Recently, I found myself in a situation most indie artists are probably familiar with. I was going to record an album and had no idea how I was going to pay for it. Despite the fact that recording has become a much more affordable medium over the past decade, it still costs a considerable amount to produce a quality recording. Even if you borrow, beg, or steal in order to secure free recording time, there’s still the mixing, mastering, and manufacturing costs. There’s been a lot written recently about “crowd funding,” a term born of another internet buzz word “crowd sourcing.” Crowd funding is as simple as it sounds. It simply means to fund a project by gaining small donations from a large group of people.
Sites like Sellaband.com, Slicethepie.com and Kickstarter.com have emerged as the social networking conduits between an artist and their potential micro-investors. Artists create profiles and spec out the money needed to accomplish their goals, and site members are invited contribute a few bucks if the project seems worth while.
In a nut shell, artists are beginning to look at their potential fans as potential patrons. While most musicians go into debt in the studio with the vague hope that their fans will dig them out after the album is finished, these sites promise the possibility of raising capital up front. What a concept, right?
Now, while these new crowd funding sites are great (and I encourage folks to try them out). I wondered if I could do something similar on my own. I wondered if I could simply set up a paypal button and start selling the album before the album was even recorded.
Granted this isn’t a brand new idea. People buy concert tickets months before an event. People pre-order books on Amazon before the book has been released. We all buy dinner at a restaurant before it’s been cooked. Why not pre-sell your album before it exists?
Not-so-surprisingly, this method has been relatively successful so-far (and this from a band that hasn’t released an album in 10 years). People who have bought the album tell me they’re excited for its completion. They’re literally invested in it.
Buying an album before it’s been recorded does pose a slight risk to the buyer. What if it never gets finished? Or what if it’s a bad album? But if the album is priced reasonably, the worse case scenario is they’ll be out some pocket change.
One of the unintended benefits of this selling method is the introduction of scarcity into a market where digital technology has made this concept nearly obsolete. An unfinished album is about as scace as you can get. You can’t copy, share or pirate an unfinished album. An unfinished album, if not properly supported, will never exist. If your fans felt that buying your album was essential for it to come into being—don’t you think they would pay more? I’d be curious if other have had success in crowd funding and or pre-sales.
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