It's a hallmark of the Kickstarter era: musical artists -- like, most famously, Amanda Palmer --- gather donations from their fanbase on the crowdfunding website in order to produce a new album. In exchange, the fans get special swag and recognition from the artists, such as having their names printed in the liner notes, handwritten letters from the artist, custom album packaging, or having the artist perform an intimate show in their town.
Palmer set a record by raising more than $1 million through her Kickstarter appeal earlier this year. But not everyone is a fan of artists using fans to pre-fund their projects -- some say it's a form of welfare for musicians.
Such was the case made by local blogger Matt DeMello in a Twitter exchange and subsequent interview with Eric Victorino, frontman of South Bay electro-pop duo the Limousines. The Limos are using Kickstarter to raise $30,000 for their new album, Hush, instead of going through a label, as the band has done for previous releases. (Their campaign has already raised more than $36,000, with 20 days remaining.)
After Victorino mentioned his Kickstarter appeal on Twitter, DeMello questioned his approach, arguing that such campaigns are unethical, because the band stands to make money on a product that was invested in by fans, while the fans stand to make nothing on their investment. With a record label, DeMello argued in his interview with Victorino, "the consumer knows what it is they're getting."
Victorino responded that Kickstarter donations aren't investments: "It's a thank you gift, and at the very lowest levels, it's a chance to pre-order an album from a band they already know they like. If I were on the other side of this, a fan of The Limousines, I would love to be a part of helping them find another way to release their music if I knew they'd been burned by record labels in the past."
Victorino broke down the various payments that come out of a retail-purchased CD, claiming that, for a $10 CD, the artist stood to make about 60 cents -- before taxes.
To which DeMello argued:
What you're doing is going to your fans and saying, "Give us your money, we'll give you a CD and we will profit from it." Why not use your own money? Why not take out a loan yourself and put faith in your own talents recouping your own money? Why go to the fans and say, "give us your money so we don't have to give that money to the labels." What you fail to mention in your breakdown is money received from touring, merchandise, and signing bonuses...
You say it has nothing to do with investments, but it really does. These fans are investing in you; they are giving their money so that you can subvert the record companies and make more money yourself.
At this point, things get really heated, devolving into an angry back-and-forth: "What fucking decade are you living in, man?" Victorino asks. "How many record deals have you had? How many have been what you wanted them to be? I've had three in my lifetime and I think I deserve to try a different route. Do you know how much money a band that isn't huge makes on tour? Sometimes nothing."
It continues from there: DeMello asks if Victorino finds the Kickstarter appeal "embarrassing," noting that the band may make money off the deal by licensing new songs to big companies like Toyota or Kraft. Victorino responds by arguing that all bands need time and money to do their work. Getting a label to contribute that means signing over rights to the music for years, he says, and often getting only the barest amount necessary to pay for a studio and a producer, leaving the band in debt to the label for other costs.
Whatever side you think is right, we've rarely seen the ethical arguments for and against Kickstarter-funded albums laid out so passionately. You can read the whole conversation here.