In a recent Georgia Straight article ("Boo hoo, broke bands, quit asking for charity"), Michael Mann, caused quite the commotion in musical circles by suggesting that online crowd-funding campaigns amount to little more than pan-handling.
“You don’t see me aggressively asking people to pony up for my summer-long, cross-country cocaine and drunken slut–boning binge. So why is it okay when musicians do this?” he writes.
While his article is really funny, many in the music community left their sense of humour at the door. People freaked out. “Heads Should Roll!” they furiously typed.
Regardless of which side one’s opinion may reside on, we can all agree that Mann struck a nerve. When that happens, there’s usually a grain of truth behind the comments striking them. The online outrage directed at Mann means there’s something to discuss here.
While Mann is exaggerating for effect with the “slut-boning binge”, isn’t he kind of right? Shouldn’t bands be trying a little harder?
The Negative Optics of Asking Versus Offering
When my band, Headwater, sat down to discuss how we were going to pay for our new album (PUSH, our third album is out May 4th #shamelessplug), mine was the loudest voice in opposition to the crowd-funding idea.
I thought it would make us look like we hadn’t busted our butts for years playing great shows, or had the fiscal sense to keep enough money tucked away to pay for the next printing of CD’s when we ran out. We keep good records, pay our label’s taxes, have an accountant, and take our jobs seriously.
I was worried that asking for charity would de-value the album. For Michael Mann it would have, and I see his point.
Instead of asking for help, we’re offering a free download of our first single, and we’re making the album free to stream in lots of places online. We feel it’s important to give back social currency, not just take it from your fans.
In the end, we chose not to use online crowd-funding because we thought it would make us look like we didn’t care about the business side of music— like we couldn’t keep it together.
Honestly, we could have really used the money.
Crowd-Funding has an Important Role to Play
My social-media guru and good buddy Jess Sloss and I talked recently about the reasons we LIKE Kickstarter, and there are lots. Just a few:
It’s a great way to build and expand your online fan base.
- It gets your fan base directly involved with the music they’re going to be enjoying/you’re going to be selling to them.
- There are people in the world who value the role they play in funding the arts, and have the money to do so.
What’s a Young Musician to Do?
As a young musician without the financial means to record your dream album, what are your options? Mom and dad? The day job? A FACTOR grant? The Canada Council?
Is Kickstarter the answer to the funding question that exists for bands in Canada that are too art’y for commercial funding, too commercial for arts funding, don’t have a label, and don’t have a disposable income - which I think describes pretty well everyone?
There sure seem to be lots of people who think so, and they have a point, too. But isn’t there something to be said for years of hard work on the circuit driving your fee up? Maybe settling for making a demo, then saving up for the LP?
Be Careful What You Wish For
Just because something is easy doesn’t mean that you should do it—and asking for album donations online is about as easy as it gets these days. Relying exclusively on the charity of others to make my art, release my album, and tour with my band is scary to me—and it should scare you, too. We can do better.
It’s never been easier than it is now to record, make, release and promote your own music. Never.
We’re lucky to be living in the digital age. No longer do we have to go hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to a label to make a record. If you could even get a deal, that is.
Carrying on the business side of the music business is our job now that the major labels are past their best-before date.
Headwater has gone into debt to make PUSH—because we believe in it. It’s a business venture and an artistic statement. It felt better for us to go into debt making a great album than to publicly ask for donations and risk having the album look like it was made by a flaky band who can’t balance a cheque book. Again, for me, crowd-sourcing remains an “optics” problem.
“Crowd-source a little business acumen and produce something people actually want to give you money for,” says Mann—and I have to agree.