Why Are so Many Musicians so Bad at Crowdfunding?
They're not all terrible, but the ones that suck suck A LOT.
When that guy was making headlines with his “super wacky” potato salad crowdfunding campaign a while back, I kept telling my friends that I thought it was way better and deserved more money than any musician’s crowdfunding campaign. I was not saying this to be all hip or edgy, I was saying this because it was true. Musicians are notoriously awful at crowdfunding.
I tried it with a 7” record once and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. The campaigning process is like pulling teeth, I felt like a self-involved jerk who just cheated a bunch of people out of their money, and the whole thing just felt like one big awkward loan with a boatload of expectations. Thankfully, I’ve since seen people mess it up way worse than I could have ever imagined, making me feel more at ease with my failures.
This may be because the majority of the time, musicians who are using crowdfunding platforms are perpetuating harmful myths and misconceptions about how music is made and distributed, and as a result they not only end up looking out of touch, but they actually make things harder for the musicians of the world who don’t turn to crowdfunding to get a project going. Crowdfunding can be a great platform that allows fans to rally around an artist or a project they’re really into, which is a cool thing. Sadly, a lot of these campaigns are poorly run and misguided, and often it leads to musicians trying to raise unrealistically large sums of money while treating their fans like a bank.
Here are just a few of the ways in which musicians have been lousy at crowdfunding and are ruining what could be a really great platform for artistic exploration and creation. Please, bands, stop doing these terrible, terrible things.
Musicians Often Come Up With Really Bad Perks
If you’re going to beg someone for money to write and record a doom metal album based on a steampunk retelling of Great Expectations, you should at least give them an incentive to relinquish those hard earned dollars. By and large, musicians have either have no idea how to do this, or just don’t care about doing it well. This gives rise to perks like “Take a video tour of our jam space for $200!” that are so inane and absolutely useless that it’s painfully obvious they just ran out of ideas to use to squeeze money out of people. So please, musicians, let’s start putting some thought into what people will actually want from you!
Here’s a newsflash, it’s 2014. Someone buying your digital download for $10 is just laughable, especially as a crowdfunding perk. I mean, come on, Thom Yorke just dropped a solo album for $6 and even that came with a video. So please, do not do this. Do not charge someone $15 for the 320kb/s mp3s of your album. A digital download should be a courtesy that comes with a perk, not a perk itself. If someone’s paying you $15, have the decency to at least buy a cheap blank CD and scrawl something on it in permanent marker. If you have a $15 digital download as one of your perks, you’re either woefully out of touch or just mean. Ditto for people who think that charging $75 for a vinyl record is acceptable just because it’s “limited.” Just because you only have the cash to press 100 of them doesn’t mean you can charge $75 for them.
Some other terrible and cliche perks you can stay away from? Cover song requests as a perk are terrible. No one needs any more awful acoustic versions of Rihanna tunes, Wagon Wheel covers, or an ironically soft and folky rendition of a metal song.
Though this is not nearly as bad as the “I’ll write you a song,” perk. Please, musical artists, don’t do this. If you do this, you’re really just churning out content for the sake of it. It’s like being paid to write a jingle for the most boring commercial in the universe. Though, there are exceptions to this rule. Oh, and how about the extremely creepy “date with one of the band members” perk? The less said about those, the better.
If you want an idea of what a seriously well-thought out perk looks like, check out the pre-order campaign that Run the Jewels is doing for their latest release. Oh, what’s that? Free download of the mp3s? Reasonably priced high-quality digital download? Sanely priced vinyl and t-shirt bundles? This is how you crowdfund a release; the help you get from fans is supposed to go towards making the experience richer, not just hitting your goal. This kind of thing makes fans feel like they’re connected, not just a dollar figure, and that’s what’s missing in a lot of crowdfunding campaigns: a sense of community.
Hell, people are so into the idea of Run the Jewels’ crazy perk for a “Meow the Jewels” remix version of the album—made entirely from cat sounds—that a kickstarter campaign to make that perk actually happen is already half funded! When done right, perks strengthen the connection between the artist and the fan; crowdfunding is about letting them in on the experience, not just taking their money.
Perhaps the worst thing about terrible and exploitative perks is that people will purchase them, because they’re fans. This sends the message that these are okay things to charge people money for. You allowing this makes you part of the problem because you’re not just taking advantage of them, you’re contributing to the misconception that this is how crowdfunding should be done. I don’t care if Aunt Edna loves that you’re in a band now, walking around with your computer in your derelict jam space with Skype turned on is not worth $300.
Bad Crowdfunding Perpetuates Awful Myths About Music
Bad crowdfunding often succeeds in perpetuating terrible misconceptions about how music is made, or how bands operate. For example, you absolutely do not need to be paying $1000 a day for a professional studio to record your album in when you’re in a position of asking people for money. If you needed a studio that costs $1000 a day, you would have a label and some serious cash to throw. Hell, even then, you probably don’t need a $1000 a day studio. Convincing people you need to pay someone $1000 a day to record your music when you absolutely do not is an awful thing to do, and a waste of money.
You are an unknown band and no one is going to care that your album was recorded in the same studio as a Strokes album, because honestly, it doesn’t matter. Just because an album people know was recorded there does not make yours good. Being able to throw a ton of cash at album also does not make it good. It just means you’re really good at wasting people’s money.
Home recording is not only absurdly cheap these days, but it’s easy to learn and is an immensely valuable tool for a musician. Being able to record on your own not only grants you more artistic freedom over your music, but it helps you learn what you actually want to sound like and, more importantly, how to achieve that. So when you eventually do get to work with a great producer, you will actually know what you’re talking about and don’t just nod and stare blankly when they suggest things and you end up with an over-compressed, auto-tuned mess.
Just to put it in perspective for you, Kevin Parker records all of Tame Impala’s music himself at his home studio. Yeah, he may have a bunch of expensive gear, but a lot of people who don’t do just fine. Instead of blowing $5000 on a five day studio excursion, you could be swimming in condenser mics and preamps. Get out there and learn!
Also, musicians, it’s time for some real talk. You do not need to spend thousands of dollars shooting a music video, because no one cares anymore. Do you know why people care about videos from artists like Drake or Taylor Swift? It’s not because they’re high budget, it’s because people actually care about these artists in the first place. Please stop spending money on music videos. This is not 1996, put your money into something more productive like purchasing recording gear or a vehicle for touring. Speaking of which…
Please Don’t Crowdfund Your Tour
You need a bunch of money to go on a cross-Canada tour and you want to crowdfund your way across? You’re not ready for a cross-Canada tour. If you were, you’d know where to book, where to play, how to map out the route and you would have enough money to sustain that tour. If you don’t, you’re just looking to play musician for a month and have someone else pick up the bill. Instead, just start booking terrible, tiny tours and playing dingy clubs and do the work, don’t just sit at home on Facebook and wait for other people to give you gas money.
Sell your tapes out of the back of your van, network, meet similar bands, crash on people's floors, eat terrible gas station food. You know, do all the stuff that a real band does when they’re being a real band. In case you didn’t know, bands don’t usually sit at home watching their IndieGoGo fund pile up while they smoke weed and play video games. They’re actually out there playing shows and busting their asses to put out something they believe in, not passively waiting for someone to drop off a burlap sack with a dollar sign on it.
Go be in a band, don’t just phone it in. That’s the fun part. You think that before crowdfunding was a thing, bands were just sitting around waiting for their buddies to drop by and slip them $50 for a cassette copy of their new album and handwritten liner notes? No, they were out on the road constantly, playing to absolutely no one, selling tapes and 7”s for just enough to put gas in the car and, hopefully, make it to the next show. Just get out and start gigging! If you just play your heart out every night and keep at it doing tiny, derelict tours for a while, the rest will fall into place eventually. Or, you know, maybe it won’t, but at least you didn’t waste $7000 of other people’s money trying.
Putting the Cart Before the Horse
There are a startling amount of musicians who attempt to crowdfund an album they haven’t even written yet. There is nothing more delusional than trying to get someone to pay you to release a record you haven’t even begun to create.
People do this when they don’t want to work a real job and would rather have someone buying their food for them and pay their rent while they “focus on their art “and don’t have to pick up a shift at the bar three days a week. You’re banking on your perceived talent as an artist to get you financial leverage here, and that’s not only very conceited, it’s just not how it works. Musicians have been writing and recording albums while working day jobs for decades, what makes you so different? Maybe it’s that you’re just superhumanly lazy.
Artificially Inflating Your Popularity
Do you know why you have to do a crowdfunding campaign to get that $20,000 for your upcoming album? It’s because you absolutely shouldn’t be spending $20,000 on making an album. It is not within your means as a person or as a musician. You cannot pay for this, and you do not need this. What you’re essentially doing is getting a really weird loan because you think you deserve to make a “real” record.
What happens when, because you’re an unknown band who just dropped $20,000 on a record, it gets you nowhere? Are you going to crowdfund another $20,000? Bands actually try to do this! If you’re still asking people to give you their money after you have the gall to make a record that expensive, you’re clearly artificially inflating your importance as a musician and living and spending way beyond your means. This is super irresponsible and it means that you’re just taking advantage of other people in order to live out some of your rockstar fantasies.
Crowdfunding campaigns should be for goals that are relatively within your means to begin with, and you just need a little help getting there. Most successful crowdfunding campaigns are run more like lavish pre-orders. That’s because when you’ve set a reasonable goal, you’re going to go through the with the release no matter what, and you just need a little push getting there, crowdfunding can work really well. However, asking people for $20,000 so you can take some time off, write and record an album and then go on tour with it is not only exploitative, it’s dumb, because after it’s all over, you’re just going to be right back where you started.
When it comes down to it, crowdfunding has been instrumental in helping musicians put out projects that otherwise couldn’t have been made. There have been plenty of awesome crowdfunding campaigns since the whole thing began with Kickstarter back in 2009, and it’s helped countless musicians realize goals they otherwise might not have been able to. However, it’s also contributed to a growing sense of entitlement among musicians, a dishonesty when it comes to justifying and handling money that’s raised and often just a general exploitative attitude towards fans.
Poorly run crowdfunding campaigns ruin it for everyone, because if people feel burned or screwed over by a campaign, they’re less likely to donate to one that might actually be worth their while. Taking advantage of your fans because you feel entitled to make money as a musician is pretty delusional. We’re hammered with so much music on a daily basis that if people will actually listen to your music, that itself is pretty damn great. So, you giving your fans terrible perks, misleading them about what you really actually need to make a record, and trying to get as much money from them as possible is exploitative and makes you a huge jerk.
Musicians need to start being smarter, more professional and more transparent about what they’re crowdfunding, and more importantly why they need to crowdfund it. Fans of artists are amazingly generous people, and they’re always willing to donate to a cause they believe in and give their support to an artist they love. This is an extremely important part of music culture, and it’s what’s enabled people to make a living creating music that they love for decades. The relationship between fans and artists has never been closer than it is today, and that opens up an amazing new world of possibilities when it comes to supporting the arts and forging connections with people. So, hey, let’s try not to ruin that by doing things like trying to charge people $400 for a cover of Wonderwall, okay?
Nick Laugher wrote this article. If you enjoyed it, consider backing his social platform - @largiantribune