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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.

Welcome to the Niche Market!

After Sven Regener monologued on Bavarian broadcasting about copyrighting and the costless culture on the web, thereby immediately noticing who is taking who for granted, the subject is drawing his crisis. Hartwig Masuch, CEO of BMG Rights Management, is using the fit occasion and demanding in a Handelsblatt interview, more respect towards copyrighting and at the same time wants to make the big internet concerns accountable for copyright infringement, among which Google/ YouTube. However, they’re not the only ones responsible. Also the users, who had no respect towards the creative work of musicians and wanted to access their music free of cost.

The real problem lies much deeper: The label industry was over the years too much tied up to the traditional business models and reacted to the challenges of the internet way too late. Then, the (helpless) criminalization attempts of illegal downloading happened. Possibly, it’s the musicians now who have to pull the chestnut out of the fire. I don’t want to be misunderstood. I am all for paying for music and I bought my collection 100% legally. I think very highly of Google/ YouTube having to pay for the music on their sites, including other internet big shots and any podcast entrepreneur or streaming provider. In this aspect, I even agree with Sven Regener: a musician should be able to make a living out of his music. But, does this add up to the strategy of record firms, who constantly push musicians to make a fast dime? And what about GEMA’s distribution system – is it all that fair, so that even less successful (read: pushed) musicians can live out of the earnings? The debate has only just begun, but now the question is, who has a profit out of this discussion and does it really help improve the user’s willingness to pay and their respect towards musicians? I don’t think so, because it should be more about making music more open, reliving and intensifying the communication to fans. Because, I will only then understand the real value of a musical piece, when I know how much sweat, blood and tears were put in it. And, to complete the thought, this is exactly where the crowdfunding platforms have failed so far. What started a few years ago as a revolution of the music business, didn’t achieve a lot more than financing single projects. Here, the crowdfunding platforms missed their chance to achieve, with new ideas, strategies and concepts, more than just financing an album and building a community around a project, especially for musicians from the independent scene and newcomers. They simply didn’t acknowledge the potential: nowhere else can I come this close to a musician, like for example when crowdfunding an album, only here is such a tight relationship and intense communication with the musician possible and mostly also wanted. This project-fixated approach will, sooner or later, make sure that crowdfunding in music business never overcomes its niche existence.