Crowding Glory?

Got a clutchful of songs but no money to produce them? Sad? Depressed? Well the solution is not Loch Lomond (don’t let it bother you if you’ve never read Tintin).

Crowd-funding music projects – albums, events, products – has caught on quite a bit now. Leaning on fans who’re more in sync with what a band wants to do than on sponsors and record labels makes sense. Kickstarter and its kind have become go-to platforms for such endeavours, mainly in the West. There’s now a definitely noticeable trend here in India of purveyors of Indie music reaching out to individuals to help their projects see light of day. I’m happy to see that but artistes, event organisers and product developers (actually, that last category is not one that I’ve seen yet here going the crowd-funding way but perhaps it won’t be long before that happens) need to be a little smarter, a touch more creative and just that bit sensitive for this to be a viable, sustainable channel.

I’ve been a contributor to crowd-funding efforts for some ten years now, mostly on  micro-lending platforms like Kiva and RangDe (which I find a far superior model with greater social consciousness to Kiva’s) and more recently with music-related projects – one product, some albums, a few events – which is the focus of this post. And I’ve had discussions with musicians and event organisers on their take (quite divergent too) on crowd-funding. It’s early days yet in this country for something like this and I’ve seen some smart, sensible, genuinely caring bids and some others that leave a bit to be desired. What follows is a set of my observations and suggestions for people – creators and consumers – to benefit from this source of funding.

By and large, I strongly believe that seeking financial help from fans is fine (there are quite a few including Indie musicians who’re opposed to it, for their own reasons). But it cannot be powered by greed and laziness. These are your fans, so treat them with respect. They willingly support you. Don’t take them for a ride. Their enthusiasm will carry them along only so far before they get off at the next reality check. Thank them generously, make it worth their while. Asking for Rs. 200 in return for which all you give the chap is a mention on social media is lame. Neil Young’s Pono music player funded on Kickstarter was priced at a discount. The special edition players with artiste signatures etched on them was not at a premium – the price was set at what the normal player would cost when it releases. Worthwhile deal as far as I’m concerned. But charging 25 dollars for an album CD pre-order, even if it comes embellished with a marker pen signature, when it’ll likely retail at 10-15 dollars on release is a bloody rip-off.

Show some transparency in calls for funding. Contributors should know what the money is going to be used for. It doesn’t have to be very detailed – heck, we’re not your accounts auditors. We love you and we gladly trust you with the money. So repay that trust with honesty in the numbers you put out there. And I’d really like to see what your own contribution is. Not putting your own money in and relying entirely on your fans is not only lazy, it’s greedy. I’ve said this before and I’ll bring it up again – I love the way the guys at Control ALT Delete go about with getting funding for the gigs they organise. They put their own money on the table and even if the crowd-funding effort does not generate what they set it up for, the show goes on. Importantly, they lay out their accounts summary a few days after the event in the public domain for all to see. And to my earlier point, they also make it worthwhile for the fans with a generous merchandise offers.

Get a little creative in your offers to contributors. Instead of having fixed items for each set amount of funding, perhaps allow contributors to pick a mix. e.g. not everyone may want a t-shirt so let them pick a cap and a poster instead. I understand there could be limitations of the tech platform you’re on, but that’s not unsurmountable. This next one’s a little tricky. How about returning a portion of the money to the contributor from subsequent earnings? Like I said, tricky but I think something worth considering. It forces you to really get your skin in the game and is likely to draw a greater number of contributors.

Most importantly, make the product something that the fans will cheer and cherish. You fool them with a shitty album born of a lazy effort or a lousy gig, they won’t come back. See, it’s a sort of investment your fans are making in you. Ask, receive and then give equally in return. You do that and you’ll always have your backers.

In a wonderful coincidence as I drafted this post this morning, I came across this video featuring the redoubtable Amanda Palmer on “The Art of Asking”. Recommended viewing.