Dec 102013

(Alain Mower returns with another guest post designed to stir up some discussion.)

Who’s up for a debate?

While the countless broken bodies of ‘could-have-beens’ and ‘never-weres’ lay strewn under their feet, the creators of successfully crowdsourced albums have sent out ripples that have quickly become tidal waves, and – at least for this moment in time – it seems as though crowdsourcing is here to stay.

$375 poorly hand-stenciled “metal” jackets from Urban Outfitters, also here to stay?

But is it the future?

For the longest time, we, as consumers, have been trying to stick it to the industry. Some would argue rightly so, as we had to deal with egregious markups and the availability of only industry-selected music for so long, while others would say that we are overstepping the boundaries of the audience – artist relationship, but that is for another time. The truth of the matter is that up until recent years, with the advent of Bandcamp – and, to a lesser extent, Spotify – music consumers have been crippling the industry through illegal downloads while simultaneously struggling with how to get money to the artists directly.

While less evident of a problem in niche music audiences (i.e., Metalheads!), where music collecting is somewhat of a rite of passage into the culture, it’s still something with which that all artists trying to make a living off of being a musician must constantly struggle.

And then, boom, crowdsourcing…

Pictured here, the middle man.

…whether evaluating Protest the Hero’s $125,000 goal turned into the $340,000 small fortune, or the more modest Velnias’s $13,000 turned $14,000.

Which brings us to the question, is it right to ask for money in advance of a finished product? I mean, you’re essentially asking for something for nothing, without even a promise of free chicks? That’s crazy talk.

Also, as most bands have to have a pretty established career and a consistent history of awesome final products before they can even entertain the notion of significant crowdsourcing, will this lead to restructured label contracts that will aim to keep more popular bands on rosters earlier in their career?

Could this restrict funds for newer up-and-coming bands until they can somehow break through all of the noise and get noticed?

Thoughts, opinions, shouts of elation, cries for blood? Leave ‘em in the comments.


  1. Great topic! I want to address one statement though:

    “you’re essentially asking for something for nothing”

    Not necessarily true. Most crowd-sourcing efforts have tiered reward systems, so the donator is almost always getting something in return even if they’re only giving, say, $5. And the major crowd-source platforms like Kickstarter only fund the project if the goal is reached. So there’s at least some small degree of a “safe” investment, and you’re most certainly getting something in return (if the project is funded).

    As for the “ethics” of it… still a gray area. If you’re asking for money for something you haven’t even started/have nothing to show for, that throws red flags up for me personally. As a donator I want to see some degree of comfort knowing you’re truly working on something cool and that you’re passionate about it.

    Working with a (proudly) label-less band, the idea of crowd-sourcing has been tossed around a few times. I think the most “appropriate” way to use crowd-sourcing is to help fund physical releases, as this is easily one of the most cost-prohibitive things a band can do working solo (hiring artists, package designers, CD/vinyl/tape-reproduction, and distribution costs is no joke). Using crowd-sourcing to fund cool physical products that fans want to have could act as a sort of “pre-order”, with donators in the appropriate tiers being rewarded with the finished product, along with digital downloads for all supporters. That seems the most “ethical” to me, from a small band perspective.

    • To play a little devil’s advocate in regards to the ‘something for nothing’, what about Blake Judd of Nachmystium and White Wizard’s recent troubles? Yes, these are absolutely extreme scenarios, but to think that every fan who ordered something or paid for something is going to get what the put in or expected to get out back is crazy talk. Nothing is truly promised in this way, yeah?

      I side with you on the aid for physical release formats for smaller bands, I know that my previous groups have always had issues with trying to order the right number of physical products (whether shirts or singles or cds) and having an upfront idea where the money is already being pledged on what people would want takes so much monetary pressure off of the shoulders of the musicians because they can know that they aren’t just going to watch any of their stock rot away in a box because no one needed XL shirts, etc.

      • Ah, a fair point indeed! I do think what they did there is very much in the muddy waters of “I don’t know”. I mean, if fans are willing to put down their hard earned money to support a band in need for nothing in return, who am I to question that? Nobody “forced” them to pay for those damages, they voluntarily offered up their money. It becomes another thing entirely if the band was being manipulative and exaggerated their claims of money lost. But that’s on the donator to evaluate that risk and trust the band. And it’s the band’s reputation on the line if it’s discovered they’re lying/being manipulative.

        Classic producer/consumer market relationship.

  2. “Could this restrict funds for newer up-and-coming bands until they can somehow break through all of the noise and get noticed?”

    I don’t think this is going to be a big blow to new bands, since most of them are starting with nothing. They face the same obstacles they always have. In terms of asking for money for nothing, doesn’t Kickstarter not actually take the money until the goods are delivered? I don’t see a problem so long as the supporters know what they’re signing up for. I am a little disturbed at the thought of that consultant potentially losing his job, he looks to be quite the hard worker from the picture.

  3. My comment is a bit off-topic as I really have no opinion on crowdsourcing. My thoughts relate to that exorbitantly priced “battle-jacket”. I hate it when celebrities like Chris Brown wear these sort of things as if they’re some sort of fashion statement, rather than a display of one’s admiration for their bands. I will concede that there is a motivation of fashion behind it, but there’s also sincerity and personalization that makes a battle-jacket more than just a fashion statement.

    I also hate when more expensive brands sell shirts that say things like “Punk” on them. Even if I like said brand, for example, I believe Zara did something like that, but I couldn’t find the shirt on their site.


  4. Is it right to ask for money in advance of a finished product? In the case of crowdsourcing…yes. You had just better deliver on the product you promise to produce or risk earning unending enmity. Personally, I have never donated to a kickstarter, indiegogo, etc. I would, if I found one that inspired me.

  5. i contributed to the fundraiser for Chimaira’s last album. for $10 i got my digital copy three days before the official release and my name included in a really, really long thank-you list in the digital book. i thought that was pretty goddamn fucking awesome.

  6. I donated to the Sockweb one. Still waiting…

  7. I would hope that record labels would take more risks on bands, rather than the bands having to source money from fans.

  8. When Arsis did their crowdsourcing (which I must thank you guys for advertising!) they only did it because their last tour with Hypocrisy hit so many problems that it was a net loss to finish the tour. On top of that, every perk was either directly worth the benefit or just plain cool (haircut from Malone himself or velcro-ball with the band). I donated for the haircut, and the venue wouldn’t let James do the haircut because of “health codes” they gave me reimbursement in signed merch. They were the coolest and most grateful guys about it, and I got to shoot the breeze with them the rest of the night at the merch table. I guess it really depends on the band, but guys like Arsis are worth the cash.

    • I also paid for the haircut thing here in SD. Never heard a thing about it. I would’ve been pissed, but it was a great show nonetheless. And they’re definitely worth the cash.

  9. I could write an actual full blog on this topic. Here is my very short synopsis of thought on this. I put out 3 albums and DVD on a real bonafide badass record label. Profit during that time? NONE. ZERO. ZILTCH.
    I crowd sourced 1 album 5 years later? Made 4x what I had into the project. That is quadruple the investment in 1 fiscal year. And I am still getting royalties for said project every 3 months. Why? Crowdsourcing. Did the fans get exactly what they got before the we split with the label? No. They got more. Direct interaction with the band. Instant results from botched postal problems. And overall, the feeling of being an investor as opposed to a consumer. The game is changing and for the better. Labels will still exist. But there are too many good bands to all be signed to labels. Some bands don’t need labels to handle their shit. I am a business owner in real life. Why take a loan from a record label to record an album and tour when it is recoup-able through album sales and you will never break even? Take a loan from a bank or your own pocket, crowd source the rest and take comfort in the fact that you know EXACTLY when you break even as opposed to sifting through Soundscan reports to see if you paid for the last European tour you shouldn’t have went on. Crowd sourcing is Communism done to perfection. The community pays for what it needs and it gets exactly what it wants. See you guys on the next album!

  10. Obituary did this as well and easily surpassed their initial goals 🙂

  11. I absolutely love the rise of crowdsourcing. I’m a bit surprised at the amount of concern regarding the ethics of it, both in the article and the comments. I really don’t see any ethical problem with paying for something that isn’t finished or done yet. Maybe it’s something to do with my profession – science – where everything is funded by grants where you say ‘we wanna research this, by doing this’ and hope someone will give you money for it. My whole ability to put food on a plate and pay the bills depends on that system, so I guess that probably influences my view of crowdfunding (and there’s also crowdfunding for science websites now too).

    The only ethical question I can think of is when a band/musician makes more than they ask for, and I think most people would hope that they don’t just go blow it and treat it like a bunch of patrons putting in funds so they can keep making music. Of course, as an ‘investor/donor/patron’ there are a few things to look out for as Sean says, and probably the only real conflict would be paying for something that never gets finished. In many ways crowdsourcing is a return to the more patron-style funding of artists, etc. of yesteryear, (still done nowadays of course, but was vital for people like Da Vinci), or which was previously only possible for the mega-rich.

    I think it also pays to keep in mind the wider picture outside music – you can see this more distributed direct lateral economy (as opposed to top-down via record labels, corporations or grant funding) happening in a lot of other areas too, with sites for buying artworks, photography, crafts, and also crowdfunding of movies, books, and even science projects. Because of that breadth, I really think crowdfunding of music is here to stay.

    Also I think in a lot of ways the whole movement seems fueled by a conglomeration of factors like: a resentment of the power of corporations and need for corporate backing or ‘investors’ who seek to return a profit, for things to get done. Pretty much everyone has seen good ideas struggle to get off the ground, or good talents go to waste because they don’t fit in to that traditional economic model, and I think that resentment has helped crowdfunding grow to what it is now. In addition – somewhat ironically since it involves the transfer of money – there’s a kind of hunger out there in the wider world for people to escape the work/get money/buy stuff trajectory of the last half-century and have a more direct relationship to supporting people, and feeling more directly connected to the range of other human endeavours that may not necessarily turn a profit at the end, and crowdfunding has helped fill that void, and with it, a certain emotional disconnection to the world and those in it that modern life can bring.

    • Well put, sir!
      In response to your comment about bands making more then they ask for. I can only speak for my bands’ situation. The first crowd sourcing campaign we did, we asked for a goal of $5,000 and raised over $8,000. This initially looks as if we made a $3,000 profit but in our case was not so. Before we made our campaign go live we set out a budget. We needed $10,000 to do everything we needed to do and our goal was to raise 1/2 of that and the band itself pay for the other 1/2. Our final records showed we spent around $11,000 encompassing all facets of the record so we spent $8,000 of the crowd source and $3,000 of the bands money. It was a blessing. I am sure that some bands out there will put forth a goal over what they actually need and may profit from it but I’m not sure. We always go forth trying to do a 50/50 split between the crowd source and the band to fund an album.

      • Well if you’re OJ from Byzantine, that was a damn fine album worth every cent sir!

        Just to be clear, I’m certainly not against bands getting more than they need from crowdsourcing. If you think of it just as the standard industry model turned on its head – where (at least with some bands) they make money from releases, then making money by having the fans give it to you directly shouldn’t be a problem. Maybe when you get a band like Protest the Hero raising $341,000, then that’s a lot of money and it does raise a few eyebrows! But well, if people want to give it to them, live and let live I say.

        Also, I do find it quite weird that people can be so wary of the idea of musicians getting a profit, where musicians actually feel like they have to justifiy making money. Sure you’ve had the record company CEOs in the past flying around in private jets, or musicians buying mansions from one album, which I think has left it’s mark on the public mind. But if we expect people to make money through their jobs – upskill, train, educate, work hard – and we’re completely okay with that concept, then why shouldn’t musicians who train at their instruments/songwriting/performing, acquire all the techical know-how involved, and gain experience as a musician, not make a decent living as a musician?

        • I don’t think anybody here is arguing that musicians/artists shouldn’t make money or a profit. I think its the method a lot of people are wary about. Broken down to a basic level, crowdsourcing is in essence, begging/asking for money with only a promise of a future product (or in some cases, nothing in return at all). Investing in promises is nothing new to our economy (stock market anybody?) but it is new to the music consumer. Traditionally you make your money selling a finished product, not an “in production” product, so there’s a higher degree of risk that the end product might not be quite worth what you paid for.

          Again, I don’t see anything wrong with this model at all, it opens up a great deal of opportunity for independent artists everywhere. But as has been stated before, it’s very much a “buyer beware” market.

        • Thanks!
          In regards to the latest Byzantine release, we didn’t pocket any of the actual crowd sourcing money. To do it intelligently, you need to make sure the recording costs, mix/mastering costs and the actual costs of supplying all the perks are covered as well. The crowd sourcing perks can cost a good deal added up. Hell, I spent at least $500-$700 on postage alone! Where we made our money was in the actual physical CD’s themselves. We were able to purchase 1,000 pressed copies. Around 200 of those were spoken for in the Kickstarter campaign and promo copies sent to press and marketing. The other 800 we have been selling on our website or at shows. It helps alot. We then turned the profit on the extra CD’s over to new merch. Keep investing the money back into the Byzness and then we don’t have to use our own money to get back and forth to shows and such. I think if we raised the Fuck Ton that Protest the Hero did, we would try to donate a % of the extra money to a charity or something. Cause we are evil like that!

    • I agree with you completely. I actually found myself on your side of the discussion with some friends who weren’t much sold on the concept, so I tried to express the views of all sides in the article, regardless of my thoughts.

      Personally, I’ve participated in a good number of crowdsourced albums and been nothing short of thrilled. My thoughts are, if I would pay $10-15 on their album if I came upon it in a record store or online, why not just pay up front and get the perks of not searching for it AND whatever other cool things the band is putting forward.

      Direct interaction, direct money to the bands I support, direct final products. Doesn’t get much better than that.

  12. Personally I think it puts a lot more onus on the consumer to be careful where they put their money (buyer beware, no less).

    Though of course, the audience/listener/consumer SHOULD have been just as wary with what the labels were putting out. However an entrenched system is often hard to break out of.

    However, it then also puts MORE pressure on the bands (in a good way) to deliver. They REALLY can’t risk dropping a sub-par album, or ripping off their audience now, as it’s not like they’ll have a label to go on the press warpath to ensure damage control.

    Though of course then you could ask whether or not it means bands take less risks because they can’t risk alienating the audience who are now DIRECTLY contributing to their work… but I don’t think that’s too likely, because…

    The type of crowd-sourcing, and the type of crowd-interaction will vary depending on the type of band. Look at Orgy, who tried to fund a lavish lifestyle and some frankly ludicrous pipe-dreams, ignoring the fact that they are/were a one-hit-wonder nu-metal act. People weren’t interested and weren’t prepared to pay.

    Whereas bands with a more creative streak WILL get people funding them who WANT something creative, even surprising. Bands who take risks develop a fanbase who like to see risks taken.

    Essentially I look at it as supporting by pre-ordering an album by the sort of bands I want to continue to see grow and develop. I won’t donate to anything/anyone who clearly already has label backing and funding, nor will I donate to anyone who offers “stupid” perks in an effort to bamboozle gullible teens with more money than sense.

    That’s why it’s both “buyer beware” and also more accountable at the same time – more and more people are learning to recognise a shitty campaign when they see it (offering stupid or worthless perks is an immediate red flag to me, and to a lot of people) and it’s starting to bring about a new system of valuation for music.

    And, oddly enough, I quite like that we’re starting to see an increase in the monetary VALUE attributed to actual music (particularly physical releases) as it reflects a welcome cultural change to where an audience now feels more invested in an artist and their career/output, rather than just existing as blind and tasteless consumers.

    Now will someone please fund us a tour van for next year? I’ll send you each a clipping of body hair for your troubles…

  13. I think crowd sourcing is a pretty cool for an artist, or whoever, to get whatever it is they need money for completed.
    There are two sides that I’ll talk about.
    One. The artist wants to do their thing, and they get signed to a label. They record an album, and the label doesn’t put it out. The label sits on it for numerous secret reasons. The artist gets screwed from my limited knowledge of the subject point of view. The label may also release this album by what they think is right, and the artist may make some money, and the label takes their portion. I think the artists gets screwed, but some go on to get rich and famous.
    Two. The artist wants to do their thing, and they crowd source. They record an album, and they release it privately. They promote it. They sell it. They get all the profit once clear of any debt to get whatever it is they needed the money for. They may not make it big, or get rich, but they took a chance. Some artists seem to start their own label to do it their way. I think, if they’re good enough, that they just do it themselves. The label, if they fail, they just drop the artist anyways.
    I think there are tons of pros and cons, but I’ve got no insight into the industry except for what I see on tv or read about. It just seems artists complain they need a label to make music. I think that’s an excuse because if they put their heart and soul into it they can do it on their own.

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