Kickstarter Ethics And The Future Of Music
Kickstarter, a crowd funding website focused on creative projects, launched in 2009 and has quickly become a go-to resource for artists, musicians, filmmakers, writers, and designers to receive the money they need to get their ideas off the ground.
Backers can discover projects based on their interests or search by region to fund a project in their own communities. The perks of being a Kickstarter investor are not just the warm and fuzzy sense of supporting creative work, however: projects allow you to pledge at a variety of price points with corresponding rewards. Pledge $5, for example, and you’re likely to get a handwritten thank you note. Compensation for higher price points can vary: baked goods, tote bags, private dinners with the creators of the project, or copies of the album or publication being funded are all common rewards. Project creators do not have to pay up front (Amazon, which processes the payments, and Kickstarter each take 5% of the earnings) and project backers are refunded if the project does not reach its goal, so it’s relatively low-risk for everyone involved.
It is without question that, in these bleak economic times, the way artists earn a living (if they can support themselves through their work at all) needs to be reexamined, and many believe that crowd funding is the way of the future. However, the shift has not been without hiccups; when fans are investors rather than just supporters after the fact, the extent to which artists should answer to their supporters is up for debate.
Musician Amanda Palmer recently brought attention to Kickstarter after her extraordinarily successful campaign to fund her new album passed the $1 million mark. However, Palmer learned firsthand that crowd funding brings a new level of scrutiny to creative project when her decision to ask local, “professional-ish” musicians to play with her on stage in exchange for “beer and hugs” sparked controversy. Palmer herself would profit from ticket sales and the musicians and crew touring with her would also be compensated.
The discussion that followed covered an impressive amount of ground at lightning speed. Palmer’s immense online presence, after all, is universally considered the reason for her Kickstarter success. In addition to quite a few personal anecdotes and rants on her blog, Palmer broke down the distribution of the Kickstarter funds. Most of the expenses were related to production of physical copies of the album, an accompanying art book, and, yes, the tour to promote it – a detail that did not go unnoticed by her critics.
The general consensus of those offended by Palmer’s plea for volunteers is that it reinforces the idea that it is okay for artists creating revenue to go unpaid – a problem which many people believe to be at the root of the music industry’s problems. Notable contributions to this side of the debate included a particularly touching letter from a struggling musician and a string of endlessly quotable and often profane comments from legendary musician and producer Steve Albini, who has worked with countless artists including the Pixies and Nirvana.
Palmer has since pledged to compensate all musicians on stage with her, but it seems likely that similar debates over the financial choices of crowd funded artists will continue. The relationship between art and business will always be a tense one, but as crowd funding becomes a more prominent business model, creative types must continue to innovate in order to avoid going from one broken system to another.
Written by Tricia Gilbride