Quick Thoughts on Crowdfunded Album Production

The interverse is abuzz again over Amanda Palmer after she revealed that her famously raising over $1m on Kickstarter left her broke. She logically claims that the whole campaign was a loss-leader just to get the album done and help her move onto her next thing. Never you mind the fact that she got 12x what the campaign asked, so how in the hell could she have planned it that way, because that’s not what I care about.

What I care about is she’s reminding us all of the potential fame and fortune that awaits if we simply ask strangers for money. She made the concept famous1 during her chat on the International Douche Parade Ted Stage when she talked about essentially begging on the streets and eventually begging online. What resulted was pretty cool, then pretty obnoxious.

You see, I browse sites like Kickstarter quite often. Especially the music section. There’s people who invent cool things and try to get their business off the ground using these platforms. But there’s mostly a bunch of people trying to fund a record or video or some combination of the sort. There’s tons and tons of people like this guy. Absolutely no disrespect to Matt there. I didn’t even listen to his music, have zero relationship with or opinion of him. He’s just an example because his case is fairly typical of what’s out there.

By agreeing to fund Matt, here’s how it plays out for you:

  • Donate $1-9: Thanks!
  • Donate $10-24: You get a digital copy of the finished work
  • Donate $25-49: Digital copy plus physical copy (CD? Doesn’t say as far as I can tell)
  • Donate $50-99: Above plus a hand written lyrics sheet for a select song
  • Donate $100-249: Above plus name in linear notes
  • Donate $250-499: Above plus hand drawn sketch of your choosing

It goes on. He even has some ties to Joe Bonamassa, who is going to donate a guitar to anyone who contributes over $5k. That’s rare and cool. The rest, I get it, you’re asking a lot of money and it’s not like there are a ton of obvious rewards to give out beyond just making a good album.

I know times continue to change and the music industry gets more confusing by the minute… but at some point, isn’t the old belief that hard work, talent and luck2 will get you noticed and get someone to help get your album made? And if that hasn’t happened for any reason beyond luck, shouldn’t you consider other ways to get your music out to the world besides asking for $20k from friends and strangers?

That’s the part that really bugs me. For one, people act as if home recording is limited to the free recorder app on your phone or your grandpa’s squeaky reel-to-reel. That’s obviously not the case at all and there are too many examples of great self-produced music out there to waste time going into detail. For two, why do you even need an album? Everyone listens on Spotify anyway3 so why not record a really solid single so there’s something to distribute and play, but at a fraction of the production cost? Obviously you need an array of songs written if you want to play live, but the self-funded LP seems like such a foolish decision since most bands don’t have 60 minutes of good music and most people wouldn’t listen regardless. Radio plays singles. Spotify, Pandora, etc play mostly singles. Singles still get people noticed.

I think virtually any artist can get a professional recording at home, for the cost of a Macbook and a few decent mics. If you think that somehow a professional recording in someone else’s home will make a difference, skip the full length album in a fancy studio that costs more than your house. If it’s your first attempt at recording music for distribution, stick with a single or EP. You probably don’t even need a Kickstarter to afford it and the results will make you every bit as likely to hit it big.

  1. for musicians, at least
  2. the combination of those ingredients varies wildly, of course
  3. and they listen for free