In a move guaranteed to enter the history books in entertainment for 2013, Rob Thomas, creator of the cult-classic television show Veronica Mars, surprised fans with an idea for a cinematic continuation of the long-cancelled series. What made it worth noticing, regardless of one’s opinion for the show, was the method in which it was funded: with a script in hand and a cast ready to block out time for a theoretical production, Thomas got Warner Bros.’ blessing to approach fans to fund the project via crowd-funding site Kickstarter; the goal of $2 million was shattered in under 12 hours, giving the team another 29 days to rake in additional cash from the series’ loyal fans.
Discussing the genesis of the idea on the project’s page, Thomas cited the successful deluxe reissue of Cotton Mather’s underrated power-pop gem Kontiki as one of his influences to fund the film through fan efforts. This, of course, brings up the question: can this model work in the world of catalogue music?
A common and worthy criticism of putting the Kickstarter model on a pedestal for musicians is simple: these models are facilitated with the help of the entertainment business’ traditional label/studio establishment. Indie musician Amanda Palmer has frequently championed Kickstarter as the future of music distribution, but it’s hard to believe she wouldn’t have so much success with the site had she not been signed to a major label for several years. Even watershed moments like Radiohead’s “it’s up to you” pricing model for 2007’s In Rainbows were only possible because the band had built up a savvy fan base while signed to Parlophone/EMI during the decade prior.
Of course, most of what reissue fans would want to see unearthed is in the hands of the majors, so it's not really about sticking it to the man. What it is about is getting labels to mull the possibilities of crowd-funding and use it to their advantage. To that end, there's a few things I'd think would be most important:
- Understand the audience. A catalogue-savvy audience is not necessarily a new-media savvy audience. The Second Disc's web traffic has always been higher than our Facebook or Twitter traffic (though not for lack of trying!); what that likely means is that not all catalogue music fans are social media users. That means, were you to fund a reissue or box set through Kickstarter, you have to try maybe a little harder to reach the fans you want to reach.
- Understand the process. Last year's deluxe B.B. King box set had its own PledgeMusic page. Was it cool? Absolutely. Was it clear why the project had anything to do with crowd-funding? Err...less certain. The incentives didn't stretch further beyond a bonus Blu-Ray that was available separately before the box was made public. Something tells me the B.B. King set (either the four-disc version or maybe even the 10-disc deluxe variant) would have come out regardless of PledgeMusic's involvement; however, the same could not be said about, say, Squeeze. Picking artists to Kickstart or Pledge to with small but savvy fan bases would actually be fun and gratifying - projects thought impossible might have a better shot at existing.
- Make it fun! With the right people on the job and projects in the works, seeing a catalogue label make the move toward crowd-funded projects could actually be a blast. Think of the incentives (credit in a box set booklet, special memorabilia) - or, more importantly, the chance to feel closer to a title by helping it come to fruition.
It may take some time to figure out if true grassroots works of art can rise up and be counted like "mainstream" projects with the help of sites like Kickstarter. But there's no harm in thinking about mainstream projects branching out even more with the help of crowd-funding, wouldn't you say?
What do you think? Would the Kickstarter model work for reissues and box sets? What sort of catalogue titles would you like to see on sites like those? Sound off in the comments below!
Julian Huntly says
Great article Mike, you are absolutely spot on with your comments on catalogue releases through Direct to Fan platforms. Just to let you know we at Pledge Music are working with a number of artists and labels and will launch an increasing number of catalogue campaigns over the next few months through Pledge.
A couple of recent catalogue campaigns which we have already run successfully and which your readers may find of interest are, Pete Ham's , Keyhole Street: Demos 1966-67 a 2CD of previously unreleased demo's, released to coincide with a Tribute concert for the Badfinger singer in Swansea next month http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/peteham The Pete Ham estate ran this campaign with us.
And a 6CD Jess Roden Career spanning Anthology which includes loads of previously unreleased material and superb remastering. This included a considerable amount of material licensed from Universal - the artist having been signed to Island Records for much of his career, this one was released by Hidden Masters a new boutique catalogue label.
Both campaigns raised funds to create the projects, but as importantly in my opinion, by running the campaigns through Pledge fans were able to get involved in the projects and enjoy the kind of incentives you suggested in your article, exclusive signed memorabilia, their names in the credits and loads more.
Take a look at them on the site.
Joe Marchese says
Hey Julian, thanks for your contributions to this thread! I hope you and the folks at Pledge Music got a chance to check out our coverage here of the (very exciting) Pete Ham project:
Julian Huntly says
Very cool coverage on Pete Ham, Joe and in a great cause.
Although we reached target and delivered the digital download to Pledgers we decided to keep the campiagn open so anyone who wants the Pete Ham Cd and other incentives can still orders for the next few weeks.. My sources say there are unlikely to be many copies put on sale through traditional online and bricks and mortar retail.
Walt M. says
I'd donate to a proper "Buckingham Nicks" release.
Mark I. says
Love the idea and would certainly consider contributing to campaigns for recordings I like.
I wholeheartedly agree about Squeeze. There aren't too many known tracks that aren't on CD but a few. I'd really like to see Babylon and On get an overhaul since it's been untouched by any of the undertakings and could use substantial improvement. Kind of reminds me of Cheap Trick's Lap of Luxury. The bands experienced resurgence with the aforementioned records but they end up virtually ignored when catalog upgrades come when you'd think they'd get really special treatment. At this point, Lap of Luxury has finally been (at least) remastered. But I'd have to rebuy 12 titles to get it...so configuration matters too. There's probably a live show from the era they could put on disc with Squeeze's Babylon and On that would make a nice set.
Yes, by all means get the fans involved, especially in packaging. The die hard fans are the ones who have collected all the memorabilia, photos, and press releases that the record companies threw out or gave away, not to mention reviews, ticket stubs, etc. Some might even have live tapes or rare vinyl for which no master tape can be found. Others will provide details about mono/stereo versions, alternate versions, and unreleased material. I've seen some covers on reissued CDs that look like a 4th generation colour copy from a worn album sleeve picked up at a thrift shop - a fan is likely to have a cover/label that is of better image quality.
For a band who has a standard issue of an album available on CD, this offers the possibility of creating a unique disc of rare tracks, singles mixes/edits, alternate takes, live material, and stereo/mono/quad mixes.
The other possibility is for collectors of obscure local records to pool their resources to see who has the best quality pressing from which a soundfile could be made for remastering and reissue.
Best of all, some of the fans may know where to locate the band members which will ensure that the legal loose ends to a reissue are tied up and that the band benefits from any sales of reissued material. One might even discover demos, master tapes, or memorabilia that has never been heard/seen in decades. Plus there's the intriguing possibility that the remaining 315 mint and unplayed copies of their 500 copy single might turn up in somebodies garage or storage closet.
I mention the latter possibility because there used to be a store near Bloor and Spadina that sold textbooks and had a room of deleted records in back. I'd love to know what happened to the stock since they had large quantities (100+) of sealed copies of the Banana Splits, Masked Marauders, Tommy Roe, Victoria - Secrets of the Bloom and other now collectible titles. They closed in the late 1970s but the stock never showed up at any of the delete or rack jobber warehouses so it might be possible that it is sitting in someone's basement.
I've been to garage sales where the home owners used to run a record store. Guess where the dead stock ended up when they closed the store? There was one sale where I found a half box of BBC transciption discs from the late 1970s - ealy 1980's - mostly radio quiz shows but there were live shows by the Specials and English Beat. Seeing I was interested, the seller asked if I was interested in these since he noticed my excitement - turns out that he had been employed by the BBC in licencing their material to Canadian radio and had brought home titles that had been dropped from the library. He had accumulated several boxes of lps and videotapes - but had thrown them all out the previous week, save for the half box which had been hidden amidst boxes of other stuff in the garage. I don't know if anyone rescued the stuff that had been thrown out...
Rodney Smith says
I would certainly kick in a few bucks to try to get the 1980 Brains album (with Money Changes Everything) reissued while Universal holds it hostage despite many attempts and emails to Andy McKie's email addy to get it reissued.