Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Money Up Front

My musical investments

What’s the most you’ve paid for an album? Earlier this year, I committed to spending £65 on an unfinished album by an unsigned act via PledgeMusic.

The album was Songs For Crow and the act was Red Kite, a new band led by Daniel Fisher. Dan was a key member of The Cooper Temple Clause, who as you may (nay, should) know are my favourite band of all time, so I was thoroughly excited when I found out he had decided to return to music. He released a clutch of demos a couple of years ago, and it was clear even then that something special was brewing. His new material is perhaps more conventional that the Coopers’ everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink approach, but it’s no less compelling or invigorating. The blistering Montreal with its rapid-fire lyrics is their most immediate track, but there’s also more expansive moments such as the stunning No Painter of Note which starts as an acoustic lament and blossoms into a Danny Elfman-style orchestral movement.

Anyway, this isn’t meant to be a review of the Red Kite album, but more a rumination on the nature of funding music, so let’s get back on topic. My £65 didn’t just get me a (signed) copy of the album, it also got me:

  • A bunch of extra songs that didn’t make it onto the album
  • A handwritten and personalised lyric sheet of the Red Kite song of my choice (I went for Montreal);
  • My name on the liner notes (the second time this has happened, but only the first time it’s been warranted – I’m credited on Elbow’s Cast of Thousands  despite not actually being in the audience for their show at Glastonbury that they sampled)
  • An iPhone acoustic performance of the Red Kite song of my choice (I went for The Good Ship Adventure, one of the extra songs that didn’t make the album, because I – perhaps incorrectly- believe it’s about Dan’s time in the Coopers);
  • A USB stick loaded with videos, photos, and the audio stems of Montreal for me to (never) remix

All in all, a reasonably fair return for my investment. There were lots of other investment options too (you can see them all here), including hiring members of the band to give you personal guitar and drum lessons, becoming an “executive producer” so you could witness the album being mastered, and even having the band write and perform a song for you.

Another Coopers alumnus Tom Bellamy is also using PledgeMusic to raise money for his band Losers’ second album And So We Shall Never Part. I’ve invested far less in this album – a mere £22 which will get me a copy of the album plus a copy of the remix album (something I’ll probably only listen to once, but hey). Losers are offering some particularly bizarre investment opportunities (again, you can see them all here) such as a cooking lesson and wine night at Eddy Temple-Morris’ house, a dinner and DJ set at your house, and the chance to have them remix one of your songs. Much as I’d like to send Tom one of my poorly recorded ‘songs’ from 2008 performed on an out-of-tune acoustic guitar and tell him to make it sound like Panzer Attack, I haven’t got a spare £600 to flutter away on such frivolities.

Part of me thinks this is an amazing way of letting fans access a band and be part of the experience of an album launch, whilst raising capital and generally avoiding the machinations of the record industry. But I’m also slightly concerned that it’s akin to whoring yourself out, complete with set rates for various 'favours'. It also erodes the mystique of the artist, but I guess social media is a far more abrasive agent in that respect.

There is no doubt however that this is the way forward, or at least, one of the ways forward. Gone are the days when record companies would pay artists eye-watering advance fees to get coked up and record an album in a glitzy LA studio. My favourite anecdote/myth from this era is the one about how the major labels were fighting over themselves to sign a then up-and-coming Mansun. One company tried to get to the front of the queue by sending a prostitute and a crate of booze to singer Paul Draper’s house. He sent the lady back, but not before plucking a bottle of champagne from the crate.

Increasingly, artists are (voluntarily or otherwise) circumnavigating the traditional means of music finance and distribution. Amanda Palmer and Patrick Wolf have crowdfunded successful albums whilst Marillion have got their fans to stump up for a whole string of albums and tours. And then of course there’s John Otway. Because I’m too lazy to do my own research, I’m going to use James’ notes on him word for word:

"In an odd way, John Otway was a crowd-sourcing pioneer. He convinced 1,000 fans to pay - if memory serves - £5 each to sing on the B-Side to Bunsen Burner, his cover of House Of The Rising Sun. He explains this, seemingly, at the start of the video, because each fan that paid then went on to buy a copy of each version of the single (three in all) which then put it to - again, if memory serves - number 7 in the charts. 

So the fans pay for the recording of the single then pay for the single three times over. 

He kept trying to do this shit, as well, and almost got 150 fans to pay for the world tour which - I think - they would have travelled with him on. Basically, a chartered plane and such. 

Also, there's now Otway: The Movie. Funded by fans. I kid you not." 

I’m sure other models of financing new music will emerge in the years to come, and it may well be that there is no longer one definitive model to which the industry is bound. And that can only be a good thing, even if it means artists now have to start getting a little closer to their fans then they may like. They may have to endure giving a guitar lesson to a lunatic devotee, but at least they’re not selling their body parts. Not yet, anyway.

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