For The People, By The People
Young bands are going the Amanda Palmer way. But will they find success with crowdfunding?
Young Indian artistsÂ need crowdfunding,Â besidesÂ relevant lyrics, aÂ distinct sound and a realityÂ check, but this is a great placeÂ to start. Whether it’s for a gig orÂ a new album, a growing numberÂ of music enthusiasts are willingÂ to lend voice and support.Â Says Subir Malik of veteran rockÂ band Parikrama, “When WishberryÂ approached us to raiseÂ funds, we weren’t sure how weÂ could use it. It didn’t make senseÂ for an established band that didn’tÂ need the people’s money for aÂ project. Crowdfunding is a brilliantÂ idea to boost talent, especiallyÂ for struggling bands that needÂ the money.”
Last September, close to 10Â promising bands, mostly fromÂ Mumbai, took to the stage forÂ their debut show at Control AltÂ Delete, an event that was completelyÂ funded by its 600-memberÂ audience. Rishu Singh, managerÂ of bands such as BLEK, who coorganizedÂ the gig, claims to haveÂ raised a sum of Rs 95,613 on theÂ crowdfunding platform WishberryÂ within a month, posting a dailyÂ update on the day’s collections onÂ Facebook. In fact, the MumbaiÂ gig managed to get online contributionsÂ from Chennai, GurgaonÂ and even Washington. “We neededÂ about Rs 90,000 to make theÂ gig happen excluding the bands’Â fee,” says Singh, “We finally raisedÂ Rs 1,64,000 including contributionsÂ at the gate and each of theÂ 10 artists got a fat, princely sumÂ of Rs 7,000 .”
A crowd of contributors placingÂ their money and faith inÂ events like Control Alt Delete isÂ in stark contrast to the other sideÂ of the coin: the frustrating realityÂ where organizers and venuesÂ find it tough to draw audiences toÂ gigs across the country. Says AnshulikaÂ Dubey, COO of Wishberry,Â “Crowdfunding gives sponsorsÂ a sense of power, ownership, freedomÂ to listen to who they want to,Â where they want to, and recognitionÂ to have brought down artistsÂ for a gig and make it happen.”Â The novelty of crowdfunding mayÂ be just another reason why bothÂ artists and audiences are hooked.Â Shreya Mendiratta, who attends
one gig in two months, contributedÂ Rs 300 towards Singh’s crowdfundedÂ gig for the experience. “IÂ wanted to see how it works. It wasÂ a new thing and sounded cool, butÂ it was so packed that I secretlyÂ wished they’d collected an entryÂ charge,” she says.
From mailing their sponsorsÂ an album before its official releaseÂ to having a band play inÂ their living room, organizers andÂ bands offer incentives like freeÂ merchandise to build the crowdfundingÂ network. “At Control AltÂ Delete, one of the rewards was
having the names of contributorsÂ on a large board at the gig.Â At a traditional gig, one wouldÂ see a board with sponsor logos,Â but here was a gig that featuredÂ names of regular people. PeopleÂ loved the fact that this was a trulyÂ democratic, truly DIY gig of theÂ people, by the people and for theÂ people,” adds Dubey.Â
American performer AmandaÂ Palmer, who is one of the biggestÂ success stories on internationalÂ crowdfunding site KickstarterÂ [she raised $1.2 million withinÂ a month] wooed the crowd byÂ offering everything from digitalÂ downloads to CDs, vinyl and evenÂ dinner and private performancesÂ alongwith a photoshoot with her band and an art sitting that couldÂ get as adventurous as the contributorÂ wanted it to ”“ this couldÂ mean the contributor strippingÂ down for a nude portrait paintedÂ by Palmer or keep the clothes onÂ for a more traditional art project.Â However, the online affluence deflated when Palmer later asked volunteersÂ to play and be “paid only inÂ hugs, high-fives, and beer” ratherÂ than money when she went onÂ tour with her band, Grand TheftÂ Orchestra. In an open letter toÂ her detractors, Palmer wrote aÂ long piece saying “I’ve built my lifeÂ as a musician, like many manyÂ people in rock and roll, playingÂ for free”¦ a LOT, or playing forÂ beer. playing for exposure, playingÂ for fun”¦ You don’t have to playÂ for free. But I hope you won’t criticizeÂ me for wanting to.” The cabaret-punk crowdsourced millionaire,Â who had earlier stated thatÂ she simply “couldn’t afford” payingÂ a sum of $35,000 to the musiciansÂ she needed, later endedÂ up retracting and finally payingÂ them. What led to Palmer’s fallÂ was the lack of transparency inÂ her project, with her initial supportersÂ turning against her.
Though Palmer finally gotÂ off the hook easily, most artistsÂ who’ve used crowdfunding platformsÂ know better than to jeopardizeÂ the goodwill of their fans.Â “Crowdfunding works on theÂ basis of people involved, not theÂ project. People want to make sureÂ the person is genuine,” feels AssameseÂ filmmaker Bidyut Kotoky.Â Kotoky is testing the concept forÂ the release of his upcoming film,Â Guns & Guitars, which chroniclesÂ his musical journey acrossÂ eight states of North East India.Â He hopes to raise Rs 10 lakhs toÂ help distribute the film whichÂ has now been shot and edited,Â and even pay people who workedÂ on this project pro bono. WithÂ Kotoky’s hefty minimum contribution,Â which starts at Rs 5,000,Â his campaign is yet to gain momentum.Â Other independentÂ filmmakers such as Scribe bassistÂ Srinivas Sunderrajan, whoÂ recently raised over Rs 5,26,000 toÂ screen his second film Greater Elephant,Â have been successful atÂ raising funds via Wishberry.
Besides films, Wishberry recentlyÂ opened up to music projectsÂ in October 2012 and hasÂ already supported six music initiatives.Â Former Something RelevantÂ vocalist Aazin Printer isÂ one of the newest endorsees ofÂ their site and hopes to raise RsÂ 300,000 in 60 days to record hisÂ solo debut album. Says Printer,Â “It [his attempt at crowdfunding]Â will also help other artistsÂ follow suit or maybe not, but we’llÂ know that there are new avenues/possibilities to raise funds to doÂ what we love and hence makeÂ it happen.”
Like Printer, Mumbai alt rockÂ band, Spook, was also bankingÂ on fan support to release theirÂ debut album Lyrical Cynic. LikeÂ most bands, Spook releasedÂ their debut EP UnderwaterseabirdÂ in 2010, using income fromÂ their gigs. Now, for their ninetrackÂ full length album, the bandÂ turned to their fans. “BetweenÂ Anis [Gandhi on keyboard] and I,Â the funding was almost impossible
to come up with, but we managedÂ to cover the cost of trackingÂ all the instruments. The mixingÂ and mastering are an equally importantÂ part of the process forÂ the album to sound good and weÂ need funds for that,” say vocalistÂ Akshay Deodhar, adding that
their upcoming album will seeÂ them collaborate with sought-afterÂ producer Zorran Mendonsa.
The success rate of a campaignÂ also depends on the targets setÂ by artists. The chances of lesser-knownÂ bands without the backingÂ of an enterprising managerÂ or that of a bigger band pushingÂ their efforts are higher if theyÂ begin small. Two-year-old MumbaiÂ hard rock band Spook is a caseÂ in example. Of their Rs 2,00,000Â target, Spook managed to raiseÂ only Rs 62,000 in two months andÂ Printer, a more established artist,Â has already raised Rs 98,000Â in 20 days. “It’s all about settingÂ realistic targets. If Spook had setÂ a Rs 50,000 target, it would beÂ easy to accomplish,” says MumbaiÂ metaller Sahil Makhija akaÂ Demonstealer, who speaks fromÂ experience. Last year, Makhija’sÂ band, Demonic Resurrection,Â was one of the first Indian bandsÂ to have turned to their fans toÂ pool in their resources to helpÂ finance a music video. “It wasÂ before websites like WishberryÂ came about,” he says, “I wantedÂ to make a video, but didn’t haveÂ Rs 1 lakh to put in, so we thoughtÂ of raising the funds through fansÂ online,” he says. Though he managedÂ to raise only Rs 70,000,Â Makhija later found out that heÂ had underestimated the cost ofÂ making a video. In fact, he neededÂ close to 4 lakhs, so MakhijaÂ decided to invest the fan fundsÂ into editing a recording of hisÂ band’s concert at UK’s BloodstockÂ Open Air Festival in 2012. “OurÂ fans seemed excited and we areÂ currently editing that footage,”Â he adds.
With an uncertain success rate,Â many enterprising campaignersÂ are testing the concept of crowdfundingÂ by relying on it only toÂ partially support a project. TheÂ third edition of multi-media festivalÂ UnBox, which is slated toÂ take place between February
6th to 10th in New Delhi, willÂ be partly crowdfunded. BabithaÂ George, one of the founders ofÂ UnBox isn’t sure of pulling offÂ a fully crowdfunded festival inÂ India yet. She has chosen another crowdfunding platform, indiegogo, to raise funds. “Crowdfunded effortsÂ have not yet reached the level thatÂ they have in other countries, butÂ the concept is seeing a groundswellÂ of support and interest. WeÂ think this can be linked, at leastÂ in part, to the rise of young entrepreneursÂ and creative practicesÂ in India; people are seekingÂ out new and ”˜cool’ ideas, bothÂ in concept and the way they areÂ communicated,” says George,Â “Also, people are getting more andÂ more comfortable with spendingÂ money online. These two developmentsÂ have made crowdsourcingÂ platforms very appealingÂ and popular.”
That crowdfunded events haveÂ won favor with Indian music fansÂ is evident in the size of the audienceÂ at a crowdfunded gig. A regularÂ multi-genre free gig at a clubÂ manages to get no more than 200Â gig goers, in spite of aggressiveÂ promotions on social media, butÂ Control Alt Delete drew thrice theÂ number. Wishberry COO DubeyÂ explains that the backing of fansÂ goes beyond just money, “Ultimately,Â those who fund the eventÂ will also want to be a part of it.”Â Kotoky adds, “The contributorsÂ are not just important monetarily,Â they also comprise the audience.”
Something Relevant’s StuartÂ DaCosta, one of the organizers ofÂ Bandstand Revival concert seriesÂ in Mumbai, too is consideringÂ taking the crowdfundingÂ route by involving the communityÂ for his next series. ThoughÂ many attribute the early successÂ of crowdfunding to initial euphoria,Â others feel it could be the beginningÂ of an alternative movementÂ against the money minting
labels. Musicians, for their part,Â are only hopeful that this newÂ online avenue will finally giveÂ them a voice. Whether crowdsourcingÂ will help indie India isÂ a matter that we will only findÂ out in this coming year. For now,Â Sony Music India’s Jayesh VeralkarÂ feels crowdfunding willÂ only work for the deserving artists.Â “It all boils down to howÂ creatively you invest in buildingÂ loyal/hardcore fan base whoÂ would like to own some sort ofÂ notional or physical stake in yourÂ product. Having said that, it isÂ also important to have qualityÂ product. Except for your familyÂ and close friends no one wouldÂ pay for shitty product,” he adds.
The story was originally published in the January 2013 issue of Rolling Stone India.