Over the past few years, crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo have exploded in popularity. For musicians who use these sites, the ability to put funding in the hands of fans has opened up new possibilities. Not only does this negate issues like label bullshit, it allows them to bypass ridiculous hurdles and get right down to creating the art they want while reaching out to a wider audience.
"People in town are able to come to benefit concerts, but those out of town don't have a way to easily help support the financial aspect of the recording process," says Rumelia's Nicolle Jensen.
Rumelia joins the ranks of local acts such as As In We and Storming the Beaches with Logos in Hand who've successfully achieved crowdfunding goals by offering incentives to backers such as private concerts, vinyl, T-shirts and more.
"Crowdfunding provided the opportunity to raise the funds necessary to put out a new album quicker than we would have been able to on our own and in a way that made our project something that belonged to not just us, but to our fans and supporters as well," As In We's Eliza Lutz says.
Lutz, however, points out that money raised through crowdfunding comes with no small amount of responsibility.
"Though it's possible to raise a large sum of money relatively quickly this way, you also become accountable to many more people in many different ways," she adds. "Yes, we raised just over half of what our project cost with little impact on our own wallets, but more importantly we gained a stronger and more meaningful connection with our fan base and a tougher and more mature work ethic."
Sounds great, right? Right. But ultimately there is that gigantic looming question: Why is it anyone's responsibility to fund a band's album?
Bob Vielma of San Jose, Calif. post-punk act Shinobu thinks that fans shouldn't.
"I see a lot of people who want exorbitant amounts of money upfront to cover excessive recording and production costs instead of paying for it themselves and selling the—hopefully good and worthy—record and recouping their money," he says. "I think a good crowdfunding campaign should be like a pre-order, but I see bands that want to charge $30 for an LP through their fundraiser, as if anyone would sell one for that much anywhere else…it's like punishing their fans for supporting them in advance."
Dave Jordan of Albuqerque's Award Tour has similar feelings.
"Being someone who has been in bands that have worked hard and hustled and played shows and saved and paid out of pocket to make things happen, I feel weird just giving someone else money, so they don't have to," he says. "I don't think it's impatience; I'd cite reluctance to really do the work, because it is hard work and you have to hustle…some people want to get from point A to point C without having to work through point B."
Additionally, one could argue that by placing costs in the hands of fans that bands miss out on important evolutionary steps like touring or sucking or recording with a minimal budget. Suddenly crowdfunding seems like a bullshit excuse to sucker fans into paying more for a product than it's worth. Take Los Angeles indie/Americana act The Wild Reeds. For their Indiegogo campaign, a $10 pledge comes with a digital download, $25 nets a physical CD, $75 comes with the vinyl release, $100 gets the vinyl and a few other merch items and for $200 they'll cover any song you choose. This is fucked. Who in their right mind would donate this much for items that would normally cost far less or some shitty version of a song they like played by some no-name band?
When crowdfunding is used as a sort of roundabout pre-order process and provides fair incentives, it's hard to argue with the means or results. When a band proves that it is impatient or lazy by trying to bleed fans' wallets via lackluster incentives, it makes the entire concept look bad. Yes, bands like As In We and Rumelia kick ass and provided ample reasons to support their crowdfunding efforts. Ultimately, though, it makes more sense to just go back to bands taking responsibility for their own damn releases and fans supporting them monetarily once they actually have a fucking album ready to hear. Things were way less complicated that way.