By Greg Pratt
Times continue to change in the ever-turbulent music industry, the latest development being bands that draw in pretty big numbers bucking the labels and doing it themselves, crowdfunding via sites like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. Canuck technical hardcore guys PROTEST THE HERO did just that, aiming for a $125,000 goal, and getting $341,146, $230,000 of which came in one week.
You know the drill by now: pledge money early so a band can have some bread to record an album and get benefits and perks. The more you pledge, the more you get. The band owns the masters, not a record label, and then they hit the road (some bands are even crowdfunding for tour support now). There are more and more crowdfunding campaigns popping up all the time in the world of metal.
Unsurprisingly, when Protest The Hero's success was announced, metalheads reacted to bands asking fans for money this way. Some of them, it turns out, feel pretty strongly about crowdfunding.
"I think it's a disgusting way for lazy bands to take advantage of their fan's good graces," says BISON B.C. guitarist Dan And, speaking about crowdfunding campaigns in general. "Bands should be extremely grateful that fans of their music are even willing to pay to see them play live or buy merch off of them. Asking fans to donate their money so a band can spend an unnecessarily exorbitant amount of money on a recording is completely ridiculous and insulting to the people who have supported them."
When I suggest to And that the crowdfunding trend is a reaction against record labels, he continues to mince no words. (He also points out that bands using crowdfunding takes attention away from people who may need to use crowdfunding for things like medical expenses or after suffering a personal tragedy.)
"No, I call total bullshit on that," he says. "Bands that are abusing these internet donation campaigns are only reacting against having to work hard and earn whatever they achieve. And yes, I am in a band on a record label (note: they are no longer on Metal Blade). And yes, that record label does pay for our recordings but we have never taken any kind of advance that we then had to pay back out of our own pockets. Long before a label offered to invest their money into any of our recordings we paid for them ourselves. I've been playing in bands for over 15 years and have recorded about as many albums… only three of which were funded by a label. Are they the best sounding? Not necessarily."
Protest The Hero vocalist Rody Walker has heard the complaints, but he's not buying it. He says their fans pledging such a huge amount of money was "an incredible experience" and says the experience left him invigorated, knowing their fans are always behind them.
"Yeah, I've seen some messages from people saying that we're greedy or we're beggars, I've even seen some bands speaking out against it," he says. "For the most part, I think it's hilarious, and there's no arguing with stupid. I've had pretty in-depth conversations with a few of the people who adamantly oppose this, and have been smearing our name on the net, but these are very thick-headed individuals who haven't the faintest idea how the music industry works. As for the bands who are bitching and moaning about it, they can go suck an egg and worry about their own shitty bands. I only care about the fans' opinions."
For Walker and his bandmates, going the pledge route seemed to be an obvious choice at this point in their careers, and their lives.
"All the years we've spent as professional musicians we've also spent greatly in debt to record labels," he says. "Seeing as our record label obligations were finished it seemed like a logical step, as opposed to resigning and taking an advance and being broke, miserable and in the exact same position three years down the road... which will be the same year we all turn 30. Yikes!"?
Chris Harris, founder of Gunshyassassin.com, has some strong words about crowdfunding, mentioning AUSTRIAN DEATH MACHINE in particular as an example of a band that just shouldn't be doing it.
"When bands like METAL CHURCH are recording albums using their own studios and their own funds, it's almost insulting to us metal fans when a guy like Tim Lambesis (of AS I LAY DYING) begs his fans to fund an album by his shitty, schtick-driven side project (Austrian Death Machine)--which shouldn't have released a second album, let alone a third."
"As I Lay Dying are arguably one of the biggest moneymakers in metal," he continues. "At least in the top 50, because they have a rabid fanbase mostly comprised of Christians with limited options when it comes to the heavy shit. Lambesis owns a fucking studio. I'm just wondering what, exactly, Tim needs his fans' hard-earned cash for (Note: this feature was written prior to Lambesis' legal issues detailed here
Harris says that technology like crowdfunding sites are changing the ways things are done, and not for the better. (Apparently, UK punk-grinders THE ROTTED agree, releasing a recent single as an "anti-pledge," saying on a Facebook post that they've done it all backwards: they recorded the song first, now the fans have to pay money to own it.)
"In the past, if you were a shitty band no label wanted to touch, you could still save up money, use it to book studio time, and record a shitty demo," says Harris. "These days, every young band thinks they should have success overnight without touring in a van or paying any sort of dues. This kind of technology will likely have no effect on bands no one has heard of, but will become a tool of semi-well-known bands to fleece their abiding, mindless audience. These sites are supporting bad music and bad habits."
Not everyone is totally down on crowdfunding, though. Some metal insiders feel this system has, like anything, good and bad aspects.
"I have mixed emotions about it," says Maurizio Iacono, vocalist of Quebec death metallers KATAKLSYM and EX DEO. "Part of me is like, the music industry is stooping to a big low by asking fans to donate money so you can record an album."
"Asking for donations like the Red Cross is kind of killing the whole element of making an album," continues Iacono. "We are changing the landscape to the point where the fan is having dinner at your home and actually gets to be on your album for the right price? I think it's pathetic on that level."
But Iacono says there is another side to the story, the side that puts more power in the hands of the bands. It's no secret that even in the world of heavy metal, bands tend to complain about their record labels. Even in underground heavy metal, even the labels we all love, you could easily and quickly talk to a few bands and get horror stories.
"(Pledge campaigns) give the bands more power to control their own destiny, which is cool," says Iacono. "They are not subject to the label's decisions, if they're worth the investment or not..."
Sean Palmerston, publicist at Sonic Unyon Records and Editor-In-Chief at Hellbound.ca, can see both sides of the story but does feel that bands might be getting themselves in over their heads with pledge campaigns.
"I think that, if used properly, they could be a very beneficial tool," he says, "but it does put a lot of responsibility on the artist's behalf, which I sometimes worry they are not ready to take on."
Despite working at a record label, Palmerston doesn't see pledge campaigns as a threat, but says he could see how some labels could.
"Let's be honest here: the music industry in 2013 is not the music industry 20 years ago and the ability for most labels to pay budgets and recording costs the way they used to... if a band is responsible enough to partake in one of these and see it though, meaning that they follow through with all of the incentives they are offering in a reasonable amount of time, then go for it."
"In most cases, for an independent artist they are a good thing," says Munsey Ricci, President of radio promotion company Skateboard Marketing. "If you look at both sides of the coin, now many unsigned artists actually start to see it from the record company's standpoint. It costs money to put out a record. It has to come from somewhere. So I think it's cool that bands that don't have a budget to make a record can get it. But the downside is how much can you expect to take from your fans? If fans are willing to help, it's cool, but on the same token you can't be greedy about it."
Some people just aren't buying that crowdfunding has any good aspects, though. Bison B.C.'s And, who says that crowdfunding campaigns today mean the same thing that "MySpace meant to every shitty band in the world... a get-recognized-quick scheme for people that don't want to work for it."
"Being in a band is fucking hard work," he says. "You slave away at a shit job, save up money, buy some gear, write some songs, make a record and go on tour. That's it. That's all that 'making it' is. There is no fame and there is no glory and there is no money. All of that is a lie that died, or at least should have died, in the '90s. It's years of fucking hard work followed by 20-45 minutes of fucking awesome good times on a stage surrounded by your friends. That's it. If you don't work hard for it then you'll never know what it means to truly feel successful."