Crowdfunding for creative freedom

An increasing number of Indie musicians choose to ask for financial support from their fans

Lead vocalist and guitar player of The Wildnerness, Jonas Lewis-Anthony, whose band chose to crowdfund to raise money for their first album.

Almost all Indie bands aspire for two things — financial freedom and creative freedom — and independent crowdfunding has made both readily available. 

In the current music landscape, many musicians neither want to rely on record companies and producers to fund their albums, nor invest the funds themselves due to the financial risk involved. Instead, they reach out to their fans and use online fundraising platforms to provide the money they need.

This technique — called crowdfunding — has been picked up by a number of indie artists throughout North America, including Kingston-based band The Wilderness. In 2015, The Wilderness looked to these newfound platforms to raise money to record their debut album. 

“We didn’t want to just wait around for the opportunity to come around,” said Jonas 

Lewis-Anthony, the lead vocalist and guitar player for The Wilderness. “We had all these songs and the motivation to do it. We could be waiting around forever for a record label to come around and say ‘hey, we want to record an album.’” 

Fortunately for them, Kingston’s live music scene has a plethora of potential fans, and the band has built a local fan base through live shows. Now, those fans want a full-length album and they’re willing to send money to make it happen.

Over the last 15 years, multiple websites that provide platforms for independent fundraising campaigns have emerged. It began with ArtistShare in 2003 and continued to today’s popular sites, such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Gofundme. 

The most attractive part of these campaigns for bands is the freedom it affords them. A crowdfunded band can create their album without the pressure of meeting a record company’s expectation. When fans donate money, they’re placing trust in the band and their creative process to produce something strong — they aren’t giving money to become an investor and give themselves a say in the album’s production. 

“I have friends in bands with record labels and they say that there are a lot of interference with record labels to change your sound,” Lewis-Anthony said. 

“They don’t have the kind of freedom to say these are the songs and this is how we want to play them.”

Despite the creative control given to the band through independent fundraising, they can also choose to work with a producer. This lets the band capture the sound that they want, while also having a second professional opinion on the matter. However — unlike in record label albums — this choice is at the creative discretion of the band.

Producer or not, giving bands their own creative control has been proved successful for a number of projects. ArtistShare provides a long list of projects from their site that have won Grammys for their work, including Maria Schneider, American composer and big-band-leader who has used ArtistShare for multiple projects. Three jazz ensembles have also received nominations for this coming year’s award ceremonies, according to the site. But the process also has its limitations — musicians must find ways to balance their artistic work with the process of fundraising and publicizing themselves.

“We were jamming every night and writing every night. Once practice was done we would go home and spam Facebook and Twitter. So it didn’t interfere too much at all,” Lewis-Anthony said.

American singer-songwriter Terre Roche, however, found that balance difficult. 

“E-mailing people and checking for contributions quickly became my main job. Songwriting and music practice went onto the backburner,” she wrote in an Op-Ed for The New York Times.  

Terre Roche was also less successful in her ventures. She attributes this to the age group and demographic interested in her music.

Aside from these small challenges, crowdfunding has proven successful for many artists. 

Would The Wilderness do it again? Probably not, Lewis-Anthony said. “I don’t want to always be asking people for money … after we release this album, I hope we’re going to have the funds to record another album down the road within a different studio,” he said. “So, this is probably a one time thing, but I would recommend it to anyone.”

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