The Case Against Fan-Funding Your Music

Many artists are turning to fan-funding/crowd-funding as a way of generating capital for their music ventures. However, while fan-funding may seem appealing, it can be damaging to an artist’s career. In this article we cover some of the hidden issues surrounding fan-funding your music and some viable alternatives.

The problem of free-market pricing

Unfortunately, all professional creatives are faced with the issue of free-market pricing: this is the principle that people are only willing to pay what something is worth to them, which is not necessarily relative to the cost of production.

In other words, the value of music is dictated by what fans are willing to pay, rather than how much the artist has spent creating the work.

Free market pricing

Free market pricing and fan-funding

The emergence of cheap digital music has caused the sale of more profitable, physical records to plummet- which means less income for the artist.

Since the cost of recording, producing and distributing an album remains high, independent artists have been forced to seek new ways of financing their musical ambitions.

What is fan-funding?

One new method of income-generation that many amateur artists are experimenting with is ‘fan-funding’. These musicians place themselves on crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, or artistShare, so fans can give them money to support their next project.

What is the issue with fan-funding your music

Though fan-funding/crowd-funding is seen by many as the solution for musicians who lack the initial capital to launch their career, be warned; fan-funding is not the miracle that it appears to be.

There are many reasons why fan-funding can be problematic, and aspiring artists should educate themselves on these issues before attempting to raise money in this way.

Caution: Shameless plug ahead! Continue reading below.

Below, we will cover some of the main issues with fan-funding and why it might not be the solution you might expect:

  1. Fan-funding your music can compromise your artistic integrity

    If your career depends on financial support from fans, you sacrifice some creative freedom over your work. This is because once someone has made a financial commitment to your career, they’ll expect to wield a certain degree of influence over what you produce with their money.

    This puts you under an enormous amount of pressure to produce music for the benefit of those who fund you, rather than creating your own authentic, unique sound.

    This arrangement is both unsustainable and unrealistic. People’s tastes are fickle and varied — there’s no way all your fans will approve of the creative decisions you make, so at least some will be left disappointed and frustrated.

    Besides, the major bonus of being an independent musician is that the direction of your career isn’t in the hands of a record label: you alone get to decide the sound and feel of what you create.

    Accepting financial hand-outs from fans will massively compromise your right to that control.

  2. Fan-funding could damage for your image

    People are attracted to what they see as aspirational; this is why we obsess over incredibly attractive, talented and wealthy celebrities who seem both untouchable and unreachable.

    This presents another problem with fan-funding: it requires a kind of ‘fishing’ for attention and support that can make you appear desperate and needy – far from the aspirational heights of stardom that fans want to look up to.

    Fickle and superficial it may be, but the importance of appearances and perceptions in the image-centred world of music cannot be over-stated.

    So, before you start ‘reaching-out’ on social media for funding, consider the impact it might have on your reputation as a performer. Relying on crowdfunding platforms could make potential fans doubt your quality, or simply irritate the majority of people who dislike being asked for money.

  3. Are you and your music ready?

    It’s true that breaking into the music industry requires a certain degree of luck in terms of finding opportunities, making the right connections, and ultimately obtaining a record deal; but, often the reason why a talented artist has yet to succeed as a professional musician is simply because they’re not ready.

    Before you start scrambling around for fan-funding, think honestly about why you’re being forced to self-fund — could it be because your music or image isn’t, yet, at the level to compete in the music industry?

    If this is the case, any fan-funded material you produce won’t stand a chance, and you may be left out of pocket and with limited options to move forward.

    But, this is by no means an excuse to give up on your dreams — you just need to invest more time and energy developing your sound before you take it to the next level.

    Continue to perform as much as you can at open-mic nights, local gigs and festivals; write and rehearse as much as possible, and always seek opportunities to gain experience and exposure that can help you grow as an artist.

  4. Fan funding isn’t necessary

    The rise of the internet might have made it more challenging for artists to monetise music, but it’s also made it far simpler for amateur musicians to create and share their work for free.

    These days it is easy to hire recording equipment and expertise, so there’s no need for musicians to invest in expensive equipment themselves.

    The cost of manufacturing commercial quantities of physical albums remains high, but while you’re still a relatively unknown artist — who can’t rely on high sales figures — attempting to sell CDs is far from the best way to make money, or raise awareness of your work.

    Instead, focus on avenues of income which require less financial commitment, such as sync licensing, gigging and digital distribution —this way, you’re not forced to resort to fan-funding your music.

What are the alternatives to fan-funding?

Once you are ready to break into the CD market, consider taking pre-orders first. The pre-order technique takes the financial risk out of manufacturing records and it is a good alternative to fan-funding as you only produce what you know will sell.

By making fans commit to purchasing an album before it’s produced, you guarantee that your production costs won’t outweigh the profits you generate in sales — so you’re not left with boxes of unsold CDs.

Unlike fan-funding, the pre-order method doesn’t require you to ask for ‘hand-outs’ from your supporters, so you retain total artistic integrity.

What’s more, seeking pre-orders is an effective way to assess the appetite for your work — if people are willing to pre-order your new music, you can be pretty certain that it’s ready for the CD market.

Have you used fan-funding to fund your music venture? What were your experiences? We would love to hear about them in the comments below.

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