Ok, so in this inaugural version of “Venomous Words” I want to visit the whole idea of the internet (eg: crowdfunding and other things) as it relates to the music business–let’s just address the 900lb gorilla in the room straight away.
First, the disclaimer–I am not in the “music business” past this online station or some sort of self-described “marketing guru” (that should be quite obvious); I do not condone or encourage ANY illegal activities online; I speak as a fan with second-hand experience and as a dude who has interviewed several bands and have asked most what they think about this subject in one form or another either in phone calls or on social media discussing the subject; these are also only MY words (other hosts here may or may not agree with my opinion as well as the bands that have been interviewed by Venom staff). I’m basically just a metal head with a keyboard who has an opinion about topics that can affect us all as music fans and will attempt to write this blog as near a third-grade writing level as I can. Of course, I could be dead wrong about things and my opinion could be based in total bullshit and inexperience. Feel free to correct me in the comments.
Recently, a decently-well-established artist who has been playing music for 30-plus years recently stated on social media bands who crowdfund an album or tour are weak, have no guts and how it was an insult to those who have never asked for a dime from their fans in pursuing their dream of success in music. He went on to give some very impressive examples of what he had personally done to make it through the years, but I disagree with his opinion about the bands. In fact, I don’t believe asking for money in the form of an album or tour pre-sale is the same as some form of being on the dole or a sign of weakness. If you are in a band, you want people to hear and BUY your music and merchandise so that you may continue to do what you like or have chosen as a livelihood. It’s like the old saying of, “I need experience to get a job, but I can’t get any experience without a job”. I don’t believe there is shame in asking a friend for some help once in a while as long as it doesn’t become a habit. Sometimes bands need a little help getting over the next hurdle in order to produce something in a manner that best reflects what they deem as a good release schedule or quality level of product and friends—or fans in this case—should see this as a legitimate request while having the option to help or not to help while both sides giving due respect to each other.
Regardless of various opinions of the morality of the situation, sometimes it is necessary to “pay to play” in a local bar or club and in national tours or festivals in order to achieve success. This concept has been slammed by artists, but it still continues as it apparently is good for the venue and artist overall. If the promoter/club owner and band agree on what could basically be called “enrollment fees” for a gig or tour and/or a certain level of “compensation” in some form and everyone finds those terms acceptable, then there should be no problem. After doing this, some bands have said they were young and ignorant and felt they got screwed by clubs for having to do this in the past. I don’t think it can be called “getting screwed” if all terms were followed by both sides. If you are not sure—ask. Have a mentor. Maybe use Google. I would say you are responsible for your band and the decisions made regarding it. There have been several autobiographies written out there which assumedly touch on this subject. Learn from past mistakes, or don’t and take the risk. This is not to excuse shitty promoters or clubs that actively fuck-over bands—those people and establishments should be outed and exposed for their wrong doings.
Topically enough, in the last week there has been a band that went public to the music media stating that unless they get some financial help from their fans, they are breaking up and going away as playing music does not pay the bills. Some would argue that the band should just pack it in and retire and pursue other means of employment straight away. I believe this particular band truly realizes what time it is in their career, is letting their fans decide their fate sooner rather than later and can’t blame them for doing it. There are a lot of reasons for doing this, no doubt—but it all boils down to it is fucking expensive to be a working band. While working towards this goal of success or even some sort of stardom means there will have to be all kinds of sacrifices made, it doesn’t mean one should have to live in abject poverty if there are other options that include benevolent fans willing to help if they know they have an opportunity.
As with the previous paragraph and as I’ve heard it said “there is no money in music” unless you are in an absolutely huge band like the big four-type bands. (In the desire to be transparent, I have never been in a band that has had to struggle with these types of challenges for any length of time.) So for a band that has aspirations of becoming like the big four-type bands, I must ask, “what is the problem with asking the fans you do have for help to financially support a new album or tour? Surely this appeal is nothing more than a voluntary exchange of money for goods or services, right? No one is forcing anyone to do anything against their will”. As long as a band doesn’t expect help and treat their fans like shit if they don’t get it, where’s the issue? In fact, and in my experience, most bands usually sort out something nice for those that choose to help—a signed physical or downloaded copy of the album, video, instrument lessons, VIP passes or something else to show appreciation for those who helped the band out of a jam. Some rewards are better and some rewards are more mediocre. As long as the band uses those funds for the intended and expressed purpose and come through on their end of the agreement, I believe it is a “win-win” for the band and fan as the band is able to put out a new album for the fan and/or tour so the fan gets to see a band they appreciate. I don’t believe anyone could find fault in it if they are honest with themselves…
…except for those that see using crowdfunding or a band paying their way on to a tour or festival or using social media as cheating. These people seem to think because their opportunity wasn’t as great as far as the effort to reward ratio went when they started out, every band starting now should have the same small opportunity for reach as they did in the 80’s or 90’s—technology be damned. They say the bands should do it all themselves and not depend on the fans when, in fact, they aren’t doing it all themselves either as they depend on others to print their album, release it, publicize and distribute it and even sometimes a tour manager for the tour. I guess it is justified because it is those “others” job to do that stuff and the fan shouldn’t be bothered—except when it comes time to ass-up the money for purchasing the album. Letting a fan “assist” if and when needed also give the fan a small sense of ownership, if only in some sort of an emotional state, but it also may add greater loyalty to the band’s brand as well.
One solution to being more “DIY”, is looking into the various ways the internet is there to help them release their album without a messy record contract and all the negative crap that may potentially come from it. Then they could remain in total control of their destiny like they claim to presently be. That means pay a bit for a website to be built and set up, put a store on there and sell .mp3’s if you want to be as DIY as possible. Or use other preexisting ecommerce sites that aren’t hard to set up. Of course, just having an active presence on a band Facebook page might work too, but this won’t have the reach and connections for other stuff that a label might. Of course, a response could be, “we want physical CD’s and vinyl and—geez, I am not able to do all of that shit!! How can you expect me to be able to print all the art and physical media? I’m a musician!”
Exactly. We’re all dependent on someone somewhere—just because you choose not to be dependent on someone in one area that someone else is dependent on, doesn’t mean it is bad or rotten. Check.
I disagree with their attitude because as shown here it makes no sense, could be hypocritical and can only be based in jealousy due to the older band who either doesn’t know how to work modern technology or they cling to an outdated music business model that probably doesn’t even really exist but for a few. Either way, I believe it is based in ignorance, fear or just simple stubbornness as to why they won’t embrace this useful tool at their disposal.
Maybe they miss “the good old days” when there was no ability for a potential fan to preview a new album or just buy the “good” tracks like there is today—I mean, whatta deal, right? You could write a “10-song album” and have half of it filler garbage and half actual good songs with the consumer being be stuck with paying full price for half an album or less worth of decent songs. Makes total sense—most people were doing pretty well financially in the 80’s and 90’s and could afford to spend the $15-$20 on an album. But then somewhere along the line the consumer wised-up and got tired of paying full price for what was only really half an album, not to mention the economy of late has been shit so people are being wiser as to where and how they spend their money. This technology actually protects the consumer in a way and would seem to ensure bands weren’t “phoning in” their new release although people will still buy their favorite band’s new album without previewing it prior to purchase.
Willfully ignoring and even hating modern technology is akin to walking somewhere instead of driving—why would you choose to walk and then complain about how long it takes you and the struggles involved to get there? Much less expect others to make the same choices, and if they don’t they are somehow unworthy of any kind of respect. It’s not like they are spirit cooking with Hillary Clinton here—geez!
What do YOU think? Is crowdfunding a cheater way out or is there some merit to it?
Stay tuned for the next installment where we discuss downloading music…