Matt Bryant: Why I didn't use crowd-funding to pay for my album

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      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.

      Comments

      13 Comments

      You

      Apr 19, 2012 at 4:56pm

      "It’s never been easier than it is now to record, make, release and promote your own music. Never."
      Amen.

      It costs less than $100/year to run your own website with all the bandwidth you could dream of. Most bands aren't even bothering with that anymore---which is fine---but you need to at least log in to your facebook or twitter accounts once in a while.

      It's a matter of keeping up appearances. Let your fans know what's going on, what to expect, and let them feel involved---not through donating, but by keeping in touch with them.

      I'm a lot more willing to drop $10 on an album I've been anticipating for six months than something you just surprised me with some tuesday morning. Being an artist isn't just about making art---not if you want to live off of it---it's about marketing it too.

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      Factories & Alleyways

      Apr 19, 2012 at 4:58pm

      Well done, Matt. We're about to record our debut and we did not consider asking for money. Your points are great, but I would add, that in working your balls off to create something you're truly proud of, do you really want to owe anyone anything at the end of the process? Or do you want to listen to the music and say to yourself, "I did that."? The choice was easy.

      Also, if you can't afford $2000-$3000 to do a professional record (a great value), a recording interface at Long & McQuade currently runs $99. Come on, musicians, get after it.

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      I like actually funny things.

      Apr 19, 2012 at 6:52pm

      Well... the article wasn't funny.

      Even if you agreed with Michael Mann's premise - that crowdsourcing is not a reasonable method of raising money for a project - the way he described musicians was not called for, and the way he spoke about women (as "sluts" and "harlots", never as musicians themselves) was close-minded and disrespectful.

      The only time - the ONLY time - women are mentioned is with the terms "sluts" and "harlots". Speaking with female musicians about this whole thing I've found that this is one of the parts of the article found most infuriating.

      This not only implicates that women are never musicians ("or at least REAL ones, HAR HAR"), but that any woman who would get involved with a musician is promiscuous and of poor character. (This is sexist to both men AND women, was well as sex-negative.)

      Responses to Mann's article (this one, and the payback time response) gloss over this "funny" sexism and sex-negativity, and only really discuss crowdsourcing itself.

      And no, not just women were bothered by this, and it wasn't just women who didn't find it funny. Various men I've talked to about this also don't really find it funny (and we're not serious, straight laced folks- we laugh at lots of things... when they're actually funny, that is).

      I myself have never, ever used crowdsourcing as a method for raising money. I've taken less than my fair share from gigs to put money into the band fund, sometimes not even paying myself at all, and always worked jobs- and I've managed to perform on three continents (and a few islands) in a number of counties. However, I do not judge a band based solely on the fact that they have crowdsourced.

      People were mostly reacting to the arrogant and close-minded writing of Michael Mann, and that the Straight would publish it... it wasn't just his disapproval of crowdsourcing causing uproar. But now we're ignoring his "colourful language" to talk about crowdsourcing itself. Right.

      If an article like this had been published first, there wouldn't have been the backlash... or revenue for the Georgia Straight generated from all that advertising coming up with each and every page view. What a tawdry method of acquiring attention- and I'm directing that both at Michael Mann and the editorial staff at the Georgia Straight (yes, especially you, Usinger).

      I think it's pretty evident what the people at the Georgia Straight think of musicians.

      Last week I felt like I was pretty close to not picking up another copy of the paper again. This week? Yeah, I'm sure of it.

      Also, I'll be certain never to click on a link to this site without adblock turned on.

      Goodbye.

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      rin

      Apr 19, 2012 at 6:57pm

      Matt, nobody is gonna deny that you all have worked hard to make music and you've succeeded in the way you wanted, and that's great for you. But you're forgetting that there's a whole host of things that open doors for you in the mainstream music business while they close doors for others. It's not to say that you don't work hard, but you're a bunch of white dudes that make slick and marketable music that isn't political and doesn't challenge the established social order, either in its content or in the people who are making it. Look around at who is using crowdfunding, and why, and think a little deeper about the business you're bragging about making it in as if it's because you work so much harder than everyone else.

      There are women who work just as hard at music as you do, who have the same doors that fly open for you slammed shut in their faces because they're women - or because they're women that refuse to be talked down to, or ordered around, or treated like sex objects, or relegated to singing and looking pretty instead of being players no matter how good a player they may be, or any of the other millions of ways women get treated like shit in the music business. Same for people of colour, queer people, lots of other people. Those people don't have a hard time in the music business because they're a "flaky band that can't balance a chequebook," they have a hard time because they don't look and talk like you and your crew.

      You brag about working hard and upping your fee by playing great shows, forgetting that you can walk into those places you're playing without worrying that you'll be groped by the fucking bouncer on the way in. Here's what I think about when I'm booking gigs: Is this dude booking me for this show so that I'll "owe him a favour" that he expects to collect backstage afterwards? If I play in this hick-town in the middle of nowhere, am I gonna get attacked outside my hotel because I'm a woman on my own? You know what touring is like, you're often going from gig to gig the way people go from paycheque to paycheque: if I tell this asshole promoter to stop fucking touching me, am I gonna lose the money from this gig and get trapped here without enough cash to leave? And that's not to mention the less physically threatening but nonetheless plain old shitty fucking treatment and disrespect that women musicians put up with all the time. I don't worry about these things because I'm paranoid, I worry about them NOW because they've all happened to me and to many other women on tour in the past. You wouldn't work under those conditions, but you'd never have to choose to say no to a gig for those reasons so you forget that for other folks it's not as easy as just playing great shows.

      For many of us, we need and want the support and engagement of our community because it's the only way that we can do music and keep ourselves sane, happy, and safe. We do our music business differently not because we don't work hard, but because the music business that works for you doesn't work for us. So cut the high horse, friend, and respect that some people do things differently than you do for good reasons.

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      Crowdsourcing = buying in advance

      Apr 19, 2012 at 9:06pm

      Ignoring Mann's awful writing (previous commenters have done that angle justice), is it just me or is crowdsourcing not that big of a deal? As both a member of an obscure indie band and a fan of many obscure indie bands, often from distant countries, the crowdsourcing model means that a potentially awesome band might not be punished for not having enough cool points to be signed to Matador, 4AD or [insert hip label here]. And I won't even start on the topic of labels dying out like dinosaurs.

      Back to the transaction itself, Mann incorrectly labeled it as panhandling. Every Kickstarter project I've seen and contributed to has had incentives (i.e. variations on the finished product), so this isn't panhandling at all. Unless the panhandler *gives you something* in exchange for your contribution, which is a transaction.

      So Mr. Mann, not only could you use a few more years of practice on the satire front, but you could probably stand to flip open a dictionary once in a while. Panhandling and selling are not one and the same.

      P.S. The stigma of crowdsourcing (not that I've ever experienced any) is probably not long for this world. Remember when people used to be "sellouts"? Now people don't bat an eye at songs in TV shows, movies or commercials. The industry is changing- attitudes will surely follow.

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      crowdfunding fever

      Apr 20, 2012 at 1:49am

      who are you again????

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      you don't know?!

      Apr 20, 2012 at 9:02am

      Didn't you hear? His dad played bass for Chilliwack!

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      ANDRWE

      Apr 20, 2012 at 12:51pm

      Great article Matt, its important to devle into both points of views. Its interesting to note the element of sexism that has risen to the surface of Mann's article, but I'm glad you didn't address that as I think that is left for another article and another discussion. Simply put, bands that work hard and plan well and treat their music like a business will reap those rewards....bands that believe their own hype but do no work to support themselves beyond just booking gigs will be forced to scramble for cash. Well said, although I disagree with Mann's approach to the subject, and his crass tone that comes across as bitter and petty...I definitely support your point of view in highliting the kernel of truth that exists in Mann's subject matter...cheers

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      So called authenticity

      Apr 20, 2012 at 1:01pm

      Disclaimer: I play in a local band. We have self-released two albums that we paid for ourselves, and printed vinyl using funding from the Peak Performance Project.

      I really don't understand the issue here. If your fans are willing to help fund your album, music video, merch etc. then clearly you're doing something right . You've managed to get them to put their money where their mouth is, and believe in your project. If there isn't enough interest, they get their money back. I think its a great meter to gauge your worth to music fans...if you don't want to use it, fine. No one is forcing anyone to fund them, and no one is forcing you to ask for money.

      I think writers like Mann have some idealized vision of what authenticity means. Even this author claims that "there's something to be said for years of hard work on the circuit." In any other industry, this would just be bad business sense. Work your ass off for ten years, losing money as you go and driving yourself into debt? I doubt that would fly on Dragons Den.

      There are a lot of great bands that have toured for years, and sadly are never going to go anywhere. Hard work is not the guaranteed road to success in todays music industry, luck is. When your work is dependent on peoples tastes and attention spans it is almost impossible to make yourself noticed in a sea of competition. Funding something via kickstarter proves that people give a shit about what you do.

      There was a huge debate last year over tax-payer funded FACTOR grants after Living with Lions released an album called Holy Shit, that had what some called 'obscene' cover art. I fully support FACTOR, and respect that they do not filter based on political correctness etc but I can understand how some people would be upset to think that they helped pay for it. (If you didn't know, the band returned the grant). If people are willingly giving their money to a band because they believe in what they do, its their business. You don't see people protesting because their local church put out a collection box.

      My band has not used crowd funding at this point, but we have friends that do, and I personally have contributed to different projects. My group is lucky-our bassist is an audio engineer, we have friends that cut us good deals and we record in our garage. We have toured across the country multiple times, and taken part in the Peak Performance Project. We're not slackers-four of the five of us are still in University-and we have had to work around busy schedules. If your band wants to take the 'high road,' travel around for years playing to ten people and wonder why you haven't made the front cover of Rolling Stone, then that's your business. Don't get upset when other groups make something that people not only believe in, but will contribute to before they see it.

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      Big Joe Burke

      Apr 20, 2012 at 1:15pm

      As I said before in commenting on Michael Mann's original article, I did not crowdsource my albums and likely won't do it for any subsequent albums I produce. That said, I'm pretty certain that the level of vitriol in the original article was not required. Mann wrote an article (poorly) that was designed to provoke, not to genuinely discuss the merits of crowdsourcing. And his portrait that all musicians are lazy, oversexed drug fiends is not only misinformed, but bigoted and misogynist. Sure some of them are, but really... aren't these rock'n'roll stereotypes a bit dated now?

      The reality for most musicians today is that there are very few reliable and/or viable sources of income and so alternatives are being explored. Maybe this will catch on and become more standard and maybe it won't, but to outright dismiss the concept in the manner he chose to was immature and ultimately, poor satire and poor writing.

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