What do you expect from a $1,000 dinner?
Crowdsourcing, an entity that blew up on the website Kickstarter but has extended to other sites such as Gofundme and Pledgemusic, is a concept that allows bands to ask fans to “pledge” certain amounts of money, generally used to fund a new record, in exchange for prizes.
Lower tier prizes, which usually require a pledge of roughly $10, generally include a preorder for the artist’s upcoming release. However, backers often have the opportunity to pay sums of four, sometimes five figures in order to engage in activities with bands, including, but not limited to: dinner dates, trips to Disney World, private basement shows and pizza parties.
In addition to musicians, crowdsourcing has gained a great amount of traction with inventors, video game studios, directors and a plethora of other creative types. Philadelphia’s own Pizza Brain, the world’s first pizza museum, was funded through Kickstarter.
Since April 2009, Kickstarter has brought the concept of crowdsourcing to the forefront of the Internet. Its role in music, however, is still up for debate.
“They use it more to try and make their dreams reality than accomplish realistic goals, especially in band settings,” 21-year-old Berklee College of Music student Zac Suskevich said.
Suskevich is a veteran of several bands, notably a female-fronted hardcore punk quintet known as Cerce and a My Bloody Valentine-influenced dream-pop act Burglary Years. In addition to touring extensively, Cerce has released a 7-inch that’s well into its second pressing.
On the opposite end of the coin, crowdsourcing is allowing smaller bands to record records with producers and in studios that would otherwise be out of their price range. As Kickstarter continues to gain steam, this is becoming remarkably more feasible. In 2012 alone, 2,241,475 people pledged a total of $319,786,629 in order to successfully fund 18,109 projects.
Instead of having a label front the bill, crowdsourcing lets bands ask fans to donate money. Often bands without record labels are left to scrounge for cash alone or record in closets. This is an unfortunate reality that crowdsourcing allows independent acts to bypass.
One such band who was able to successfully fund its latest release via Kickstarter was Field Mouse.
“It was quicker and smarter,” Rachel Browne, the group’s guitarist and frontwoman, said. “If we had recorded it like we did with our singles, we would have spent five days recording drums in a studio and then recorded the rest in my apartment or at practice spaces. It is hard to make the parts feel urgent if they need to. We were able to book five days for guitars and bass, so the whole thing had to be done no matter what. It’s harder to get that same feel when you can play guitar without pants on and while you are making a hot pocket at the same time. You can totally hear when a band didn’t get dressed before recording.”
Not only was Field Mouse successful in funding its campaign, and thusly able to avoid the perils of recording in a closet, the band nearly doubled its initial goal of $8,500 and ultimately raised $15,702.
“We only put out two 7-inches and did one long U.S. tour, so we feel kind of like a baby band in a lot of ways,” Browne said. “We were surprised to go over the amount we asked for. It was really moving.”
And although the Kickstarter campaign provided the band with a surplus of cash, it was quickly accounted for. As with most small acts, Field Mouse’s expenses exceed the band’s income.
“We were in debt from tour, so there are now no real extra funds, but we are also not less than broke,” Browne said. “When you are an opening band, you get paid between $150 and $300 per show and that doesn’t really cover all of the expenses no matter how frugal you are. We had to rent a van for this [tour].”
A contentious side of the Kickstarter debate often begins and ends when the website is utilized by larger, more established bands. Notable examples include pop-punk moguls Saves the Day and death metal archetypes Obituary.
“I hate when larger bands with established fan bases use crowdsourcing,” Suskevich said. “It’s the equivalent of holding new material hostage. It’s like ‘Hey, we have some new songs, but we won’t release them unless you give us money.’”
This is something Browne strongly refuted.
“There is this completely false idea that the bigger a band is, the more money they have, and that is simply not true,” Browne said. “Two decades ago it was more likely to be true, but people don’t pay for music anymore. Whatever amount of money you assume a band has to their name, subtract 75 percent of that and then divide it by the amount of members. You don’t have to legally purchase music if you don’t want to anymore, but you should definitely not [ridicule] a band for trying to get paid. It’s sad that our society does not value music enough to not steal it and then hate on bands that attempt to find alternate ways of making money.”
However, the issue many musicians find with the concept, including Suskevich, is that bands are bypassing the struggle and distributing the financial burden to fans.
“They try to make it so they can get with whatever big shot producer they’re trying to get with, or whoever they want to do the graphic design,” Suskevich said. “They take into account a lot of expenditures that don’t need to be taken into account. There’s always a cheaper option. If something’s not in your budget, then it’s not in your budget.”
David Zisser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.