Katie Evans uses her entertainment column in Forbes to explore some of the ways that bands raise money from fans beyond traditional CD sales. (And, as I've been writing about for the last ten years, CD sales are just about the last thing you want to rely on as an artist to keep your bills paid.)
One of the interesting things that slipped by me when things were happening in real time: Jill Sobule set up a Kickstartr-style fundraising effort that pulled in $85,000 toward the production costs of her new album. Meanwhile, Public Enemy tried to launch a project on Sellaband with a $250,000 budget. They raised only about $75,000.
Those results say more about an audience's expectation for what albums really cost to make than they do about overall fan support. It's actually getting relatively easy to find 1,000 fans willing to give you $75 or $100 toward an album you haven't made yet. Ten years ago, this would have been nearly impossible. (It also speaks to the idea that Jill's fans understand that this is her income. Public Enemy's fans might not feel like they need the money.)
However, fans have become more savvy about what it really takes to make an album. You can get relatively inexpensive gear and make your record at home, or you can travel out to a small town and hole up in an affordable recording studio for weeks at a time. If anybody should be worried, it's the folks who own really expensive recording studios in places like New York and Los Angeles.
When fans foot the bill, a $50,000 producer's fee is simply unacceptable. When fans foot the bill, they're also expecting that about half of their donation is going to sustain you for the? time you'll be off the road, making the record. Take a year to make that record, and you can live off $35,000, as long as you can spend less than $40,000 to bring the record in on time.
Jill wrote on her blog about the accountability that fan involvement brought to the project, especially when she invited some of her supporters into the studio. It was a different experience from having meddling label executives and producers fiddling with the knobs and poking at her lyrics. When fans invest in you, it's because they want more of what they already love, not because they're concerned about what they might be able to market to today's hottest demographic.
[ photo credit: "Warm and Happy," by Flickr user jurvetson, used under CC license. ]