Recently, my band Katagory V created a crowdsourcing campaign to finance the release of our latest album, which had been completed (recorded, mixed, and mastered) over three years ago. As much as Silicon Valley seems to laud this as “the way” to finance a musician’s work, I personally was very resistant to it for a long time. This was more of a moral issue for myself than one of not wanting to “get with the times”, as we artists are so often accused of. Recently, however, it became far more than a moral problem; it became a political one, too.
Don’t get me wrong. I think the whole crowdsourcing concept is brilliant. It’s a fantastic way to kick-start your craft if you have no capital to work with and arejust getting started as a band, filmmaker, writer, etc. It is something I wish had existed when I started my musical endeavor years ago. However, the more I look at it concerning my own band which has existed for 15 years, I feel like we are essentially panhandling. It is one thing, in my opinion, to use this to “kickstart” your dream career, it is another creature all together when you rely on it as your sole source of income to maintain it.
With that said, let’s not mince words here and just call it what it really is — crowdsourcing is panhandling on the internet. I can’t be the only person that sees it this way…or am I? I was raised to believe that hard work and perseverance gets rewarded, and when you reap these rewards, you do so with absolute humility. Panhandling completely negates what I was taught. Granted, people who contribute get “perks” or a finished product IF…if it succeeds. However, it is still asking for money for something that doesn’t actually exist yet. Money for a promise: this is where my moral compass just spins out of control. Are we asking consumers, our fans, to become investors now?
The part that goes beyond my moral problems with this is that we are not crowdsourcing our unreleased album to get our career started, rebooted, as a noble cause, or even to try and break away from the whole record label cycle. We are doing it because after three years, we have no other choice. Labels are reluctant to take risks or give advances, consumers are using streaming or free options, both of which obviously pay us nothing, and we don’t have any more capital ourselves to fund it. Nothing is more frustrating or humiliating than doing something that you find absolutely immoral AND politically backwards, yet knowing that you HAVE to do it as a means to an end. There is no Plan B or C; this is the ONLY plan left. It’s very ironic, but one of the songs we had written for this unreleased album, “I Am Change,” lyrically and inadvertently prophesied this very situation.
When I told the members of my band that I was going forward with this panhandling scheme, I insisted that our campaign bio had to explain to our fans WHY we were doing it. Unlike most artists doing these funding projects, I wanted it spelled out in big bold letterson the front page of the campaign, that thanks to the “new boss,” we had no choice but to have our fans directly fund our work. Otherwise, this album would never be released.
There are several paragraphs in our campaign explaining what has happened in the music business in the last decade, why our “middle-class” band had been forced at gunpoint to climb aboard the express train to “poverty,” and why we are now holding out our hands, begging for spare change. By laying out the truth and thus risking the possibility of being viewed as sniveling and whiny, we may be pushing our potential contributors away.
Why would these potential contributors be turned off? Because NO ONE likes cry-baby musicians. They literally tune them right out. Music consumers don’t want to hear our problems. They just stuff cotton in their ears and mouse click over to the next free meal. And you know what? I don’t care…it’s already been three years. I can wait another three, ten, or even twenty years if it means standing my ground on how I feel about the digital age and how we as artists are being bent over the proverbial barrel more than ever in the history of the music business.
The band was surprisingly supportive of this idea to add this segment to the campaign. I had been preaching this possible doomsday scenario to them (and anyone else who would listen) as far back as 2007. I always knew it was going to get worse before it got better when we started recording this album back in 2010; I just never imagined it would get THIS bad with no real resolution in sight. I can’t help but wonder if this is the end of days for music.
Our fans (and others looking to contribute) need to know the truth. Of course we want people to contribute; we want this album out there just as much as our fans do, or else we wouldn’t have resorted to creating a panhandling campaign! If it doesn’t work, this album is going to go back on the shelf indefinitely. Even if people don’t contribute and they walk away from it with a little education and a better understanding of how things work (or don’t work) in the world of music today, I will personally feel a little better about having to resort to this fundraising tactic. I can only hope we don’t ever have to take this route again.
The financial ecosystem in which our band had worked under for over a decade has been eradicated. It’s as if we are living out that John Carpenter movie, “They Live.” The music industry isn’t even an industry anymore; they/we are the puppets of this new boss. We put in thousands of dollars of our own money into this album thinking that things would get better, that someone would find this miracle “new business model” that would restore the balance to the force, and that we would at least see a return that would pay back our expenses. This has yet to happen and, sadly, probably never will. So now, after three years of waiting for the other shoe to drop, we decided to stop bruising our backsides from sitting on the fence, swallow our pride, and fund our music by turning our band into a PBS pledge drive. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be panhandling for my career in music.
Bassist/songwriter – Katagory V