With Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and GoFundMe entering their maturity, we look at the impact of crowdfunding on the music scene.
The internet has changed the music industry in many ways. But while most would point to digital downloads and streaming as the developments with the biggest impact, the effects of crowdfunding should never be overlooked.
This month saw the launch of Vinylised, a website that allows fans to pool their cash to fund the vinyl releases of their favourite digital-only tracks. The website has already raised nearly half of the funds to cover the release of INP001 — Tek Unlimited’s ‘Destruction/Primal Drums’.
This is just one of the many projects musicians and fans have launched together in the age of crowdfunding, but the practice’s true impact is far wider-ranging.
Artists are using crowdfunding to defy conventions
De La Soul is one of the most iconic Hip Hop groups of all time. Their 1989 debut Three Feet High and Rising helped usher in the uplifting, Afrocentric music of the Native Tongues movement that inspired the likes of A Tribe Called Quest; and their follow-ups Stakes Is High and De La Soul Is Dead established them as an important musical force.
But unfortunately for them, and for young Hip Hop fans hoping to experience their music, none of these albums are currently available on streaming services. The group struggled with record labels to remedy the situation, but sample clearance issues meant their music stayed offline.
With low funds and a distaste for larger record labels, De La Soul turned to Kickstarter to fund their next album — for which they would record all original music and take samples from that rather than from old songs licensed under other record labels.
The project launched in early 2015, and it reached its $110,000 goal in less than an hour. The eventual grand total was $600,874. De La Soul hit the studio, and the result was the highly acclaimed and the Anonymous Nobody… which featured production from the group themselves and Pete Rock among others.
De La Soul are not alone in turning to crowdfunding to support the recording and release of an album. Veteran Punk rocker Keith Levene raised £7,400 to release what he sees as the “real” version of his group PiL’s fourth album. R&B legends TLC raised $430,255 to make their first album in over a decade, due out this summer. There have been crowdfunded albums nominated for Grammys. Artists like Amanda Palmer have based their whole careers around crowdfunding.
Fans are using crowdfunding to influence the artists
It’s not just artists that are using crowdfunding to take control of their careers. In some cases, fans are starting crowdfunding campaigns themselves, hoping to persuade their favourite artists to take action.
In 2014 Foo Fighters fans in Richmond, Virginia started a page on Crowdtilt, selling tickets to a show that the band didn’t know about, hoping that they would play the show when they found out the tickets had already been sold. They did. It was their first show in Richmond for 16 years.
Electronic music enigma Aphex Twin recorded and mixed the album Caustic Window in 1994, but other than a handful of vinyl test pressings, the record was never released. When one of the ultra-rare test pressings was put up for auction, fans launched a Kickstarter to raise nearly £40,000 to pay for it. Aphex Twin himself, Richard James, sanctioned a limited digital release of the album for these fans.
In perhaps a more bizarre example, when Hip Hop duo Run The Jewels announced the different ways fans could purchase their Run The Jewels 2 album, the option to pay $40,000 for the duo to remix the album replacing all the instrumentals with cat sounds was offered in jest.
One fan couldn’t resist the opportunity and the Meow The Jewels Kickstarter page was born. Amazingly, the duo were on board. El-P agreed to remix the album if the target was met. Soon, other major producers joined in the project, including Just Blaze and The Alchemist.
These examples have all been positives for the music world. But like many new distributional developments, it’s not all fun and games.
Is crowdfunding good for the industry?
Because crowdfunding allows artists to make money from their music before they even make that music, some have argued that young musicians are using it to skip the hard work it takes to develop a career in the industry.
Articles like this one from Noisey decry the cohort of youngsters who attempt to crowdfund releases without ever learning how to play, or those who crowdfund tours in large venues without working their way up from the small ones.
In some cases, it seems like people are getting better at marketing Kickstarter projects than they are at actually creating music. The conclusion seems to be that while crowdfunding can be empowering for artists and fans, it isn’t always.
But as long as it keeps helping independent artists and small record labels raise money to keep up their good work, crowdfunding is ultimately a good thing is ultimately a good thing.