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Kevin Devine
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Music Biz: In Defense of the Crowd Source

Posted by: Thomas Nassiff (01/14/13)
Kevin Devine started today, and then later today finished, a moderately lofty Kickstarter campaign to fund his next two full-length records. According to the description Devine offered up on his project page, he wanted to raise a sum of $50,000 to fund the recording and releasing of one solo and one full-band album. These funds would go toward costs like the recording, producing, manufacturing, publicizing and marketing of the records; furthermore, the funds would help Devine tour and promote the albums following their release.

When I write "moderately lofty," I mean it. Devine pegging the costs here at $50,000 is certainly not ridiculous. He's seen some success as a musician, at least enough to warrant a fairly sized recording budget if he went the way of a traditional label. If he were on a small label, the company would have to hire out for publicity and marketing. On a larger label, the company would have to pay the salaries of the people who do publicity and marketing. Making vinyl records is not free, either. The people who ship records to the kids who order them are usually paid to do so, and promotional materials like music videos and other media don't grow on trees. Iím not going to write out a line-by-line budget for creating and promoting a record to prove that the $50,000 is a fair estimate, and really, it doesnít matter.

Whatever. Making music is not something that comes free of charge, we get it. But why is that our problem? We are the folks who simply listen to and talk about the music, not help create it! Pay for an album? No, no, we can illegally download it. Or, we can just log into Spotify and listen to 20 million different songs free of charge. Devine can release this record, I can memorize all the lyrics for free, pay $20 to see him play a show and act like a diehard fan. Twenty bucks, yeah, thatís what my favorite album is worth today. Our generation does not ďpay for music,Ē let alone give someone money for it before we've sufficiently argued the level of shittiness of the first single. Thatís my money and this is my Internet and I have an opinion on what I just stole, mom.

Today's news thread about Devine's Kickstarter project was unlike most similar threads we've seen on this website since the crowd-funding website became as controversial as it is now. In most cases, those threads turn into shouting matches about whether it's moral for a musician to ask people - *gulp*, their fans - for money. And even though today's thread was refreshingly positive (granted, KevDev has become one of the more adored artists in this part of the music blogosphere), there was a fair amount of typical grumbling around other parts of the Web. There is the side that says, "Hey, do it the DIY way - do it the right way - wash dishes, make $7 an hour, then go record when you save enough nickels to afford a week in a studio!" Those are the people who, when itís one of their favorite bands behind the Kickstarter, then say, ďOh, finally, someone doing it the right way!Ē Then there is the very common counter-argument: "No one's being forced to donate money to him, if you don't like it, leave it alone."

Nothing we haven't heard before. We've been hearing the arguments for a while now. Not all Kickstarter projects are created equal. Some are worthy of criticism. But when it comes down to it, rarely do these debates inspire impassioned soliloquies about some band being moronic...oftentimes, the debates criticize the method. And here's the thing, there's nothing to criticize about Kickstarter, even if itís a ďdumbĒ project.

So Mindless Self Indulgence wanted $150,000 to record an album. Yeah, that's really fucking stupid. Thatís my stance on it, anyway. But if 15,000 people want to give the band $10 each to record a new album because, I don't know, they like the music, then why are any of us whining about it? Those people probably would have bought the damn record anyway! Horrible artists consistently dominate album sales. Sure, Adele has proven to be the exception to the rule over the past two years, but plenty of today's biggest stars make music that....isn't all that great. Is there even a difference?

The difference is that people are still moving slow. And with how fast things move today, if youíre going slow, youíre actually going r e a l l y s l o w. Mindless Self Indulgence and Kevine Devine literally did the same thing. They asked their fans to give them some money so they could make music. Sure, that looks pretty on paper and yeah, I know those two acts have different histories, have different futures, have different intentions. But stick with me here because Iím going to get to my point eventually. If KevDev was on a record label, he would have told someone in an office that he was ready to record an album. No, two albums! What?! Two at one time? Okay dude, Iím down. That guy in the office would have given Devine a dollar sign followed by a number to denote how much money the label would be willing to pay for the album(s) to be recorded. Then, Devine would have made his album and forked it over to the label, which would correspondingly own it for basically forever. Said label would proceed to attempt to make more money from this work of art than they originally gave Devine. You know, a profit.

The label would have a running tally of how much money they spent on the album, and add to it the amount of money they spent promoting it. Letís say Devine spent $10,000 in the studio, then $2,000 on music videos, then $4,000 on a marketing and publicity campaign, then $X for Y expense. All that shit goes into a spreadsheet on some guyís hard drive. The record label takes the lionís share of Devineís album sales until that number goes from $XX,XXX to $0. After that, Devine gets a little more money from each sale. A little more. The label will continue to profit from his record sales for the foreseeable future. The label makes some vinyl, sells out of it, decides whether to repress it. The label has the final say on a variety of different decisions; no matter what these decisions are, the point is that Devine does not have the final word on at least some of them.

Is that really the perfect method for releasing an album? Yes, itís a good method. It works. For small acts without a big following, it can really pay off. It undoubtedly helps to have someone invest in you and try to make you a bigger band...regardless of their motives.

How is Kickstarter any different in a bad way? Devine gets some money, records an album, then puts it out exactly how he wants to. A bunch of people get the album right away without paying for it, because they already paid for it. He uses money given to him by people who believe in him, makes his music, owns his own rights to that music, and can then proceed to make all of his own creative and business decisions. Letís say the Kickstarter was sufficient and covered all costs, and Devine breaks even on the albumís initial release. Any further sales beyond the group of people who already paid for the record via the Kickstarter campaign go into his own pocket. He made something, he sold it, he saw income. He has a job like the rest of us. Letís say the Kickstarter blew up and he made more than enough money to fund the album. We hope that he uses that extra money to promote his album even more. But if he doesnít? Well, itís just like selling 10,000 copies in first-week sales instead of 1,000. He makes more money because more people bought his music. This is dictated based on the size and loyalty of his fanbase - what a novel concept for a musician.

Hereís a big difference between Kickstarters and normal labels: The initial funds came from people who like his music, when all they wanted in the end was to hear the not-yet-existent album. Maybe they also wanted their name in the thank-yous of the liner notes so they paid extra for it. Regardless, that money didnít come from a company whose end goal is to make a profit. People donít like Kickstarter because they think musicians are taking advantage of their fans. If thatís true, how come people donít yell at record labels every day for taking advantage of artists and their fans? Itís the same principle. If anything, Kickstarter offers a more ďpureĒ way of getting funds to make music. All it is, in essence, is a very long-lead preorder reserved for only the most supportive sections of a fanbase. In Devineís project, you could have donated $50 to receive two vinyl records (and if you donated quickly enough, you would have also received one test press). So thatís $25 per LP, and that includes shipping. Is that overpriced? Yeah, maybe by a few dollars. But not really. A truly devoted fan wonít mind the difference...and would have probably paid a record label $25 for the same LP.

Some people are so quick to fault a musician when he asks for money to create music. But making music is his job. Musicians have been receiving money to make music for as long as record labels have been around - that money has just been coming from different types of people. In some cases, itís a great record label that loves the artist and wants to see him do well. In other cases, itís a not-so-great record label that thinks it can make some money in the end. The music business is a risk/reward one, after all.

Today, you are the record label. We are all the record label. And none of us need tens of thousands of dollars in capital to start this label. We only need like $10, because if thereís enough of us, $10 per person is enough to get another set of 12 songs from our favorite band. There are no bullshit politics dictating how much money someone raises on Kickstarter. Kevin Devine made less money than Mindless Self Indulgence? Thatís awful! Well, he probably woulda sold less records than they would have anyway, right? Thatís...still awful!...yet thatís an idea weíre already used to. The factor that determines how much money is raised is how much people like the music, and there is no more righteous deciding factor than that.

No matter who the band in question is, if they can raise $X in Kickstarter funds, you can assume they would have made the same amount of money in album sales...combining the $10 digital sales and the $500 superfan packages and everything in between. If you say Iím wrong about that, then what you mean is that those same people that donated to the Kickstarter would have just found a way to obtain this album for free. Kickstarters shouldnít exist - artists should become indebted to a company, watch people steal their music, and stay indebted to that company for much longer than appropriate. What has Kickstarter done? Itís brought back the novel concept of paying for that record in the first place. Kickstarter has brought back the concept of albums sales that got lost somewhere in the last decade. Record labels used to work because people paid for CDs, helping artists cover their debt and then helping those artists make a living. Somewhere along the line, we stopped paying for music...labels saw income decline....artists stayed in debt longer. The ďtraditionalĒ record label model is now failing, for all intents and purposes.

Kickstarter is not necessarily the future, but crowd-sourcing is. Start a record label with a few thousand people you donít know. Sign anyone you want. You can pick any band. Your labelís roster will be filled with only groups you really like and youíll never have to sign a band that you think is ďmehĒ because of their potential to make you a lot of money to cover the costs of the bands you love, who make you less money. You wonít ever be rewarded like todayís record labels are rewarded - you will never stumble upon a Katy Perry and strike it rich. But hey, this record label isnít your job. You only own a fraction of it anyway. And you still end up with probably the best reward you can think of - music. From a band. That you like. That you supported. Just like you did before Mediafire was around. Congratulations, weíve just made it back to the future. Thanks, Kickstarter.

In an effort to be completely transparent, it's worth noting that I did personally donate $50 to Kevin Devine's Kickstarter campaign today. I've paid more than $25 with shipping for a brand-new LP before. It feels like a really early preorder to me.
    
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 217.
10:02 PM on 01/14/13
#2
Shatter_Glass
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Go KD! Now how about talking Jesse into a 5 song-a-piece split album and another tour.
10:04 PM on 01/14/13
#3
Adam Pfleider
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great read Thomas.

EDIT: a response to Thomas' column. http://absolutepunk.net/journal.php?...entry&e=367852
10:07 PM on 01/14/13
#4
Youarcade
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Yeah Brand New needs to start one.
10:07 PM on 01/14/13
#5
EchoPark
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the mind boggles.

great write up btw Thomas
10:12 PM on 01/14/13
#6
mikeyg003
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This is an amazing write up. Great job!
10:14 PM on 01/14/13
#7
Thomas Nassiff
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Side note: I was not trying to imply that any record label that would put out KevDev's record would be a bad label or treat him badly as an artist. I'm not saying all record labels are evil. We all know plenty of good ones out there.

I'm saying that if you can help an artist you like make an album and then OWN that album as their own property forever, what's so bad about that? You're not helping anyone but the band.
10:22 PM on 01/14/13
#8
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You know I've been vocally critical of some things you write, but this whole article deserves an amen.

I've been re-hashing a variation of all of these point with people every time kickstarter ever comes up.

Only point I'd add: for people who think artists are getting off scott-free, who do they think is paying for everything until these artists build a sufficient fanbase to fund a kickstarter? A following doesn't just grow on trees. Artists need to release quality material and promote it to amass that fanbase, and that requires money. Usually their own. I don't know any serious musicians who haven't spent every spare cent, every savings bond their grandmother bought them, every birthday check from aunts on studio time or gear or some other cost of pursuing music.
10:25 PM on 01/14/13
#9
Jerold Sunga
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one of the reasons why I love reading AP.net articles. such a good read.
10:30 PM on 01/14/13
Thomas Nassiff
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You know I've been vocally critical of some things you write, but this whole article deserves an amen.

I've been re-hashing a variation of all of these point with people every time kickstarter ever comes up.

Only point I'd add: for people who think artists are getting off scott-free, who do they think is paying for everything until these artists build a sufficient fanbase to fund a kickstarter? A following doesn't just grow on trees. Artists need to release quality material and promote it to amass that fanbase, and that requires money. Usually their own. I don't know any serious musicians who haven't spent every spare cent, every savings bond their grandmother bought them, every birthday check from aunts on studio time or gear or some other cost of pursuing music.
A great point right there. I think another misconception is that this $50K is making KevDev (or anyone else who does one of these) a richer man. Sort of just what you said but....if he raised $50K, it'd be gone by the time these albums came out. On top of that, his most hardcore fans would have ALREADY bought the album so he's already gotten an ENORMOUS chunk of financial support the people who would be most inclined to support him financially in the first place. There is still a risk inherent in this model.

Now, the fact is that he will probably get way more than his original goal, so yes, he makes some money off of it, but that's only because his fan base is large enough and loyal enough for that. Sooooo more power to him!
10:32 PM on 01/14/13
Ryan Gardner
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Thomas, this was a very eye-opening, evocative, and truly fantastic read. It really made me personally understand Kickstarter and the value behind it more than a simple black-and-white number.

Great work with this one, seriously. Always a huge fan of your columns/discussions.
10:39 PM on 01/14/13
cshadows2887
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A great point right there. I think another misconception is that this $50K is making KevDev (or anyone else who does one of these) a richer man. Sort of just what you said but....if he raised $50K, it'd be gone by the time these albums came out. On top of that, his most hardcore fans would have ALREADY bought the album so he's already gotten an ENORMOUS chunk of financial support the people who would be most inclined to support him financially in the first place. There is still a risk inherent in this model.

Now, the fact is that he will probably get way more than his original goal, so yes, he makes some money off of it, but that's only because his fan base is large enough and loyal enough for that. Sooooo more power to him!
Yeah, even still. What's wrong with him making a living, you know? Would people be as upset if he went platinum and made a living that way? Either way, if an artist can support themselves through music, you will keep getting music from them. Not sure what's wrong with that.
10:50 PM on 01/14/13
JPA917
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Great read. Also, for a little perspective on Kickstarter outside of the music industry, go check out Best of Kickstarter 2012 on the site. It's pretty cool to see some of the things that have come to be from being funded through the site.
10:53 PM on 01/14/13
Jack Appleby
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This is a fantastic read, and one of my favorite things you've written, Thomas.

I've been arguing for Kickstarter's validity for years now. At it's core, it's essentially a pre-order for fans - how that ever catches flak, I have no idea. This is the way that musicians can actually make livable money to do something that we all love and appreciate.

The argument that musicians should work for minimum wage, scrap and save has always baffled me. As a music fan, I want my favorite musicians to be able to focus on their music as much as possible. If myself and other like-minded fans can financially support our favorite bands, we can give those beloved musicians as much time as they need to produce a truly fantastic recording.

Again, such a great read. I hope all the naysayers truly understand how Kickstarter could save a miserable industry.
10:54 PM on 01/14/13
Jason Gardner
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Good stuff man. Very good read.
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