One issue that comes up again and again in debates on downloading, distribution and the future of music is the use of new and unusual ways to reward creators and/or avoid losing a big stash of money on a much-needed tour or recording project. I was pleased to see a very good example of this in an email that found itself in my inbox late last week, from a band called Clare and the Reasons, who I saw, enjoyed (and gave my email address to) at a gig in the Norwich Arts Centre about a year ago.
The email contained a picture of a lovingly-painted bus, the cover of the upcoming album, and a link for further information. At the link, a gentle but persuasive plea for contributions is made. But this is not charity: this is a clever sales pitch. Using the Kickstarter website (which allows pledges for projects to be gathered in a central location), fans can choose anything from $7 (digital download of a live set) or $20 (a book of lyrics, music, photos etc for the forthcoming album, Arrow) to $10000 (a trip to New York, a visit (and dinner) to the band’s house and a private gig in the same location, though there are some alternatives at this level). Some options are presumably a little tongue-in-cheek (selling of souls, for example) and others are quite quirky ($2500: [various benefits from lower levels and] “a song about your girlfriend or boyfriend, it can be funny or sad. We’ll do a home recording of it after talking to you and learning about him/her. Then we’ll perform it and post it on youtube.”) The increasing-rewards idea is quite common for the support of public broadcasting in the US, though less familiar in the case of music. The target in this case is a reasonable-sounding $5000. Does this model scale well? Does it include a good bargain? (In the case of charitable donations, you can often figure out the real value of the sweetener by looking at the tax-deductible element; not so here). If you received an email like this, would you bite?