With curiously coincidental timing, both the launch of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign and Amanda Palmer’s incredibly affecting and insightful TED talk about crowdfunding happened less than two weeks apart. For the unfamiliar, Amanda Palmer is the singer of the “Brechtian punk cabaret” (her words) group the Dresden Dolls, as well as a solo musician. In June 2012, Palmer’s record-breaking Kickstarter campaign reached its end having raised an unprecedented 1.2 million to record the album Theatre is Evil.
Most people didn’t have a problem with Palmer’s campaign. Where the problems really began was when she later asked for musicians in cities she toured to play in her group for free. The move prompted the legendarily cantankerous producer and musician Steve Albini to comment: “Pretty much everybody on earth has a threshold for how much to indulge an idiot who doesn’t know how to conduct herself, and I think Ms Palmer has found her audience’s threshold.” Palmer has since decided to pay the musicians who volunteered to play alongside her, though she contends that they never expected nor desired compensation. The experience and excitement of performing and getting drunk with a musician they adore was more than enough.
Palmer’s TED talk reveals that her crowdsourcing actually goes far beyond asking for money to record an album and for volunteers to become her backing band. It influences her entire approach to making music. She uses Twitter to ask her followers for instruments, on-stage props and places to stay. Fans often bring her food. She regularly passes out a hat to collect money, busker-style, before and after concerts. It’s an approach based fundamentally on asking how we can let (and not make) people pay for music. It’s a model for the music industry that brings fans and musicians closer than they’ve ever been. And when we really connect with people, Palmer says, we want to help them – we want to fund Kickstarter campaigns and cook dinner for bands and let them sleep on our couches. It all sounds pretty glorious to me. It sounds like a way for the music industry to finally work with instead of against illegal downloading and to find new ways that bands can make money.
Many of the debates about both Palmer’s crowdsourcing and the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign come down to one question: is it fair? I think it is.
In the case of the Veronica Mars movie, it initially seemed more than a little fishy that someone connected to a major movie studio would be asking for money. Certainly Warner Bros. has the means to do almost anything they want. If they don’t need Kickstarter to make the Veronica Mars movie, is Warner Bros. simply exploiting our nostalgia for a little extra free cash and an amazing marketing tool?
The thing about exploitation is that it happens when someone doesn’t get anything (or unfairly little) in return for an investment. While people who give money to Kickstarter campaigns receive gifts, I think the intangible rewards are even more significant. Would you watch a movie or listen to an album differently if you had a role in its creation? If you’re the sentimental type, I think you would. A greater personal connection to the movie or album or whatever it is surely worth the monetary investment. It might not be rational, but when it comes to art it doesn’t have to be.
While reviving an old series might seem like the opposite of creative, at least we will have sequels of the stuff we actually want rather than what some marketing executive thinks we want. If we’ve got “sequel-itis” anyway, at least Kickstarter lets us determine our own symptoms. And perhaps Kickstarter has the power to make really great sequels by providing significant funding from sources other than wealthy investors that might leverage money for creative control. Kickstarter’s limited accountability gives artists the freedom to do what they feel is best.
By: Nolan Matthews