The Internet is a truly incredible thing. I feel so incredibly lucky to be living in a world where so much information is so readily available at the click of a mouse. There is more material available to someone with Internet access than any one person could hope to process in a lifetime, and for all the questionable aspects of the Internet, I believe that it is the most innovative creation of modern times: a true game-changer. It has affected almost every aspect of the developed world and it has touched every industry.
Music and the Internet – The Game has Changed!
The music industry has been completely transformed by the Internet. Think back to the days where successful musicians were the almost exclusively financed, promoted and distributed by record labels. The premise was that if you had a good product that people would like enough to buy, your record label would front you huge sums of money to record your album, to mix it, master it, manufacture it, distribute, and promote it. The hope was that if you could sell enough copies of albums and singles to pay back the advance, then you could start making your own money. Sometimes you did, and sometimes you didn’t. If you didn’t, the label would absorb the money it lost while it was backing you.
Fast forward to today where the cost acting as a record label has been slashed. Promotion and distribution, thanks to the Internet is free and far-reaching. Sure, you might not be able to buy traditional media promotion, (magazine ads, billboards etc) but thanks to the Internet, you can focus both promotion and distribution to your target audience. The cost of recording, mixing and mastering is a fraction of what it once was. People can record whole albums in their basements and bedrooms. (Although I humbly believe that nothing can beat a good quality sound captured by quality equipment in a good sounding room) Despite the ever-lowering costs of producing music, it can still be an expensive process to go through. Musicians can rarely turn to major record labels for help because of labels’ resistance to funnel resources into anything but a sure-fire hit. This can leave independent artists in a tight spot. They may have a great product, but no money to bring it to the public. Enter: Crowdfunding!
What is Crowdfunding?
At its core, crowdfunding is an online process that allows anyone to go directly to the public for help in financing something. If you were thinking this sounds incredibly vague, then you’d be right. In writing this, I must have looked at hundreds of crowdfunding pages for causes as diverse as medical bills for new teeth, to buying a van to go on tour, to non-profit causes, to developing and building a prototype hoverboard. (The hoverboard campaign did not receive funding) The only thing that all of the campaigns had in common, was a need for extra funds to complete or work towards some kind of goal. Through different electronic payment methods, PayPal or credit cards, regular people are able to pledge their support and finances to projects that they feel compelled to be a part of. The best part is that you can ask thousands of people for a couple of dollars rather than asking one person (or company) for thousands of dollars, as the music industry was, in days gone by. Think of crowdfunding like a virtual ‘passing of the hat’. The beauty of all of this: everything is done at very low cost, over the Internet.
Crowdfunding in the Real World
The first music crowdfunding site was ArtistShare®, founded in 2001 by music lover and computer programmer Brian Camelio. Camelio isn’t just ‘some guy’ either. He has true clout in the jazz world and has worked closely with big name jazz musicians like Jim Hall and Bob Brookmeyer in releasing albums. Camelio is also a faculty member at The New School For Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York. Camelio set up ArtistShare as a way to ensure that music would still be created despite the rise of file-sharing and digital downloading. Remember that 2001 was the year that Napster use peaked, and was subsequently shut down. Camelio can be found on the ArtistShare website talking about the genesis of the business model among other things here.
Camelio is quoted as saying that despite anyone being able to download music digitally, one thing that you can’t download is the ‘creative process’. It is Camelio’s vision that ArtistShare artists give their fans the opportunity to go inside and experience this creative process.
However, the ArtistShare model favours already established artists rather than up-and-comers, which is what most independent musicians are. The very first ArtistShare project, Maria Schneider’s Concert In The Garden, gained critical acclaim and a Grammy for Best Large Ensemble Jazz Recording in 2004: no mean feat! Bear in mind though, that Concert In The Garden was Schneider’s fifth album and prior to recording it, she had already established herself with jazz audiences. Unlike many other crowdfunding sites that operate today, not anyone can utilize ArtistShare’s services. It’s more of an elite club, however, each project is a top shelf production. ArtistShare also acts as the artist’s label.
Personally, I had no idea that any of this was going on until about a decade after ArtistShare was founded. I first heard about crowdfunding through a good friend of mine, Will Fisher. At the time, I was living in a house with Will and he was in the process of releasing his debut album Portage. Will had applied for grants through the Nova Scotia government but also put his project up on the popular crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter. He was hoping to cover post-production, mastering and album manufacturing through the money he raised on Kickstarter. I thought it was a fantastic idea and I’m proud to say that I supported Will’s project as much as I could. (Will’s Kickstarter campaign was monstrously successful and his album can be found on his website: www.willfisher.ca. We will hear more from Will throughout this series)
Will, having already looked into everything that I’ve written about so far, also clued me in on an ongoing lawsuit battle between ArtistShare and, Kickstarter. There have been lawsuits and countersuits and all kinds of drama over the patent that ArtistShare holds that describes the crowdfunding process. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
Raising Money For Next To Nothing
In a nutshell, crowdfunding is a great way for regular people to raise funds without having to depend on anyone but their supporters. Anybody with an Internet connection can reach the entire world with their ideas, and right now, we are living in the age of the individual’s idea. YOU can do this! This series is focusing on music, but anyone with any kind of idea can take their concept to the whole world and ask for support.
Join The Conversation
Leave a comment down below and let me know what you think. Do you have experience with crowdfunding? Have you crowdfunded or helped fund someone else’s project? How did you find the process? Do you think it’s the new way of doing business? Next time, the topic will be setting your crowdfunding target, so subscribe to get all the latest updates. Next chapter due in one week. Stay tuned!