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Artists and Fans Don’t Fit Together … or Do They?

Artists and fans live in two different worlds. That’s the common belief. When you think of artists you immediately picture big stars, which it seems like make their millions without a struggle, fly out from one party to another and in between, every now and then, have concert tours around the world. The reality is different for many artists. Many of them barely finance themselves and their families with an ordinary job and usually finance even their music with it. At least they can make a living out of music. It’s the world of crickets, that Sascha Lobo described in an article based on the old Aesop’s fable about the ant and the grasshopper, as a reaction to Sven Regener’s lament about copyrighting.

Lobo criticizes the widely spread scornfulness towards (unsuccessful) artists and the general low opinion about art. This doesn’t only explain the stolen copies and copyright infringements, but also why many artists can’t make a living out of their music. And this is where the ants come to play. They work diligently and dream of a better, worry free life, in their opinion the kind of lives that artists have. And they don’t want to pay a dime for music and give, at best, only charities.

Similar to every cliché, there is a tiny part of truth in how others imagine the world. But the other part, the big part, is made out of ignorance and isn’t really thoroughly thought out. However, at that time, a constructive dialogue on copyrighting and the value of art, didn’t take place at all.

Yet, when I separate the “financing of music or musicians” issue out of the, at that time, heated debate, the opportunities of crowdfunding immediately come to mind. With it, I can scatter the artists’ worries of having to ask their fans for money (or charity). Fans will gladly support you, if they believe in you. I want to tell a short story on the subject:

It had to be around the end of 2009 when I, at Sellaband, stumbled upon a singer/songwriter whose music immediately blew me away. Alex Highton was then new in crowdfunding; I on the other hand had initiated the 50K MUSIC MAG at the beginning of 2009 and therefore asked him If I can present him there. Certainly, I also helped finance his album project. The interview was published, I eventually also received my rewards – up to this point, everything according to the normal crowdfunding process. Then “it” happened, which gave crowdfunding a larger meaning: we stayed in touch. We wrote each other emails, we met in Birmingham and Leipzig, he sent me small Christmas presents, I returned the favor with small gifts for his girls… in 2011, I and a fan, partially financed Alex’s trip to SXSW.

In 2013, he started the crowdfunding for his new album “Nobody Knows Anything” on Pledgemusic. And I was there. Some of his fans too, which I recognized from the Sellaband project.

What I want to say with all of this? Crowdfunding can be a first step towards developing a relationship with fans and questioning clichés. Yet, the crowdfunding platform and the crowdfunding itself are just additional tools. The key success factor is the artist himself. You are the person that communicates with the fans, laughs, cries, tells them stories (your stories) and ultimately asks them for money. However, it should always be an individual way of asking. If someone simply copies Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking”, it won’t work. You have to understand the principle behind it and of course, your fans. And, you should offer your fans various channels, where they can collect information about you and communicate with you.

Your crowdfunding project will still always be just one part of your relationship with your fans. Take the chance to build a sustainable, intensive and lasting friendship with them – connect yourself with them … online, but also in the real world. That’s where you’ll find the true value of crowdfunding.

The Amanda Palmer Case

…or: one could stop being passionate about crowdfunding after this! Most of you must have followed the discussions about Amanda Palmer and her offer to fans or musicians to perform along with her, no fee included. I don’t want to heat up the discussion once more. It can all be read in different newspapers, blogs or online. However as a result of this discussion, some musicians might reconsider crowdfunding their music.

On one hand, it’s because they don’t want to have to publicly justify every step they make. Apart from musicians with a contract, such a justification doesn’t call for the media attention like the one in Amanda Palmer’s case. On the other hand, it’s often because of the lack of recourses for a strong and open communication. But in this case, Amanda Palmer showed that even difficult situations can be handled masterfully. So, what do we and especially crowdfunding musicians have to learn from the Amanda Palmer case? It’s mostly two things:
1. (Open) communication is everything Those, who finance their music with crowdfunding, are narrowly watched by fans, supporters and like in Amanda Palmer’s case, the media. It is expected that the project is arranged transparently and that the given promises are held. This is why it’s necessary to communicate clearly and openly about the project goals and actions taken, that are related to the project.
2. Build on your fans A loyal fan base is a decisive success factor and not only within the crowdfunding project. Also, when it comes to keeping the critics at distance, a loyal fan community can be an important component. This is why the fans have to be deeply involved and trust needs to be built through transparent acting. I can only hope, that the traditional media won’t describe crowdfunding with negative headlines only and rather emphasize the advantages that crowdfunding has: direct involvement of fans and a chance for musicians, off the retracted paths of the music industry.