An Argument For Fan Funding: “I’d Rather Be Owned By My Fans Than By A Record Company.”

image from www.lojinx.com Brian Hazard rattled some cages with his argument against fan-funding. So much so that several executives from leading fan-funding companies took notice and weighed in their opinions. I thought it was worth challenging an artist on this matter.

Bleu, a singer-songwriter-producer, set a goal of $8,000 for his Kickstarter campaign. Almost overnight, 387 fans jumped into the mix and contributed nearly $40,000 to his cause. He didn't need to get the album funded. Rather, he just needed to cover the expenses of distributing and properly marketing his album.

All of these questions are based on assertions that Hazard made in his essay.

For example, Bleu took home an extra $32,000 from his fans. From Hazard's perspective, who contended that preorders are nobler than fan-funding efforts, taking that money could be considered dishonest in a way. Since, it greatly exceeded the initial need. Hazard says, "why should your fans pay to promote something they already bought?" It's an interesting way to look at it. Bleu was kind enough to assert his opinions on Hazard's and share this thoughts on this.

How were you able to raise $40,000?

Bleu: There's been a lot of speculation and conversation about this from folks in our camp, and other musicians hoping to run successful campaigns. I think the simple answer is that I have a very dedicated fan-base. I certainly don't have a particularly large fan-base; there were approximately 380 people who donated all of that money. But I believe their interest in, and support of my career is a key factor. I've been working hard to make good music for a long time now, and I believe the people who've followed me over the years have a true appreciation of that. It might be important to look at "who my fans are" as well.

I hate to generalize, but I think my fans tend to be between the ages of 25 and 55, are generally well educated, and fairly liberal (my sincere apologies to anyone who might be offended by this characterization, I have a great love of all my fans).

Although I have no scientific evidence on which to base this statement, it's occurred to me that this particular demographic might be a bit more prone to generosity in the form of "charitable donation," especially when informed of the circumstances of my particular situation. I think these people appreciate the opportunity to help someone that they identify with, and there might be a specific enjoyment in "sticking it to the man" so-to-speak.

Is it dishonest to take $32,000 extra?

Bleu: That's a very interesting way to put it. There's an enormous amount of transparency associated with Kickstarter (the site I used facilitate my fan-funding). A second-by-second tally of the money you've raised is emblazoned on the front of a Kickstarter page. So no one was under any illusion that I raised my initial $8,000-goal in a matter of hours. After a goal is reached, it's really up to each individual's fan-base to decide how much they want to support their artist.

It's funny, but I think some people were actually motivated to donate precisely because I exceeded my goal in such a short period of time. It created a certain amount of excitement. The notes that people were leaving definitely let us know that they were psyched about what we were doing, and having fun watching to see how far it could go. I'm pretty sure we were all flabbergasted by the end sum.

Do you feel like your fans own you now?

Bleu: They owned me before this! But seriously, ownership is not quite the right word. I consider it to be more like a relationship.

I think to some degree that we are involved in each other's lives. But, if you're saying there has to be some sort of ownership involved, I guess I'd much rather be owned by my fans than by a record company.

Will you be able to take this route again?

Bleu: That remains to be seen. I'm fascinated to see how this model develops. I would absolutely love it if it could become a real way for smaller artists to sustain their careers directly through their dedicated cult fan-bases. I know I've personally enjoyed donating to other campaigns. It feels good to put money right into the hands of the musicians I love, and knowing that the outcome of that donation will simply be more great music.

Could you have done pre-orders instead?

Bleu: We certainly could have done pre-orders, but I don't think there would have been as much excitement about the project, and we certainly wouldn't have raised as much money. Obviously, the "big ticket items" such as writing a birthday-song for a fan, or doing a full-production in the studio, could not have happened with simple pre-orders, and those are part of what helped us raise so much money (and provide an interesting way to interact with the fans).

What did Kickstarter do that you couldn’t do?

Bleu: We would have had to hire a programmer to develop a site as elegant and easy to use as Kickstarter (which would have been prohibitively expensive).

I think in the future, we'll see some bigger bands doing just that (I'm very interested to see what those will be like) but for smaller acts such as myself, it's wonderful to have this sort of site to facilitate fan-funding.

Is fan-funding the future of creative endeavors?

Bleu: I'm sure it won't be the only thing, but I definitely hope that it will be a part of the new landscape that's developing. It certainly seems like an effective way for artists with small but dedicated fan-bases can forward their careers.

Are there any downsides to fan-funding music?

Bleu: There is no perfect model. I'm sure we'll see some flaws as it develops. But right now, it feels fresh and exciting. The idea is so simple. Use technology to cut out the middle-man and put the money that fans want to spend on music directly into the hands of the musicians they love.

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  1. Congratulations to Bleu on an incredible campaign! I find nothing about it dishonest or ignoble. I won’t go into the many ways these “straw man” questions mischaracterize my argument, because my article and comments are there for anyone willing to take the time to read and understand them.

  2. Hey Brian in all fairness, most of the articles you published in the past have been very helpful, and i personally enjoy them very much, having said that. It really surprised me when you released the article against fan funding. See the way I see it, anything that can help an indie artist fund a project is very valuable, especially in an “industry” which looks more like a hobby more and more everyday. I would love to have my project funded by fans as opposed to by a label. And I will definitely try this approach.

  3. Thanks Chris! I’m certainly not advocating that you should run out and find a label. I simply suggest that if you’ve got the fanbase to make this sort of campaign work, you might be better off running it from your own site.

  4. In Brian’s defense, I don’t really consider Kickstarter the kind of fan-funding he was referring to. There are several sites (slicethepie.com, sellaband.com, etc.) that more closely fit the model Brian was writing about. Kickstarter is more like a customizable, incentive based pre-order program. Fan-funded? Yes. But not fan controlled. With other fan-fund sites, you are sharing the profits after the fact with your fans… which means (in my mind) they are no longer fans. They have become investors. They may still be fans of the music but their motivations and rationalizations change. They have switched their mindset from “I like that music” to “will that music sell?”. The artist ends up making decisions and choices that are influenced by the “owners”, not much different from the dynamic that exists when you are signed to a label.
    It’s worth noting that I am a fan of Bleu. I have all his work. And yes… I contributed a substantial amount (well above a retail CD price) to his campaign. And I did it well after he reached his initial goal. Do I feel like I “own” him? Do feel like he owes me? Not in the least. He offered up value for those “investments” that I thought (given I would have bought the album anyway) were worth it. I was (and still am) excited that I got to be involved.
    Kickstarter is a wonderful tool if used correctly and at the correct time. It won’t work for every artist but it is worth investigation and study.

  5. According to Bleu’s campaign, the music industry is changing.
    For $450, Bleu will cook you and your friends a meal.
    For $550, Bleu will write you a birthday song.
    For $850, you can write a song with Bleu
    For $1,200 you get a 1 hour concert from Bleu
    This isn’t a new business model, as people have been doing this for decades. Where have I seen it? Charity auctions. Non-profit organizations raise money auctioning goods and services EXACTLY like this. This is the problem I have with fan funding, and I think this is Brian’s main problem too. This isn’t an innovative new business model, this is turning the music industry into a charity. I’m just not comfortable with this.
    It’s absolutely amazing that Bleu raised $40,000. In fact, if he was doing this to generate money to fight breast cancer, or buy teaching supplies for the local school, I would be in awe. It would be the top story in the local news. Instead, this saddens me because society as a whole no longer values music the way they used to. It’s a commodity. Yes, 387 people GREATLY value the music of Bleu, and that IS awesome. Record labels left because the money left. When financial support of an industry is shrinking, and not expanding, this isn’t something to celebrate, it’s something to mourn. This isn’t cutting out the middle man, this is the middle man getting out of the buggy whip business.
    Remember when successful DIY indie bands made $40,000 by selling 4,000 copies of their album? It wasn’t easy, but it was possible for those who worked hard, and it was respectable. Are people going to respect you when you tell them you charged $450 to cook some fans dinner? Or $5,000 to “allow” someone to sing on your album? Since this isn’t to fight breast cancer, it’s just getting too close to “escort” territory for my comfort. Remember when there used to be a stigma about artists caring about money? Now, they’ve done a 180, charging for things like dinner and singing together.
    Isn’t this THE definition of selling out? If not, what is? Where are the limits here? What about: $10,000 to stay in The Four Seasons Hotel with Bleu has he “serenades” you.
    If you don’t mind being a charity and will sell your love and devotion, then fan funding is for you.

  6. I think this is a pretty negative spin, Monty.
    You said:
    “…society as a whole no longer values music the way they used to.”
    This simply untrue. And this belief has been a big obstacle in solving some of the problems surrounding this new music business.
    The truth is that people value Bleu’s music SO MUCH, they want to connect with him. So they are willing to pay to do it. So what. Does this make him a “sell out”? I guess so. But if you aren’t “selling out”, why bother to do music for a living at all? Why fight piracy? Or license for a TV show? Isn’t that “selling out”? Wouldn’t sharing your art for free be the “respectable” thing to do?
    I guess I have trouble with the fact that you’re having trouble with where to draw the line. If you expect to stay in this business and get paid by ONLY selling and performing your music, then you need to start researching some new career paths.
    Bleu is a professional singer and songwriter. If he wants to keep doing that, he needs to find or create as many revenue streams as possible. If he doesn’t, then he’ll have to do something else to pay the bills. And (being a fan) I would rather SEE him walk the “service provider” line and get to HEAR his work, than to have him disappear from view (and sound) altogether.

  7. I ran a successful project through Kickstarter and may do so again in the future. What I loved about it was that I could offer those who support the music some unique incentives through a formatted platform. I’ve been “signed” twice and the album was delayed for a few years bc of the runaround.
    Being “independent” will only take you so far…but I think both Bleu and myself are doing just fine, eh?

  8. As Bleu’s manager, when I receive an email from a fan like the one I’ve pasted below, I know we did the right thing by trying out Kickstarter and offering a few premium rewards that allow fans to interact directly with Bleu.
    The bulk of his pledges were essentially pre-orders for the new CD and/or a limited edition T-shirt, a very standard music industry transaction, simple, straight forward, and yes…all of these pre-order pledges cut out the middle man.
    With the exception of the “cook a meal” reward, most of Bleu’s premium packages were/are for services that artists still get paid for (traditionally). Services that Bleu gets hired for outside of a Kickstarter campaign. What we did was make these services available to fans, instead of to the music industry…
    Bleu works as a professional songwriter & producer as well as being an artist. Having a fan pay for a house concert performance is the same as getting paid at a venue. Being hired to write a custom jingle for a commercial is the same as writing a custom “birthday” song. And the premium package that sold out in four days, “have Bleu produce a song for you” – is a highly skilled service that some people still get paid silly money to do for artists…($10k, $20k + per song)
    sooooo…I don’t really see where Bleu has “sold out” or offered up his wares (CDs), services and SKILLS inappropriately.
    Are people going to respect Bleu for charging $450 to cook a fan a reward dinner? I dunno, why don’t you ask Denize in Boston who had this to say after Bleu cooked her dinner:
    “Hi Stacey! Dinner was incredible! It was so neat to hang out with Bleu the person (Im still a little startruck, tho…LOL) We had a blast and there will be pictures to come as soon as I can figure out what’s wrong with my computer…Sarah Borges is also one of my all time favorites and J invited her to dinner. Talk about starstruck! I was having palpitations for most of the week, nevermind Friday night!!! The two talked shop and we drank wine and laughed and ate! OH, the food!!! YUMMMM…LOL…I’m beyond delighted that this kickstarter was so successful for you guys! Thank you so much for this little part we had in it! It was an evening to remember!
    I hope she doesn’t mind I posted her email without asking her, but I was pretty happy to receive her feedback. I think making connections with fans like this is amazing and has nothing to do with selling out.

  9. Great responses everyone! Sorry for my slow response during the holidays.
    “The truth is that people value Bleu’s music SO MUCH, they want to connect with him.”
    What I mean is that less people are paying more money for music. Yes, this is still a huge niche market, as Bleu has proven. But I see many artists, their music is MORE popular than it’s ever been, and yet they are making LESS money than they ever have.
    “If you expect to stay in this business and get paid by ONLY selling and performing your music, then you need to start researching some new career paths.”
    You couldn’t have stated my point more clearly. There should be a business model around only selling and performing music. But, instead of the industry focusing on re-inventing their core business, many are claiming “re-invention” when it’s really an entirely new business. A business that eerily resembles non-profit fund raisers, charity auctions, etc.
    “Bleu is a professional singer and songwriter. If he wants to keep doing that, he needs to find or create as many revenue streams as possible.”
    My previous singing teacher has two albums. She’s a singer and a songwriter. But, to pay the bills she teaches full time. Does that make her a professional singer and a songwriter? In the 90s, this would be thought of as a “day job” until she “makes it.”
    I have no problem with the CD and T-Shirt pre-orders, or shows.
    Charging a fan to write a birthday song, produce a song for them, or sing together, is really what my past guitar teachers and singing teachers have done. Like I said to Jeff, this used to be what artists did waiting to “make it” did.
    Now, artists that have “made it” are doing what the neighborhood singing teacher is doing to pay the bills. It’s a sad state of affairs.
    Does an actress who also is a waitress make her any less of an actress? Not necessarily
    But, if Angelina Jolie starts working the local diner again because people don’t buy movies anymore, the movie industry will have met the fate of the music industry.
    That doesn’t make Angelina Jolie any less talented, but it would mean the movie business is no longer is a business, it’s a really expensive hobby. And, if she starts charging people to cook them dinner, it’s become a real expensive charity.

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