It's Amazing The Lengths 'Music Supporters' Will Go To In Trying To Trash Success Stories

from the and-sad dept

One thing I often find amazing in debates and discussions about new business models for content creators and artists, is how those of us who are often (falsely) accused of "hating" artists cheer on and celebrate the creative success stories, while those who position themselves as "defenders of artists rights" are often spew all sorts of vile and hatred towards those artists who find unique and amazing paths to success. Take, for example, the case of Amanda Palmer. I won't bother to link to one (somewhat well known) individual (a lawyer, of course) within the entertainment industry, who simply doesn't deserve the publicity, but he publicly dismissed Palmer's massively successful Kickstarter campaign by suggesting that it was entirely based on the fact that she was (1) once on a label (2) has a famous husband (who this person believes, incorrectly, is running a copyright reform group) and most ridiculous of all (3) that he "wouldn't be surprised" if it turned out that Google was really behind her success. If you know anything about any of this, you would know that all of that is paranoid rantings that have no basis in reality.

Other claims might not go that far, but they do seem to go to great lengths to attack Palmer's success here, with reasoning that doesn't hold up under much scrutiny. Take, for example, the long and rambling argument of Daniel Brockman, suggesting that Palmer's success here does not bode well for the future of the music industry because (and really, the leap of logic here is astounding) using Kickstarter is similar to using a SuperPAC:
the Internet has allowed artists and fans to have a more direct relationship, but it has also given artists a more direct way to shake their fans upside down for pocket change. Much has been made of the fact that, in the traditional model, the $14.99 you plunked down for a CD at Sam Goody resulted in a pittance actually finding its way to the artist’s pocket. But if you give that money directly to the artist, don’t you now have a greater say in what music that artist makes? The traditional model allows artists to do their thing, with the label as an intermediary between the artist and the desires of fans. Without that intermediary, fans can and probably should feel free to express their opinions on the work that they are paying for directly.

What this may mean is that a small, rich, vocal cabal of music fans could grow to have an undue impact on the way music progresses, as artists within this direct patronage model have to appease those that put food on their table. I can’t help but see this as not dissimilar from the way that election fundraising has developed in recent years; in a sense, Kickstarter success stories like Palmer’s are the Super PACs of the music world. Think about it: someone like Newt Gingrich, for example, should have been out of the race a long time ago, except that he had the massive financial backing of an extremely small and extremely wealthy group of backers. Were he to be successful in his bid, he would be completely in the debt of those that paid for him to be there-- and the less people that pay for him to be in that position of power, the worse it is for everyone, right?
Brockman supports this position by claiming that these few "big donors" have too much power. Of course, the math doesn't really show that. The "small donors" add up to quite a bit of money here. Furthermore, it seems kind of insulting and ridiculous to claim that this is "shaking fans upside down." The whole reason that these models work so well is that they let fans support artists at a level with which they are most comfortable. That's not shaking fans upside down. In economics, it's called differentiating your market, and it's a sign of a good business.

Furthermore, this whole theory seems to be based on the idea that fans "don't get anything" out of supporting artists they love. He seems to be at a complete loss as to why anyone would pay for anything if they weren't getting money back. To wit:
I guess the head-scratching aspect here, for me, is who are these people giving thousands of dollars? In the traditional record label model, investors give money to the label, the label finds talent and songs and matches them up together, and that investor money is spread out amongst a roster of artists; most of those artists lose money for the label but then the label will hit on a Mariah Carey or a Nickelback and make back enough money to recoup any losses. The investors are re-paid, the artists are paid (barely, maybe), and the label retains dough to keep the thing going. In this Kickstarter model, though, there aren’t investors, there are only donors; meaning that the artist isn’t beholden to the label, but is instead in some manner beholden to the donor.
It's as if he's never recognized that people get all sorts of value and benefits in the non-monetary fashion. It's as if he ignores all of the great things that Amanda provides the fans who pay up. It's as if he ignores the fact that people aren't supporting Amanda specifically because of the dollar value of the return, but because they want to support Amanda. And they get value in that fact alone. This is the kind of thing you would think the defenders of "the rights of artists" would embrace. It highlights just how much fans really value artists. But, for some reason, it seems to make them really upset -- perhaps because it shows how much the fans value the artists, rather than the gatekeepers who used to take most of the money.

There's nothing head-scratching about fans supporting the artists they love. There's no reason to fear the "undue influence" of superfans. A big part of the reason they're superfans in the first place is because they absolutely love what comes from the artist's own creative work, and they're actually pretty loathe to tamper with that. Contrast that to the traditional record deal, wherein there is a single entity, who usually has overwhelming control over the direction of the product, and only has one thing in mind: how can it profit the most, rather than how can it create the most meaningful work.

Call me crazy, but I can't see an argument that suggests true fans supporting an artist creates worse output than a large corporate entity controlling the process. It seems bizarre to complain that artists won't get paid in the future, while also complaining that they aren't getting paid now because of piracy -- and then to complain even more when an artist figures out how to get paid.

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  1. identicon
    Rich Kulawiec, 10 May 2012 @ 4:42pm

    Furthermore, this whole theory seems to be based on the idea that fans "don't get anything" out of supporting artists they love. He seems to be at a complete loss as to why anyone would pay for anything if they weren't getting money back.

    Apparently he's unfamiliar with the concept of "supporting the arts", which some people do because it pleases them to support the arts. What Kickstarter and similar do is to make it possible for the overwhelming majority of us who can't write $50,000 checks to each kick in $5 and thus collectively support artists merely because we want to. Not because we're getting something, not because we think it's an investment that will yield a profit, not because we want control of the artist, but because we think they (like Amanda Fucking Palmer) are cool people doing cool things and we'd like them to be able to do more without having to sell out to parasites, I mean, record company executives. (My apologies to any actual parasites reading this for the negative comparison.)

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