances. Brooklyn-based “Spanish Prisoners” could never have left for their national tour without its Kickstarter supporters funding a touring van. Even more surprising is the altruistic nature of its community. Over $38 million has been funded in Kickstarter’s music campaigns, with approximately $3,463 funded across the board for all music-related projects. Today, according to co-founder Yancey Strickler, over 44% of Kickstarter projects attain its goal.
Despite the success stories, Kickstarter is not a get-rich-quick solution for attaining money or fame. Rather, it’s a testament to how hard a band is willing to work to get to where they believe themselves to be. An unknown band that has not taken the initiative to build a foundational relationship with fans will undoubtedly fail. After all, if a band is updating Facebook once a month and the extent to which the band engages fans is publishing cryptic status updates, how much help should anyone realistically expect? Think of it this way: In exchange for time, a presentable video, and the willingness to spend a couple of hours a day maintaining the progress of the campaign, Kickstarter, in one way, can be used to learn about how dedicated fans are to a band’s success. But if a band’s Kickstarter goal fails to be met, then just maybe the band needs to rethink its strategy.
With the option to set donation and prize levels, Kickstarter is no longer just about “donations.” Today, it’s an e-commerce platform, and a vital testing ground for just how well a project might fair on a larger scale. It is in essence a zero-risk platform for musicians, which is a rarity for artists. If you think about it, being an artist is expensive and high-risk. The chance of a monetary return is arguably by far slimmer than an investment in the stock market. There are equipment costs, distribution fees, royalties, marketing, and other overhead costs.
Yet for both the fans and musicians, it’s a win-win situation, beneficial to both parties. While labels will invest their own money into an album’s development and upon its release, proceed to sell the product through distributors and recoup its investment in royalties, Kickstarter ensures, (among successful campaigns), an audience, sales, and for the most part, enough funds to complete the project, with earnings left over for a marketing budget.
At the end of the day, it’s the fans who decide who stays and who goes. Take a look at YouTube, where Kina Grannis, Karmin, and Justin Bieber have made the jump. But for the independent musicians who are confident in their ability to market themselves, why should they even bother to seek out label deals?