The life of a rock star: playing shows all over the world, a bank account brimming with royalties and a hefty advance from a record label. It all sounds so glamourous. Sadly, for most who choose to make music their vocation, this is a faraway dream.
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Today’s reality is somewhat different. While the gigs can often demand long journeys, who’s going to pay; a song might attract fans but how much will it generate once the facilitators have had their cut; and where on earth can musicians get an advance?
Fortunately, an answer is emerging to the third of these questions: crowdfunding. Kickstarter can uniquely enable a band’s fans to pay for the music they love: not just for the CD, but for the production as well.
“It gives fans a sense of being involved in the process, not just as a listener buying a finished album,” enthused Nana Jacobi, a Danish singer-songwriter who funded a vinyl press of her new album ‘Expander’ on the website.
“It gives you more of a connection, and I am really grateful to everyone who has chosen to donate money.”
Paying in full
Like other users of the site, artists offer incentives in return for their fans’ money.
Jacobi offered fans the chance to hang out in her trendy Vesterbro studio, while another band, Denmark’s Disarray Son, are getting tattooed … according to the exact specifications of the backers.
“It was just an idea that was flung out at practice, and at first, everyone wanted to do it. But now some of us [looks at guitarist Mads Kieler] are a little more worried that they’ll have to get a tattoo that they can’t wear proudly,” joked vocalist Anders Friis.
“The most important part about that is that even though it’s reckless, it’s us showing people how much we really want this.”
Suzana Barbosa is a musician-turned-expert on royalties in the music industry. Her band, Lumanova, utilised crowdfunding to its full potential and even managed to record an album in Berlin as it was cheaper than recording in her home country, Canada. Now, she fronts sustainable ways in which musicians can overcome the hardship they may face.
Her feelings on Kickstarter are simple. “We used that a lot, but it just doesn’t feel right having to ask fans for the money,” she said.
“It’s not a sustainable way for musicians to operate – it just feels like we’re covering all the symptoms with a band aid.”
File-sharing websites such as Spotify aren’t helping the problem either. Each time a track is streamed, artists only earn 0.07USD. It’s easy to see why Barbosa takes such a negative view of the website.
“As a musician I can’t compete with free,” she said. “Streaming is almost making it impossible for artists to make a living, and lots of great musicians are quitting because of that.”
Spotify partly justifies its prices by the exposure it gives the artists who are ‘lucky’ enough to be included on its lists – a policy that is trending among venue owners.
And as more and more hire performers in exchange for exposure, an increasing number of bands – a segment that experts often refer to as the ’middle class of the music industry’ – are facing up to the reality that professionalism is a distant dream.
“The organisers know we’re desperate to play,” confirmed Dissaray Son guitarist Mads Kieler.
“So the most you can expect from that kind of thing is food, drinks … possibly transport and we don’t end up actually making any cash from it.”
For the time being, Dissaray Son are balancing their studies with being rock stars.
“It’s like the Clark Kent-Superman thing!” jokes bassist Mathias Bust.
Music on Kickstarter
Since the launch of Danish Kickstarter last year, two out of five artists have reached their funding targets.
Songwriting royalty collection body Koda has an entire page on its website dedicated to giving advice about using Kickstarter.
Worldwide, Kickstarter is attracting big names, including US girl band TLC ('Waterfalls') who have so far raised nearly $300,000 for an album. For $7,500 you can join them for a photo-shoot.
And also some quirky acts, Cage Against the Machine are currently raising funds for an album of songs inspired by Nicholas Cage movies. So far they've only raised $69 of their $5,000 goal.