Baryn Jacobsen January 26, 2018
An Alternative View On Artistry: Crowdfunding & Engagement
Money is a huge barrier to any artist, but it is perhaps one of the most crippling hurdles local musicians can face. Gone are the days of jamming to accumulate small herds of followers in parks and basements. Music for the larger majority has evolved into a platform many turn to in order to deliver important messages to communities, and retrospectively there are the minority of artists seeking ways to just make a shitload of money and gain recognition.
However, anyone who has attempted this and fallen at the first flag will know that the music industry is set up in a way that does not make the artist themself much money. This was first brought to light in an essay by famed producer Steve Albini (who worked on Nirvana’s album In Utero) back in 1993. He outlines how A&R reps are not considered to be just one of those record label guys and highlights the dangers of deal memos for aspiring bands and musicians, giving examples of those who signed their soul to the figurative devils of the industry and goes on to explain how we are drawn to the empty promises of million dollar record deals. But, not everyone trying to breakout into the scene knows the ins and outs of what that actually means. I’d recommend checking out what Steve had to say all those years ago before throwing yourself at any major label.
That isn’t to say that music can’t make you money, but as with everything else in life, it is at the root of all. On the surface, it seems as though acts like Lady Gaga and Lana Del Rey can appear overnight, and technically their music did – on the charts, with the help of labels who recognised their work after years of them trying to gain appreciation. Looking into any artist background will reveal that struggle is a staple in the forging of any direction an artist will choose to take, and music’s current roster of dominants clearly shows that there are many cases in which those who stick it out can eventually make it to the big-time.
Cash constraints are overbearing in the music industry, thanks to the spearheading of major labels who have set the bar so high that anyone hoping to get their music heard needs to have something ready for radio before they can go anywhere with it and that all costs money. A lot of money. How are you supposed to expect to get anywhere if your music hasn’t been mixed and mastered by the greats who came before you? This is the illusion conjured by modern media, and it is because of this that artists are now coined into a collective famine and branded as ‘starving’ – referring to our inability to generate an income capable of sustaining life’s necessities.
Face it: making music costs money, regardless of the path you choose to follow. Whether you’re a solo act with no equipment or a chart-topping monster with contracts to deliver on. More and more independent artists are phasing out due to all manners of restrictions, and the effects of this are evident all the more so in local acts. Producers cost money. Instruments cost money. Heck, even gigging costs money. And what about the duties of 9-5 jobs and keeping up with expectations of society that is diminishing any hope that musicians once held for being to create? Nothing is free in life, but there are choices that artists can now make to assist their creative directions. For those lacking the backing of a label or publisher, there are alternatives.
It’s a simple concept: present your idea on a social platform in the hope of prospective backer donations towards the funding of your project. Crowdfunding makes raising money online for your creative ventures even easier, and with Trackage Scheme’s strategy any donations collected go directly to the artist.
For all the glory of the internet, there are still many things a musician should consider before launching their programme. The most obvious clue is hidden in the word itself – break it down: crowd-funding. A lot of people mistake the scheme as a grand plan to rally endless amounts of money, but the amount you can and will be able to raise should be relative to your capabilities. It’s useless requesting €20,000 for an album if you haven’t got a pool to dip into already. The success of your project is entirely dependent on the reach of your campaign. Crowdfunding is a huge task to take on, and the outcomes can be great but only if the proposal is ideal.
While many concepts on crowdfunding sites have gone viral in recent times and brought the idea of crowdfunding into the pop-culture spectrum, it doesn’t take long to run a search on popular fundraising sites to learn that only about half of the proposals never reach their goal and ultimately fail. This is where Trackage Scheme differentiates itself from the bigger names in the business. Where many of the generic services don’t receive any money from pledges until the goal is met, Trackage Scheme will hold backed amounts securely until the campaign has run its course – whether or not you meet the goal, the money remains in holding until the project admin chooses to withdraw it.
By now, it isn’t hard to see how much and how quickly the industry is changing for independent artists, and for the most part the changes are all positive. The rate at which music is consumed is rising to a new all time high with every passing day, largely thanks to the convenience of smartphones and digital streaming services. The age of social media is upon us and with it we have been gifted an abundance of new creative streams that weren’t available to artists emerging only 10 years ago: livestreaming gigs, online covers, even things like creative commons licensing – they’re all new and exciting tools that the modern independent artist is now able to utilise.
Admittedly, the cost of making music has decreased on a micro-environmental basis, but the downside to this for anyone chasing the ‘American dream’ ideal is that the expectations are already set so high. Which, unfortunately, has in turn hiked up the cost of anticipated quality. Put that together with the cost of manufacturing a large-scale release with a professional campaign, the goal is just too far out of the reach of many aspiring artists. Crowdfunding can be an important tool in the arsenal of any musician, it has grown to become a means of propping up those who do not have substantial label support – essentially leveling the playing field.
Of course, record labels are still the hidden juggernauts controlling the industry behind the scenes, and there’s a lot of unsigned talent out there that will unfortunately never make it in the big time. In the past, radio play was the sole determining factor of a group’s popularity. Getting airtime on the radio meant an artist had ascended into a state of wealth and fame. Because of the ever-expanding online workspace provided to us in current days, this is no longer the case.
From what has already been discussed, it’s clear that surviving financially as a musician is almost impossible, and there are many other factors to consider on that note, but we’ll keep things simple. Because of the cut-throat setup of the industry, finding a resourceful alternative becomes necessary and what most artists in this position will turn to is everyone’s favourite: merchandise.
Crowdfunding is a great way to market yourself as a brand, and merchandise is at its core an essential ploy to adhere to if you want to get your name or message out there. When setting up projects to crowdfund, you’re able to offer rewards for those who pledge certain amounts. Creating a brand out of a name has always proven successful. Outside of the money-sourcing world, merchandise sales generate a good portion of income. The profit a band can make from selling things like shirts, hats, posters and coffee mugs can often eclipse the profit made from album sales alone.
Today’s music struggles with the upkeep of artists. Radio stations and labels don’t always help those in their shadow all too much, or all too easily. While packing show venues to the brim can be useful, you still need to start somewhere before people even consider attending your gigs. Most of the time, for those who are yet to build a strong fan-base and are stuck playing pub nights and park fields, you’ll end up paying yourself to secure the set.
How does an artist effectively follow up a crowdfunding campaign?
One of the biggest positives in crowdfunding is the engagement aspect. For the lucky ones already somewhat established, campaign runners are able to interact directly with fans and backers through donation rewards. Projects funded through these schemes allow fans to emerge themselves into the concept creation narrative, an area previously kept behind the scenes between artists and collaborator. Giving your audience the option to become part of the outcome of your project is a fantastic way to immerse them into your mind, and give them a true understanding of what the ideas driving you currently are. It is the artists who relish at this opportunity that are usually the most successful in their campaigns.
A recent example of how artists can immerse their fans into their creative bubble is Marina and the Diamonds’ 2015 release, FROOT. Diamandis coordinated a seamless strategy that invited anyone willing to experience the album in a way like none other before her. The first promotional single and title track was released on October 10th in 2014, coinciding with the star’s birthday after a two-year hiatus which saw her distance her sound from that of her sophomore release which was heavily produced with Americanised influences of feminist archetypal roles within society. FROOT gave Diamandis the chance to release a buzz-track every month running up to the eventual release of the album to anyone who chose to preorder the album across a number of delivery platforms and invite the willing to gain an insight on the creative process behind the album and her shift to a lesser-pop sound. The album charted globally upon release without any radio press despite leaking online due to an early vinyl shipment, which is just one of the many testaments proving that engagement is key to any successful campaign.
While Diamandis hadn’t exactly crowdfunded her third LP, one can see how she has grown as an artist from the beginning of her career. Back in 2007, she moved to London and, with the help of student financing, purchased a Macbook and produced her own EP entitled Mermaid vs Sailor. Although the self-produced record only sold around 70 copies, she wrote every track (with the help of a pink children’s keyboard) and produced them with Garageband, burnt the tracks onto CDs and shipped them out of her own pocket. The confidence that grew inside from those initial purchases burgeoned her to try and reach far higher with her artistry and after countless failed auditions with labels (including attempting to audition for a boy band that Virgin Records had put a casting call out for on StarNow) she was discovered through her MySpace page by boutique label Neon Gold Records who helped her release her debut, self-titled, EP.
The EP didn’t reach much success, but Diamandis continued to gig at local haunts across North and East London where she played shows to a whole number of crowds. From old-timers in pubs to Covent Garden fashion pop-ups, even punching one audience member who reportedly “got too close for comfort while rolling on E.”
Diamandis continued on her own, crafting her own merchandise and eventually through her contacts with Neon Gold she was signed over in partnership to 679 Records and through Atlantic Records was able to release her first studio album.
While her singles were charting, it wasn’t until her sophomore album that she gained her first Number 1 in the ranks which sky-rocketed her name across social media through 2012. Electra Heart was an album that came to be after Atlantic had denied her previous (and already prepared) follow-up to The Family Jewels (reportedly title die Life).
The hype that built up to the release of the album was an absolute mess that saw demos and rough-cuts leaking from every corner of the internet, which eventually led to the artist considering filing a police report after having her laptop stolen.
Nonetheless, her label insisted she took a more pop view to the work she had and shipped her off to the states to work with the likes of Dr Luke and posse. Through her work in America, she met producer Betatraxx, who (despite the album having already been sent for mastering) wanted to work with Diamandis on a track from the era and thus the album was gifted a title-track.
After finishing up her tours of the album, Diamandis ‘killed off’ the character she had curated over the previous three years and sought a new sound in FROOT. Despite reportedly bankrupting her label with the release of Electra Heart, Diamandis found solace in her artistry roots and became to reflect on herself while at rest. This lead to her eventual meeting with David Kosten (of Faultine) and reaching back into what got her to where she is today: her own music. She produced and wrote every track on the album with the help of Dave, and the finished result is a piece of music that can be listened to in full or broken up into singular pieces, as seen in the vinyl rollout that followed the 2015 release.
But it is very clear to see, through her social medias and each album’s respective campaign that Diamandis is a champion of engagement. She doesn’t pander to her fans (although she does feel as though Electra Heart inadvertently had done so without her realising until the Lonely Hearts Club Tour kicked off), she follows her calling as an artist and does it effectively. Just take a look at the excerpt below, taken from newly-launched personal blog ‘MarinaBook’ and you’ll understand what we mean.
Diamandis has mastered the art of engagement and while she hasn’t exactly had to make use of crowdfunding, she has spent her career crowd-sourcing her influence and intent and the result is an incredible niche of a community: the Diamonds. When Marina began her career as an artist she may not have felt like one at the time and as a result wanted to distance her personal ideology from her music which saw her beckon the stage-name of Marina and the Diamonds. She was constantly asked if the Diamonds were her band but would fire right back at interviewers saying the Diamonds were intended to be the fans, because she envisioned her persona (if you may) as being an inclusive space for those who just wanted to send a message to the world and watch the reaction. She may not have realised it all the way back in 2007, but over the years and throughout 2017 (which saw her release a collaboration with Clean Bandit – and also her first track since the release of FROOT), she has opened doors to a plethora of fans and artists alike who all share similar ideals but remain close to their personal aspirations – evident even more so in the lyrics of Disconnect which saw Marina begin the transition from FROOT into her own personal development, all the while still maintaining frequent engagement.