Making a case for musicians engaged in crowdfunding

Musicians say there’s no shame in soliciting contributions when artists and fans alike stand to benefit
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Those freeloading musicians!

That was the attitude expressed in the Georgia Straight’s pop-ed column (Pop Eye) a couple of months ago. In “Boo hoo, broke bands, quit asking for charity” (April 12-19), Vancouver scribe Michael Mann took exception to what he saw as blatant cash grabs by indie bands asking the public to fund recordings, tours, and other, possibly artistic, projects.

Mann’s screed caused ripples through the local music community—as of this writing, readers had responded with more than 400 comments, many taking umbrage at Mann’s opinion.

“You sound angry for no reason at all. You don’t want to support bands financially? Then don’t and shut up,” was one of the milder responses. The more extreme end of the spectrum included “Coming from bands everywhere: You’re simply an asshole.” There was also “How DARE you put down a nation of ass-busting independent musicians in one foul swoop with this nonsense fucking article!” and “Wow, holy shit dude. You are one angry piece of trash.”

Whether you agree with Mann’s take or not, Vancouver has clearly become an expensive city to live in—especially if you want to practise any kind of art. Whether you’re a filmmaker, theatre company, or band, crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter can be one of the few options for getting a project off the ground.

“I was able to make the record I wanted to make—my dream record,” says Eden Fineday, interviewed on the phone in the days following Mann’s piece. (This story on local musicians using crowdfunding was actually assigned before the publication of the “Boo hoo…” Pop Eye.) “I wanted to make a full-sounding record, not an indie-rock record. I wanted to hire session musicians to play cello and trumpet, and that takes money.”

Fineday is the lead singer and songwriter of Vancougar. One of the more promising acts to come out of Vancouver in the last few years, the all-female group released two well-received albums, 2006’s Losin’ It and 2008’s Canadian Tuxedo on Mint Records. Since then the band has been looking for a label to release a third record, already recorded; in the meantime, Fineday has been sitting on a backlog of songs that weren’t quite right for the quartet.

So, earlier this year, the local musician—who has a day job as what she calls “a cubicle jockey”—launched an Indiegogo campaign, “Things Get Better”, toward recording her dream album. (Contributions on Indiegogo are made through PayPal or credit card; generally, the host site gets a cut).

The effort raised $6,393, over $1,000 more than the originally requested amount of $5,000. Contributions ranged from the minimum of $8 to $2,500.

For those who contribute to such campaigns, perks can range from something as small as a mention in the credits of the work being funded to much more elaborate rewards. In Fineday’s case, those who shelled out $8 will receive a digital download, but $25 (which is what most of the donations were) gets you a vinyl album as well. There were also a couple of high rollers (a family member and a fan) who gave $1,000 each, which earned them a personal show and a song written for them.

Fineday is, as of this writing, in the midst of recording the album, which she expects will be finished and available in the fall.

To Sarah Jickling, lead singer of the Oh Wells, crowdfunding is “a win-win” situation for artists and fans.

“Even when I look at the idea of crowdfunding as a music fan, I have no problem with it,” says Jickling, who ran a successful Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a van for the group’s first Canadian tour.

“I am the type of person who would cherish a handmade T-shirt from my favourite band and would love to help them financially if it meant new music or that they visit my hometown. The music fan inside of me would be ecstatic to see my name in the liner notes of my favourite band’s first full-length album.”

A lot of people must agree, because crowdfunding is growing.

In March, Forbes.com quoted a research report from industry news site Daily Crowdsource that stated: “Crowdfunding has gone from a $32 million market to a $123 million market in the past two years.” That increase is based on the evaluation of eight reward-based crowdfunding sites and six investment-based platforms (the latter outside of North America). According to the same article, “More than 31,000 projects sought crowdfunded donations in 2011, up from just under 12,000 in 2010.”

Not all projects achieve their goals, however. While some raise many times their requested amount (recently, on Kickstarter, Amanda Palmer raised over $1,000,000 in less than a month after asking for $100,000 to record a new album), others fall short of much more modest amounts.

According to Youngentrepreneur.com, quoting data from Massolution, the research and advisory arm of Crowdsourcing.org: “In 2011, 46 percent of projects listed on crowdfunding sites failed to reach their stated goals.”

Raising money on a crowdfunding site isn’t just a matter of posting a cute video asking for money and promising a CD. Besides coming up with creative perks and a sound rationale for requesting the handout, the campaigner is responsible for getting the word out.

“There was not a day of that campaign that I was not promoting it online in some fashion,” says Rachel Langer, who sought to raise money to film a teaser for a proposed science-fiction TV series, Aeternus.

“Most days I tried to remind people ‘We are still fundraising’, to get people to not only contribute,” she says, “but to publicly share their support and the fact that they contributed. That was a big challenge. We set a lot of mini-goals so people could feel like they were helping us achieve a milestone event with a small contribution.”

Fineday understands why people might be hesitant to open their wallets for what might simply amount to a vanity project.

“Everybody’s asking for money these days,” she says. “Every third friend I have is walking or running or bicycling for cancer. There are all these causes you feel the need to support.” She thinks social-media platforms contribute to what she calls “cause fatigue”.

“I had a friend whose car broke down and, on Facebook, he asked us all to donate money,” she says.

With Indiegogo and other crowdfunding sites, says Fineday, “It’s like ‘Oh great, another platform people can solicit $20 from me.’ ”

But the singer has no regrets about turning to Indiegogo to make the record she wanted to make, which is near completion and will be available in the fall.

“I was so grateful for that money,” she says. “You wake up one morning and you think, ‘I’d like $5,000 to make an album.’ You blink and 30 days later, it’s there in your bank account, from people you know or used to know or don’t know at all. To me that’s beautiful. But then, I’m a hippie.”

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