Selling records has historically been a capital-intensive undertaking. This has always been a problem for new music, and record companies are less likely than ever to risk money on new artists in the post-Napster era.
The good news is that crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are taking up the slack, and this could be a game changer for music lovers. With crowdsourcing, bands fund projects by appealing to the public directly. In exchange, they repay the donations with premiums like finished album copies or signed t-shirts.
It’s been working for unknown artists and also for established acts that are too cool for labels, like Murder by Death, De La Soul, 10,000 Maniacs and Geto Boys. Amanda Palmer raised over a million dollars in one month on Kickstarter for her album Theater is Evil.
Fans seem to be willing to take more risks than record companies, but it’s actually not so risky. Backers end up getting copies of the album at around the same price they would have paid anyway. Best of all, this has the potential to foster a regional sound. I count 16 locally produced albums that were successfully funded on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, including lots of obscure new acts, some that I had never heard of.
Crowdfunding hasn’t ever managed to get somebody on the radio, but it has made some good music possible, even in our own backyard. And in terms of connecting with a band you like, it’s much more meaningful than sending a fan letter.