I've been listening to my friends' record for the last week. It's a record that's been worked on for the last year. It's from a band you probably never heard of, even though they're connected (down to the point of recording) with many a band that receives praise and glory through the news feed of this very site and others. It's not important to tell you who they are, but to tell you their current story and where I'm going to go with it. I, and a few people I have shown a few songs to, think the music is pretty damn good to good to pretty epic. I think it's a solid release, and at the most minimalist of output with the final product, it at least deserves to get heard by how many people can hear it. Then again, that's the goal of all music ever created, right?
There's no management, no label, no hype, no viral campaign, no six month outlook and no plans for a "spring tour" in the works. The only publicity the band has is a bio/press release I told them a year ago that I would write when they started working on the record. It is in fact an album, that when mastered at the end of the week, will be in a state of limbo. It was all funded out of the pockets of the three people who helped create the music. In this business, whether you are the one creating the music, pushing the music (management, publicists, booking agents) or writing about it (press outlets and Tumblr blogs galore!), it is all a "labor of love" with no job stability, 401K or guarantee of climbing the corporate rung based on a set output.
As someone who almost dropped out of it all, only to be blessed by a hand to pull me back in within a matter of days, I consider myself lucky and humble to be a part of a special minority of "people who actually give a shit" and still fuel their "labor of love" with a passion not lost in the muck of the day-in and day-out. I mean, I never thought I'd be happy filling out spreadsheets and taking inventory - but I also have a turntable on my desk - so fuck you society! I finally won!
Tonight ol' Nassiff texted me and asked me to read his response to Kevin Devine's Kickstarter campaign. While Devine didn't get an Amanda Palmer response just yet, he certainly won over my heart just by reading his statement about the project this morning. As someone who respects the hell out of Devine already, Nassiff also brought those sentiments home with his column tonight.
That being said, I still have my convictions about Kickstarter as a whole, and they are convictions I brought up with Nassiff over the phone after reading his column:
1) "The Whole 'DIY' Argument": You want to do something you love, well, fucking work for it. Nobody likes a fucking trust fund kid in the world of punk rock, but a kid who thinks he's so "punk rock" and "DIY" is just equally as annoying. That said, the only reason I have a laptop is because I had cancer as a kid, and I used scholarship money later given to me as a "survivor" to purchase one. It sometimes bothers me and still seems a bit shady. I mean, money to be able to purchase a laptop that I wouldn't have been able to afford otherwise, or money towards cancer research to save lives. I know it's a ridiculous stretch of an example, but I'm trying to make a hyperbolic statement that every system is abused, and that everyone is going to cry "Why not me?!" like a child...always and forever until we're all rich with gold mansions and rocket cars. Coming from someone who has always busted his ass while people around him just "get things," I get it. I've lived that feeling of frustration many times, and probably will still experience numerous times over until I'm six feet under. It's why we'll always argue about free healthcare and why some people can't get food stamps with next to no income and others making a good five figures beat the system. Deal with it. Sometimes it's not the system, it's the assholes who have access to it. Maybe I shouldn't hate Kickstarter for my "work for it dude!" attitude, I should just hate those assholes.
2) "Incentives": Here's the biggest gripe I have with Kickstarter. The linear notes, phone calls and little prissy things that super fans eat up for a couple of extra dollars. Is it necessary to whore your work out like that? An extra 7", a show in your hometown (that's probably just going to be plotted on the next tour) and even a test pressing are all tangible, not insane incentives to have fans get more "bang for their buck" as they say. (Do people still say that?) Anyway, I just think there's a fine line between "investing" money in a project and getting a return of something so low. Why not just sign all the Kickstarter funded bundles? Are you that big that your signature is worth a couple of extra dollars? Would you charge me that if I came up to you after a show? Why charge me that now? And by far, my biggest complaint is the "thank you" section that some pay for. I've been "thanked" in a few releases this past year. Most of the time, I didn't even know. It's a special moment when you go, "Oh shit. Cool. But did I do anything?" I certainly didn't pay $5 for it. To me, it just sort of bastardizes the whole system.
The truth is, in the last decade of change throughout the industry, the old ways are finally crumbling. There used to be four big shots, and now there are three. No one gives a shit about last year's American Idol, X Factor or America's Got an Hour to Kill Because Worked Sucked at My Dead End Job or whatever "talent" show is making some phone company a lot of money. There are smart people in this industry that still care about music and know how to help people make money. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. I'm lucky enough to have met and known a few in my time, but they are a minority in the overly saturated market or "music business by the books" graduates. I get that Kickstarter could be a step in the right direction in helping bands like my aforementioned friends get their music to the masses because enough people believe it should exist on some tangible level in a business where most consumers would rather just steal it because that sort of consumerism has become the norm.
With progressions this past week with Bandcamp, it's a sign that Kickstarter is not the only means to a new business end in this industry. I'm just saying that the entire system of "crowd-sourcing" as it is deemed needs some work from the users and rewarders of the program itself. We're living in a time of great ideas and expansion. Don't become greedy like our corporate relics. Let's be fair, and show the next generation that this one killed the dinosaurs and finally learned from their mistakes.
Last night I attended a stacked local show in support of Duck. Little Brother, Duck!'s current U.S. tour. During the band's set, an attendee - who, for argumentative purposes was a bit intoxicated - screamed out, "Sell me your music!" It's interesting to hear such a phrase in an age where no one gets money for anything, and everyone gets chicks, music, movies and most of their entertainment for free. The music fan wanted to give a touring band money. Think about that for a second. Think about the level that Duck. Little Brother, Duck! are at right now. Small touring bands don't pull much from merch, and the gas generally comes from the door or the bar percentage - and if lucky, a guarantee here and there.
The reason that fan's comment stuck with me the rest of the night was because of the news from Monday which Circa Survive had announced. After releasing their last album, 2010's Blue Sky Noise, on Atlantic Records, the band decided to take the route that mewithoutYou took earlier this year with Ten Stories and release their upcoming album themselves. While Violent Waves will be released in CD, digital and vinyl formats - well priced around your average record store pricing (the digital copy only $5) - the band released two "expensive" packages. One limited to 100 for $250 dollars and one limited to 11 for $750. Guess what, two days later I'm checking on them, and they're both sold out. But when announced, many were baffled at such a price for a bundle many of us couldn't begin to afford. Most bundles up to this point generally round out a little above $100 here and there.
As outrageous as people thought the prices were, they're really not as uncommon as some packages have been for Kickstarter projects over the years. This time, Circa Survive surpassed the investment and put up the front end themselves, looking for a bit of payback to cushion costs thereafter. Along with mewithoutYou, this may be the counter answer that naysayers against the idea of Kickstarter were hoping would eventually happen. It'll be interesting to see how many other established bands take stride in this direction. I say "established" because selling packages at those prices means you better have a damn good following. No new touring band is going to be able to pull off something like this model - it definitely takes a large fan dedication.
On Tuesday, before the show, I ended up taking an afternoon browsing the record stores around town and even stopping into Half Price Books to browse their $1.00 CD section. With a few purchases that afternoon from the trek, it made me wonder about "How much would I be willing to pay for this?" over and over in my head. Now, on one level it's because I have to make sure I have rent and then some extra in my bank account in a few days, but I also thought about how having backdoors like Mediafire and streaming systems such as Spotify has still changed the way I think about purchasing music. That in itself is very interesting to me. I wouldn't pay full price for Filter's Short Bus, but a $1 for a used copy? Sure. I wouldn't buy a first press of Converge's No Heroes at the prices I've seen on eBay or Deadformat, but $15 still sealed - I've got to snag it.
Those kind of thoughts run through my mind all the time. I wonder if I'm bastardizing the price of what I pay for any type of media not only because of personal funds, but how much it's actually worth to me versus how much it seems to be worth to others. What Circa Survive and mewithoutYou have done is tap into their fan base to see how much people think they're music is truly worth. It's a risk that has paid off for now. While I know some of you are saying, "Well, the same can be said for Kickstarter," the difference here is that the product is already finished. The band put up the investment - not the fans. It's a reminder that there are enough people out there saying "Sell me your music!" to keep great music alive. While there's a lot of "free" out there, some people still feel connected enough to a band and their music that they continue to say, "Take my money. Please!"