Is There A Limit To What Can Be Crowdfunded?

posted in: Music NewsRock

Welcome to the new music economy, where distribution channels are paved with fiberoptic cable and shipments are packed into .zip files. The greatest aspect of the music industry in its current form is that there’s a lot of money to be grabbed. It’s just that the methods of securing said cash may require a bit of attention and diligence outside of the realm of music creation.

Nobody is selling records. But there are still tours to plot, t-shirts to sell, and music to put out. In the vacuum created by a lack of revenue from music sales, crowdfunding has taken hold as an appealing, if not the only, viable alternative. And as crowdfunding becomes bigger and moves more into the mainstream, the innovation in the use of the medium is growing as well.

What I’m saying is, what you can crowdfund is limited only by the scope of one’s imagination.

Crowdfunding is a young industry. That said, it’s also quite crowded. We did an overview of three of the most popular crowdfunding platforms here in the magazine but the services we compared represent just the tip of the iceberg. And that’s the point. Everyone’s familiar with the biggest name in crowdfunding, Kickstarter. All of the big stories around crowdfunding have been built through Kickstarter, the good and the bad. There’s the E-Pebble Paper Watch, the watch with smartphone-integration functionality that earned over $10 million for its entrepreneurial creator Eric Migicovsky. And you can’t talk about music projects and Kickstarter without mentioning Amanda Palmer, who is equal parts poster child and cautionary tale about what crowdfunding can do to one’s career.

The point is, Kickstarter is the biggest game in town. But they’re not the only game. Two of the other services that we covered were Crowdtilt and IndieGoGo, both of which can boast of higher success rates and more generous project acceptance rates (yeah, crowdfunding platforms don’t HAVE to accept a project, FYI). PledgeMusic is another platform for artists, though they think of themselves less of a “fan funding” site and more of an all in one, direct-to-fan answer with marketing and sales tools for artists to use. It worked for Ben Folds Five and they didn’t know what the fuck they were doing. So branch out. Explore your options.

That’s what Andrew Bird did. He’s trying to crowdfund an entire tour. Partnering up with Songkick, Bird is attempting to put together a string of dates in South America for February 2013. Now Songkick is really known as a repository of concert dates. But the service is ambitious, branching out from a simple specialized calendar service into a one stop tour stop for independent artists.

Bird’s South American tour is the most ambitious project for Songkick Detour, a new venture for the site that repurposes the fan request model used by sites like Eventful for more independently-minded ventures. The service is simple; artist plots regional tour and posts dates to Songkick Detour, fans request dates by pledging to buy tickets, and the first cities to meet certain benchmarks get the shows they pledged for. It has a nifty competitive element, there’s no real loss to be incurred by the fan (pledges for dates in cities that don’t win are refunded), and it’s a solid promotional element for the artist. Good, great even. But not perfect.

As of press time, Andrew Bird hasn’t secured enough dates to do a full run, still requiring dozens of pledges from the top cities still competing for one of his concerts. The pledge period ends on November 16th and its not entirely clear what happens if the required six cities haven’t reached their pledge goals. It would be pretty remarkable if the whole tour turned out to be a wash if they were short a few pledges. More likely than that, Bird would tour some smaller venues or just play his confirmed cities. But there are real risks associated with this kind of project that an artist of Bird’s stature can absorb that smaller acts couldn’t risk. He’s an indie artist with a unique, niche appeal. He’s also well positioned; Bird’s most recent album Hands Of Glory just dropped earlier this month and is his second full length release of the year. That’s a lot to momentum to build off of.

Are we just now beginning to map the boundaries for what can be achieved through crowdfunding? Releases are easy enough to fund and put out through your fans. Crowdfunding a tour seems like an estimable and ambitious goal, but one outside the grasp of most independent artists. Will we start to see crowdfunded music festivals? What about a crowdfunded music venue? I envision an arrangement in which a fan makes a one time or monthly contribution which allows them access to a certain pre-determined number of shows that said fan could attend at their own discretion, not unlike a record of the month club, but for live concerts.

Could something like this work? It probably should. Many artists malign crowdfunding as the indie equivalent of selling out. But crowdfunding has the ability to create engagement with ones fanbase that couldn’t be achieved in the good old days of album sales, music videos, and merch sales.

We live in the age of engagement. Acts are leveraging this capital now to sell records. The limits to how this engagement can be leveraged haven’t yet been determined. But there’s found money waiting for artists that aren’t afraid of innovation. Those who are willing to figure out how to best exploit the crowdfunding medium are looking at a bright future.

More like this: