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!