Will sing for food

Published

Oisín Kealy

As the music industry continues it’s downward gyre into absolute insustainability, a new generation of DIY artist are showing that you don’t need to sell you soul and/or recording rights for the opportunity of reaching a wider audience. Recognising that the current model is not putting food on the table, many independent and fringe artists are beginning to rely on direct support from their fans to make this career choice financially viable. Radiohead’s pay-what-you-like system was the first step, but hardly as bold as Patrick Wolf, for instance, who funded his most recent album directly from his fans investment through the site Bandstock. Here, stock bought in increments of £10 entitled you to priority releases, a credit on the liner notes, and a possible profit whenever enough money was raised to begin recording.

Alternatively, take someone like Amanda Palmer, sometime half-clothed piano maven of punk-cabaret outfit Dresden Dolls, who has proved herself acutely attuned to the possibilities afforded to musicians through social networking and the internet. To supplement the $0 return she saw from her album due to the big bad record
label, Palmer has raised $19,000 by organising donation-only gigs, auctioning memorabilia by webcast and selling t-shirts commemorating her Friday night conversations with fan via twitter. While she made this money primarily through merchandise, she often gives her music away for free, regularly dolling out guest list places or organising free gigs on beaches and backstreets. She truly relies on her fans in a completely, almost
ridiculously, unmediated way, staying at their houses while on tour, borrowing keyboards to practice on, even being brought food after gigs– keep her alive and she will entertain for free.

This direct, fan-to-artist support is not a new thing: it is an old thing. Ancient in fact, thinking in terms of travelling bards and royal entertainers. What is new is a million middle men stealing the revenue an artist earns in performing their art. Glasgow based Vendor Defender, who play the GUU debates chamber Tuesday 29th of September, are promoting their gig by giving their album away on the street. Lead singer Zak Garner-Purkis talks about what motivated them to this move. “We quickly came to realise that bands need to figure out new ways of connecting with their audience. Too many musicians sit around waiting for the fans to come to them instead of going out there and promoting their own music — we want to expand the number of fans we have, but also make them feel involved, so the idea is that if they do artwork, make videos, t-shirts, write, promote, then we’ll try and work together”.

This grassroots-style approach to promotion brings music back to where it should be, that immediate connection between the performer and the audience, and at this early stage in it’s revival, it is a model to watch for the future.