This post is presented by Virgin Mobile who encourage you to #BreakFree.
It seems that this year, moreso than ever, artists who were fed up with a lack of support from the music industry have turned to their fans and asked them to fund their projects. Campaigns on Kickstarter, Pledgemusic, IndieGoGo, and other crowdfunding sites have been wildly successful, showing that an alternative exists to struggling with often risk-averse labels. Even beyond crowdfunding, the internet has made it exponentially easier to self-release music and communicate directly with fans. The traditional artist-label relationship is breaking down and, as part of our year-end coverage, we thought it would be good to take a look back at some artists who have been successful in cutting out the middle man.
The floodgates for crowdfunding music projects really opened up last year after Amanda Palmer’s campaign to fund her new record and tour ended up raising $1.2 million. Palmer faced a lot of (valid) criticism for her approach to her Kickstarter campaign, but she still remains a vocal supporter of the process. In an interview earlier this year, Palmer said, “One of the best things about Kickstarter and crowdfunding and the collapse of the music business is a lot of artists like me have been forced to face our own weird mess about ourselves and what we thought it meant to become musicians.” Palmer sees crowdfunding as a chance for the artist to be true to themselves and true to their music without any outside interference. She values the relationship between the fan and artist above all, record labels be damned.
Fans are slowly catching on to her line of reasoning. Since Kickstarter began in 2009, over $85 million has been raised to fund successful music campaigns. Other crowdfunding sites such as IndieGoGo and PledgeMusic have seen similar success. New startup site Patreon attracted nearly $2.1 million in financing only three months after launching. The world of crowdfunding for the arts is only growing and the possibilities seem limitless.
But crowdfunding hasn’t been some panacea for prosperity for artists looking to go independent. For every success story, there’s another one that’s crashed and burned. Most notably was Bjork’s attempt to fund a Biophilia app for Android that was canceled after 10 days — only 4% of the project’s total funding was raised. The project’s failure showed that even major label artists could fall flat on their face.
Despite the risks of crowdfunding has become an increasingly appealing and viable option for bands both big and small. The list below is comprised of artists whose campaigns began and ended in 2013 and is arranged in chronological order from the start date of the project. It’s only a small selection of artists who have become pioneers for this new music industry dichotomy, but ones we thought played an important role in challenging the status quo.
Artist: Hiatus Kaiyote
Objective: Perform at SXSW
Funding Dates: January 9 – March 1
How’d they do?: $16,225 (goal: $15,000); 344 backers
SXSW performances can make or break a band — Melbourne’s Hiatus Kaiyote were well aware of this fact, but also knew they couldn’t afford to embark on a trip across the Pacific by themselves. With only a self-released EP and some backing from artists like Erykah Badu and Questlove, they turned to IndieGoGo to raise money for the band’s trip to Austin and a few shows in key US cities. That turned out to be more than enough to raise the money they needed and it seems to have worked out for them: they were named a Band To Watch, reissued their EP on Sony imprint Flying Buddha, and went on a two month European and North American tour over the summer.
Artist: Kevin Devine
Objective: Record and release two albums and tour both records
Funding Dates: January 14 – February 28
How’d he do?: $114,800 (goal: $50,000); 1,649 backers
When Kevin Devine announced that he was planning to crowdfund, he made it clear he wasn’t doing it because of any fault with the industry: “The music business is exactly what it is and doesn’t necessarily misrepresent itself as anything else, at least not if you look at and listen to it closely enough.” The long-time indie rock veteran had label hopped for most of his previous releases and, following 2011’s Between The Concrete & Clouds, he decided it was time to try and release a record on his own terms. His ambitions were high: he wanted to record two albums — one solo and one with a backing and — and tour both records throughout the next two years. Devine raised more than double his goal and his two albums, Bulldozer and Bubblegum, were released in the second half of the year.
Artist: Bowling For Soup
Objective: Record and release their twelfth album
Funding Dates: February 15 – February 25
How’d they do?: 3,579 backers
The first thing that ran through my mind when I heard that the group best known for mid-aughts guilty pleasure “1985” was crowdfunding their latest album was: Bowling For Soup still exists… and they have fans? Apparently so as more than 3,500 of them backed their campaign through PledgeMusic. The band was extremely active in keeping backers in the loop through every stage of the recording process and even let them vote on what the name of the album should be. Lunch. Drunk. Love was released in September and premiered at No. 142 on the Billboard 200. Love live pop punk.
Artist: Reggie And The Full Effect
Objective: Record and release his first album in five years
Funding Dates: March 13 – April 19
How’d he do?: $58,081 (goal: $50,000); 1,221 backers
Speaking of pop punk, The Get Up Kids’ keyboardist James Dewees took to Kickstarter to raise funds for the revival of his solo project Reggie And The Full Effect. The rewards included the typical album downloads and backstage show passes, but Dewees also offered up an “inclusive marriage package,” where he would come and officiate your wedding, DJ the reception, and take photos of the event. Unfortunately, no one took him up on the offer, but the project was successful and raised almost $60,000. No Country For Old Musicians was released in November.
Objective: Make their latest album Endless Fantasy “more than an album”
Funding Dates: May 2 – June 2
How’d they do?: $277,399 (goal: $50,000); 7,253 backers
When NYC chiptune band Anamanaguchi started their campaign, they had already recorded their new album Endless Fantasy over a three-year period without any help from a label. Instead, their goal was to release a lot of accompanying material and media to support that album. The best thing Anamanaguchi’s Kickstarter project had going for it was a sense of fun — prizes included the band’s personal Game Boys, a personal theme song, and their shitty rental van. The quirky nature of the campaign paid off in a big way: they reached their initial goal of $50,000 in just 11 hours and raised over $277,000 by the campaign’s end. When it ended in June, Anamanaguchi’s project was the second most-funded music Kickstarter in history, only behind Amanda Palmer’s, though they were later bumped down to third by Christian music artist Carman Licciardello. With the success of the project, the band was able to send a pizza to space for their first music video, played sold out shows throughout the country, and had their album debut at No. 1 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. The campaign is the biggest success story of 2013 for crowdfunding and would serve as a great blueprint for artists to follow who are looking to do the same.
Artist: Juliana Hatfield
Objective: Record and release a new album
Funding Dates: June 2 – June 6
How’d she do?: 165% of goal; 996 backers
For anyone that thinks an artist can only go to the crowdsourcing well once, Juliana Hatfield is evidence that fans are willing to provide continuous support to an artist they believe in. The Boston artist used PledgeMusic for the third time to fund the recording and release of a new album and she reached her goal in four days. Her thirteenth album Wild Animals came out two months later (three for non-banckers) and her rewards reflected the intimate and low-key nature of the campaign, including original artwork, half-inch tape reels of demos and masters, and even her high school varsity jacket.
Artist: Toad The Wet Sprocket
Objective: Release their reunion album
Funding Dates: June 5 – August 4
How’d they do: $264,762 (goal: $50,000); 6,304 backers
Nostalgia and a dedicated fan base led to Toad the Wet Sprocket’s successful campaign to manufacture and market their first recorded album in 16 years. When they started their campaign, the Santa Barbara group promised the album would be released once their initial goal of $50,000 was raised, figuring they would have at least a month to get everything together. Instead, their fans raised the money in 20 hours and the band had to scramble to get the album ready in time and had the digital version ready to go by June 29, with the physical release following on September 17. With the swell of support from their fans, Toad The Wet Sprocket because the fourth highest-funded music Kickstarter of all time, right behind Anamanaguchi, and raised over $260,000 by the end of the project.
Artist: Nicole Atkins
Objective: Release and market new album
Funding Dates: October 8 – Present
How’d she do?: 112% of goal (so far); 626 backers (so far)
Singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins opens her campaign promotional video with a skit. She enters a record label office to hear feedback on her new album. An exec in a flashy blue suit tells her he loved it, but made some minor tweaks to her songs. He plays his version and Atkins’ mellow disco-pop is changed into a cookie cutter dance track, with her voice drowned out by an EDM beat. Shouting over the song, he says that her look for the next record needs to be “Game of Thrones-chic meets Lady Gaga.” In response, Atkins storms out of the office saying, “You don’t tell me how to record my music, you don’t tell me what to wear, and you don’t tell me what to play. I’d be better off doing this myself.” In a few succinct words, Atkins voices the frustrations of many struggling artists that turn to crowdfunding sites. Her campaign has passed its goal and she’s currently working on finishing her album Slow Phaser, due out sometime in 2014.
Objective: Support the recording of their next full-length
Funding Dates: October 14 – ?
How’d they do?: No exact figures, but well: each copy of the live album was $40 a piece, which means that they’re limited run made at minimum $80,000
Swans were on top of crowdfunding from the beginning. After announcing their reunion in 2010, the experimental rockers offered up I’m Not Insane, a collection of demos and live performances, to help fund their first album in 14 years. The band continued the trend with We Rose From Your Bed With The Sun In Our Head to fund The Seer and this year sold Not Here/Not Now to fund their upcoming untitled full-length. The double live album was limited to a run of 2000 and each were signed and numbered. In addition, for $500 (the maximum amount for pledging), Michael Gira offered to write a song praising you. In his letter to fans announcing the efforts, he echoed Amanda Palmer’s sentiments: “We’re not exactly trying to make music that’s accessible in the regular music world, so why accept any constraints whatsoever? What’s an “album,” and who cares? People that are inclined to be interested will find it if they want. Just let the music dictate the final shape, nothing else.”
Objective: Release Sparklehorse tribute album
Funding Dates: October 11 – December 14
How’d they do?: $33,723 (goal: $50,000); 703 backers (as of 12/11/13)
It’s nice to think that Mark Linkous would be amenable to the whole Kickstarter idea. Following his death in 2010, producer Ted Richardson and his wife Jessica wanted to release an album in tribute to the Sparklehorse leader. They recruited a great selection of artists to help out, including the Flaming Lips, Phantogram, and David Lowery. Focusing on a charity album is a refreshing change of pace from a lot of the other records on these lists. In a lot of ways, crowdfunding campaigns are inherently selfish. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but many artists turn to their fans not because they can’t work within the label system, but because they don’t want to. The campaign for the album is still ongoing (and has been extended twice now), but even if they don’t reach their goal, the release will still see the light of day. and it stands as one of the more admirable campaigns in a year that’s been full of them.