What do the very first UK punk band to release a single and album, a heavy metal pioneer with a net worth of $10 million, the inaugural winner of Pop Idol and a trio of neon-haired ladies that perform covers of classic rock and metal songs in a lounge style have in common?
The answer … The Damned, Dee Snider, Will Young and The Lounge Kittens all have their next album due out on Pledge Music instead of the traditional mainstream route to market.
Do we need record companies anymore then, because if such a diverse group of artistes all feel the need to use this crowd funding route to market than why not all acts? Is the music industry and the money associated with it (£3.5 Billion annually for the UK by recent estimates) about to implode in a flurry of low slung pants and lip-syncing?
Most fans of The Damned will know that holding onto a record deal has been something which the band have spectacularly failed at over the last 40 years. Even Nitro Records run by long time Damned fan and punk aficionado Dexter Holland of The Offspring only held them to one record of their two album deal. Pledge Music in their case gives power back to a band who have just this year sold out The Royal Albert Hall with little or no promotion having only released one new record since 2001, the power of the fan base at its finest.
The band’s Pledge Music campaign for ‘The Damned – New Album’ had hit 182% at time of writing, in 29 days even without a name or release date it had almost doubled expectations thanks to a loyal fan base. Crowd funding is a way therefore for problematic but loved acts to get funding, a sort of Wonga.com for misunderstood musicians.
Will Young on the other hand is an eminently marketable crooner with a known track record of commercially successful releases, it seems in his case the inner artiste is trying to come out and to wrestle control of his career he has gone down this particular avenue and is liberated in doing so.
The Lounge Kittens sing cover versions of popular and not so popular rock, punk and metal songs in a 1940s lounge style, there is not an obvious market for these girls to tap into and it’s hard to imagine a record company taking a chance on this delightfully quirky trio who recently played the Edinburgh Fringe.
These acts do have one thing in common; they all want autonomy. This freedom over an artist’s own marketing and product allows Dee Snider to charge extortionate amounts for two signed Lego characters (£76), or a personal appearance (£150k) or pre-order (right at the bottom of the online catalogue) his new album.
With the prevalence of illegal downloading the money made from just selling music has diminished and now acts are selling a brand, an idea, the ability to get involved with what Pledge Music term a ‘campaign’, the fan is part of the process, an essential cog in the machine that will release their favourite act’s next music, they are interacting in a way not before seen. Previously the closest you could get would be a live concert but more successful artists play larger venues and in doing so disassociate themselves from their own audience.
The cynics will say that its just a way of avoiding record company dues and screwing the punter for the most ludicrous items and there is some truth in that. That argument however means that the artist makes the money instead of an opportunist manufacturer or a multinational music corporation and this furthermore allows them to do what they want, even if seemingly unprofitable or however much of a gamble it may be. What if The Beatles hadn’t persisted past the first 3 record companies that turned them down and come across Parlophone, how poor would the world be without Lennon and McCartney?
The record companies are becoming the supermarkets of the music industry giving us a homogenised risk free product. The record buying public has to take some responsibility though because they buy the product that they are spoon fed, often via prime-time TV series and this further promotes the cycle. Furthermore corporations cannot afford to gamble in the same way any more and that’s where crowd funding comes in. Not since Stiff records let The Damned, an obviously dysfunctional bunch of reprobates, into a studio with resources or Rough Trade offered a smartly dressed but unheard of Johnny Marr a record deal has there been such an opportunity for funding without the catch as there is nowadays. Its just art for art’s sake and no other reason, no advance to pay back, win or lose on you own merits. If an artist can rally their on line support in this day and age it is almost as good as the incessant touring that was once the only route to the public consciousness.
So it seems that without the costly advertising involved and the record company restrictions which that entails, artists are free to release the music that they want. No need to become establishment, no need for an artist to continue ploughing the same furrow, no need to find a company wanting to gamble their shareholders dividends on a radical idea, in fact no one even to stop you selling any old crud to those that want it. In an absolutely free and unhindered music industry anybody can record anything, now that’s an exciting prospect, long live crowd funding it’s the closest to anarchy in the industry that we’re going to get.