If you read my last column, you know I'm not only steeped in a rich history of major label music, but also well-aware of its demise. This is not saying there's anything wrong with the music industry and that I'm ringing the bell of death this week. On the contrary. I'm heralding a new era of freedom, an era brought on by independent artists, but made lucrative and real by you.
At the start of the independent-on-the-internet age, artists would simply scrimp and save for a year, make a basement recording and hope they'd sell some on their self-made website, or via CD Baby. I know very few artists who've gained success via this route. So then many of them resorted to giving away their CDs partially free or by donation. Better, but desperate. Then came Kickstarter a few years ago and now I think they've really figured this out.
Kickstarter found a way for artists to propose a project, make a plea, and ask you, the fans to contribute. In return fans are promised some sort of great return: downloads, tickets to a show, autographed items, the free finished CDs, or even a house concert if you can reach that level. It's much like a PBS fund drive but with Downton Abbey showing up at your home for $5,000.
This process has proven well, obviously, for artists on the outskirts of radio but with fan followings. "Gay Pimp" Jonny McGovern recently raised enough money to fund a video for every song on his album Gayest of All Time, while Kiki and Herb/Shortbus star Justin Vivian Bond just completed and shipped Silver Wheels, a covers/concept CD that's worth the wait.
Kickstarter has also proven to be a breeding ground for discovering and helping new artists to find a following. I've discovered one of my favorite bands Hi Fashion there, and now they've gone on to score two decent hits with "I'm Not Madonna" and "Amazing."
Even established acts like Tony Award-winner Levi Kreis (Million Dollar Quartet) and former Bongos singer Richard Barone are in on the act. But the biggest success so far goes to former Dresden Doll Amanda Palmer, who raised over a million dollars for her new project. Needless to say she made one damn fine album for that.
It doesn't stop at music. You can fund visual arts, food, dance, live shows and event theater productions. Showgirls the musical is even opening this weekend at the 773, funded totally by you, darlin'. New projects pop up hourly. Currently you can fund projects by "Where Have All The Cowboys Gone" singer Paula Cole and System of A Down's Serj Tankian.
The old label system is gone, and with it the starving artist beholden to their advances and contracts. You're the MAN now. Who knows, you could one day say you helped the next Madonna or Adele work on their debut album. She's out there, go find (and fund) her.