As a result of digitalization and widespread piracy, music album sales are less than half what they were a decade ago. The trend forces many artists to produce albums independently. An increasing number of musicians are circumventing major record labels by using crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter.
In a recent report, NPR’s Frannie Kelley explains the pros and cons of crowdfunding in the music industry. The upside of crowdfunding is the savings on record label fees. It has also provided the opportunity for those with no shot at being signed to expand their work and pursue their passions—a privilege unavailable to most aspiring artists today. Musician Amanda Palmer, for instance, amassed $1.2 million last summer through a Kickstarter campaign.
While we will certainly see more crowdfunding for musicians in the near future, taking this path also has a price. Kelley speaks to Gathigi Gishuru, also known as Thig, whose Seattle-based hip-hop group The Physics raised $11,721 to release an album last month. She also talks to Terre Roche, a veteran artist who once toured with her sisters as The Roches, a band that has released more than a dozen major label albums since 1975. After the group’s dissolution last year, Roche tried crowdfunding to finance an album for her new group, Afro Jersey. She believes crowdfunding is “the now,” but Roche told Kelley it was awkward to request money from her Facebook friends. She failed to raise half her $21,000 goal.
I got in touch with Sam Tall, CEO of Under the Window Records and a music business student at New York University, to help explain why crowdfunding doesn’t always work.
“Crowdfunded music projects are only feasible for artists who have a very dedicated following,” says Tall. “I’m glad it’s providing an opportunity for artists, but I’m a bit distraught that it demotivates talented ones who happen to fall short and suddenly believe they’re not worth anyone’s time.”
Tall agrees with Roche’s assessment that crowdfunding has been relevant to music for the past year and a half, but he has a “gut feeling that it’s on its way out, and there’s still plenty of room for a more traditional business model that takes advantage of new perspectives.”