How Kickstarter is Changing the Fan Experience and the Current Music Business Model

Music fans have always wanted to feel connected to their favorite bands and artists. Whether it’s being noticed at a concert, or meeting them before or after a show, they just want a little something to feel closer and more connected to the people they admire. In today’s technological world, fans are much closer than before. Twitter has allowed fans to comment directly to their favorite musicians, sometimes getting a response back, as well as getting some behind the scenes pictures or breaking news directly from the source. While Facebook (and MySpace before it) has essentially taken away the need for fan clubs. Social media, in general, has allowed for fans to feel a stronger connection to the bands and artists they love. However, these are ways that any fan, even the super casual ones, can be connected. Diehard fans always want a little more access.

The biggest issue with being a musician has been, and probably always will be, money. Most people, like myself, shy away from becoming a professional musician because of the lack of consistent money that comes in. Like many other types of artists, musicians who do decide to make music as their livelihood do so because they have a deep passion and love for their art, no matter how much money they make. But ultimately, unless they become well known and revered, money becomes an issue and forces many to find other means of income.

Looking specifically at musicians, especially rock/pop artists, the biggest costs come from making music and touring. Recording can cost thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, and touring can be just as expensive, what with gas, lodging, food, etc. Those that are signed to major labels are given advances to offset the initial costs of these endeavors, but don’t make any profit until they pay back their label (though they usually don’t have to pay back any money that is not recouped). So for independent bands that lack the financial backing, or even those that are signed to smaller labels, it’s hard to pay the bills for recording and touring costs.

This is where Kickstarter (and other sites like PledgeMusic) has changed the game, for both musicians and their fans. Here’s how it works:

Artists have a project they would like to pursue, but don’t have the money to make it happen, or at least to the level they would like to. So they call upon their fan base to donate money to help pay for, or at least offset, the costs. However, the artists award fans that donate money by giving them gifts, which usually vary based on the amount given. These gifts can range from a personalized thank you message to seeing a show for free to having a personal show at your house (sometimes with dinner cooked by the artist). In most cases, there are giving levels that award donors with copies of the album they are helping record, which is where I feel the biggest change is occurring.

Let’s say a band wants to record a new album and decides to set up a Kickstarter to fundraise. They offer a giving level of $20 where donors receive a CD copy of the upcoming album, as well as an instant download of the album when it’s released and a personalized thank you from the band (which are the gifts from the two previous giving levels).  This means that fans can buy the album for about $5-10 more than a CD would normally cost, but not pay for taxes or shipping costs, and know that the money is going directly to the band for the sole reason to produce more music.

Now, you may be saying, “Well what’s the big difference? I can save a few more dollars by buying the CD when it comes out.” To hardcore fans there’s a HUGE difference. By giving money directly to the band or artist they become the financial backers, essentially giving them (the fans) ownership of the project. Yes, it’s a small stake, similar to buying stock in a major company, but that means they are invested in the project, both monetarily and emotionally. They are no longer just the consumers of the music, but they are now producers as well. Fans can come away from this thinking, “Yea. I made that happen,” which is pretty powerful

I’ve personally taken part in a few of these types of endeavors, and have come away feeling extremely satisfied. When I donated money to support the production of Bleu’s album Four, I not only received physical and digital copies of the album, but I gave enough to get a shirt that said I helped out and will (hopefully) be mentioned in the liner notes of his next studio album. Just the other day I donated $20 to The Wood Brothers so that they can tour Europe, even though I have no chance of seeing them on that tour. But because of my donation, I will be receiving copies of the two live albums they are about to put out. I’ve also helped out a few other smaller endeavors for tours and albums. No matter what the project has been, every single time I’ve donated I have come away feeling I have done something positive that not only impacts me, but many others as well. Because of this, my band, New Inhabitants, is going to try it out and see if we can get some help to record an EP with the hope that there are people who want to feel the same. (Sorry for the shameless self promotion; I promise this will be the only time.)

In the end, it’s always been about the fans. A band’s popularity dictates how much money they make, and profitable bands usually stick around the longest. So all Kickstarter and others are doing is cutting out the middlemen, and allowing the fans to help decide what bands and artists can do. In effect, they are bringing artists and their fans closer together, and as long as there is a mutual trust and appreciation for one another, bands will have a better chance at giving fans what they really want: more music to love.

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