What's the colour of music?

It’s hard to make a living in the music industry, you’re lucky if you can break even. As we bring forth a second or third generation who have no concept of paying for recorded music (what they don’t steal they stream) it gets harder to get a break.

I wrote about this way-back in July 2009, should you care to read it you can do so here although there have inevitably been many changes in the subject since then.

One of the more recent additions to the artist’s arsenal is the concept of pledging. Initially seen in the charity market, particularly in tv telethons, its application to music is of great interest as it allows an act to establish their worth before taking a risk.

The two major sites are crowdfunder and pledgemusic and my friend Robin Valk gives a good enough overview of their merits/history here that I feel reluctant to add to it. I’m also lazy.

In some ways these sites take part of the role that a record company would traditionally have played. You could think of the old labels as being a kind of bank in that they’d pay for you to produce records/albums or whatever you prefer to call them but the cost of this would be recouped from your royalties (eventually or hopefully).

By using the pledging method an act is enlisting their friends and fan-base as a promise to pay mechanism, giving them the reassurance that they can record/release the project as described on the web-page. For illustration purposes we can use the only one I’ve ever pledged on, Brummie folk-superstars Red Shoes who, as you’ll see here have now raised the relevant funds to release their second major album.

Of course this works best if you already have a fan-base, the bigger the better, and record companies have started to offer this service to acts they’ve previously helped to establish (Kate Bush & EMI being a particular example) but on the flip-side you could say that you shouldn’t be trying to release anything without establishing that people like you anyway.

Additionally if we’re suggesting (as many do) that the route to revenue from music is through a combination of recorded/live/merchandise and other benefits then a fan-base is something you’re going to have to develop and nurture.

Whilst the crowd-funded music scene has yet to create its own EL James, Amanda Palmer is one of the more famous examples of the technique, having raised way-over her intended goal using the US-based Kickstarter site. She has been roundly praised for doing so but in this case the methods often seemed questionable (semi-erotic pictures once she got past a certain revenue figure – a route only available to the few I suppose) and the story is now all about the funding rather than the music. The Guardian piece on Palmer even includes a link to their review, which doesn’t actually exist.

Whether it’s a long-term solution is a debatable point, people are only likely to (promise to) invest in something they feel a very personal link to. My investment in Red Shoes is likely to be one of few that I’d make and comes from a combination of both a desire to hear the new music and my regard for them as people, musicians and song-writers. I may like a lot of music but there’s not much of it that I feel so deeply involved with. 

I’d suggest that you pledge here and reap the reward yourselves, and then I might even shut up about it.