Crowdfunding albums

That’s the approach southern gospel songwriter Belinda Smith is taking to a live recording she wants to make for her 40th birthday. You can see all the details here, but the gist of the set-up is that the artist sets a goal for funding the album ($10K in this case, with production assistance by sg producer Kevin Ward) and a deadline for contributions and then hustles hard to reach the goal by the appointed time. If the target isn’t met, no one’s credit cards are charged, and it is like it never happened. Cause … well … it won’t have.

It’s an interesting approach, and it will be curious to see if it works (full disclosure: I made a contribution to Smith’s album, not least of all because I’ve enjoyed a good many songs she’s written over the years and figure that I’ve spent enough time complaining about suboptimal music and inferior production from the old way of doing things that a new way is worth my support). But I’m at least as interested in the general concept of seeking alternatives to the old A&R model of artistic development, creation, and production - whether it’s the Kickstarter framework or something else. And apparently others are too. I gather that Warren Barfield and Jill Phillips, among other established performers, have used similar crowdfunding models for their work.

That we even find something novel about the crowdfunding approach to music recordings says a lot more about how pervasive the old music-business model is/was. Because it’s certainly not that these crowdfunded approaches are new. In the early days of mass-produced books, authors or publishers would solicit subscribers to cover the cost of publication prior to production. So in many ways, Kickstarter and similar models are somewhat back-to-the-future approaches.

There are inherent drawbacks here too, of course: whether going homestead to homestead on horseback in colonial New England or sharing a link with Facebook friends or Twitter followers or a digital address book, in both cases there’s the risk of creative insularity or sclerosis if what gets produced is that which me and/or my circle of friends and family like or will support. But given the derivative sameness and soul-destroying artistic impoverishment that has become the hallmark of the old label/A&R model, it’s hard to imagine that a different model could do much worse.

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  1. Bryce wrote:

    For an even greater appreciation of Smith, I recommend the cassette she recorded with Paul White and Charlotte Penhollow as a trio called Jordan. This was a short-lived group that formed after White and Penhollow departed The Nelons upon Kelly’s and Jerry’s return, and remained together until shortly after Charlotte was re-hired by The Nelons. Belinda’s singing was somewhat throaty, but the blend is pretty fantastic.

    Incidentally, this is the same trio that performs on A Promised Reunion, the RNS reunion video, for which Nelon alto Tammy Britton did not return.

  2. j-mo wrote:

    Shaun Groves (CCM artist - recently did the same thing. He dis-associated from his label years back. Then, after some years since his last release, announced he needed over $20K to record his first ablum. He started a kickstarter page and outlined different rewards you would get for different levels of donations. Everything from getting a copy of the CD, to getting to sit in on studio sessions, to getting one of his old guitars , to getting a full concert at your home or venue of choosing. I believe he passed his $20K goal in a matter of days.

    I think it’s a great model for artists who already have some sort of fan base. Among other things, it ensures you aren’t making masturbatory albums that aren’t truly in demand. Obviously you have to make it clear from the beginnig that a donation, no matter the size, doesn’t give you any sort of creative input. If you do that I don’t really see what the negatives would be.

  3. Belinda wrote:

    Bryce! Must we? Can’t one wear a large and awkward pink dress and have stunningly huge hair and ever live it down???? Was that 1994? I can’t remember. ha Thanks for complimenting the blend that we had. It was fun to hang with Paul and Charlotte during that time, and just to put anyone’s worries to rest, the dress has, in fact, been burned. ;-p

    And, thanks, Doug. We’ll see what happens with the Kickstarter thing, but you never know till you just put yourself out there. :-)

  4. Jeff wrote:

    Here is the taste of them from 1994 of Jordan.

  5. Jeff wrote:

    Belinda Got to say I love your version of the Nelons song “Here Comes Jesus” on there.

  6. Bryce wrote:

    I just spent the last hour reattaching the magnetic tape to the leader strip of my 17-year-old cassette. Now I’m looking forward to finally transferring this recording to an mp3 before the entire tape disintegrates from repeated playing. All that remains is to scan the cover photo, complete with pink dress, into my PC.

    In 1994, you could have worn much worse, Belinda. I know I did!

  7. ck wrote:

    So sad to see the Televangelism of Christian Music. . . . If you will send me the money, God will make us a CD. Sad, sad day.

  8. Bones wrote:

    Has she been hanging with the Blackwoods?

  9. CVH wrote:

    I think it’s a good idea and if handled properly (with class and financial oversight) it’s a perfectly viable model for some groups. I actually brokered a couple of records that way with Light back in the 80’s.

    The tradition of a commitment between a record label and an artist to help develop the act, front the records, even provide promotional assistance is dead. With the rise of indie artists and digital media platforms, it’s the bidness side of the industry that’s been lagging behind.

    Creative control may be a motivation for some groups. I suspect for others though it will be the benefit of putting together their own financing without as many strings attached. But the bottom line is, the artist will have to have a good track record to solicit investors and create a good product that will be commercially successful (not just artistically satisfying). Otherwise you’re going to have one very agitated Aunt Blabby sitting in the front row, cursing the day she gave the group fifty bucks from her Social Security for the new record.

  10. Soli Deo Gloria wrote:

    I like the general concept, but call me when an artist is offering an ownership interest in the record for my generous “contribution.”

    Otherwise, I’m inclined to agree with No. 7.

  11. weber wrote:

    Hanging with the Blackwoods? Ha Ha too funny, just a few years back they were taking up donations to buy a bus…..if you gave 100.00 you got ur name on a plaque inside the bus….just sayin

  12. ode wrote:

    9, I have a question - is there any SG produced by main lables? Or it’s all indie? thanks, CVH

  13. MusicLover wrote:

    Belinda, I love the idea of this CD. And I didn’t get the sense it was a christian CD. It’s listed under Country/Folk on your Weg page?

    I was actually thinking of the bigger picture/grassroots effort of giving money to artists (musical and otherwise) whose work I believe in. With arts funding being cut everywhere, I find kickstarter pretty exciting and empowering. I might fund some other projects in the future and plan to encourage my students to think outside the box for work they believe in. There are some cool visual artists on the site, too.

    I’m not surprised to see both positive and negative responses here: new ideas always excite and agitate (even though AVL argues it’s retro). Bravo for taking a risk. I hope it works for you!

    Belinda, do you plan to wear the pink dress again? Maybe you should make it a reward for a potential pledge…lol….

  14. cdguy wrote:

    #12 — Yes.

  15. cynical one wrote:

    Belinda’s probably a little more open than other artists who ask you to “pre-order” their upcoming project, which, in reality, hasn’t even gone to the studio yet. And that does happen, from time to time.

    Gold City’s cd (that’s been anticipated for about a year, now) comes to mind.

  16. Wade wrote:

    Has GCQ Offered any other details or offered anybodies money back!!! ????

  17. Greg R wrote:

    Thanks for sharing this story about Belinda Smith and her Kickstarter campaign. Crowdfunding is going to be a very important part of the music industry in the not too distant future. is a crowdfunding site, similiar to Kickstarter, that is 100% dedicated to musicians. Launching this Fall. Please check us out and spread the word.

  18. quartet-man wrote:

    #16 Wade, somewhere (I think a response by Daniel on a blog) he said people could have their money back if they wanted.

  19. quartet-man wrote:

    #16, I took a few minutes and found it. Look towards the bottom:

  20. CVH wrote:

    #12 ode: The majority of records released every year are on labels that specialize in southern gospel. Whereas in other genres of music the indie artist has made a choice not to be ‘controlled’ by a label, in SG most indie artists are up-and-comers who haven’t risen to the level of quality or prominence where they would attract the interest of a label. Or they’re well-established artists who have the resources to do it themselves. But for most SG indies it’s not as much a preference as it is a lack of other options.

    A few of the ‘main’ labels in SG are Daywind, Gaither Music Group, Mansion,
    Horizon/Sonlite/Vine/Crossroads, Spring Hill, etc.

    If you mean are mainstream labels like Sony, BMG, EMI, WMG doing SG, I don’t believe so. The closest connection might have been the revitalized (but now dormant again) Canaan label that was owned by Word which is currently part of WMG/Curb.

  21. Gayla wrote:

    I think the formerly SGM trio Shiloh - I believe they are now named “Four-Twelve” - funded their newest CD project this way. It seemed to work well for them.

  22. Nate Stainbrook wrote:

    Wade I was at a Gold City Concert recently. They told me that if you call the GCQ office, and ask them for a refund one will be given to you…

  23. Wade wrote:

    Thankz Quartet Man & Nate!!! Be interesting to get a report of how they are doing with the new line up??? If anybody has a report feel free!!!

  24. Andy wrote:

    This is such an interesting topic that I had to opine.

    The mentioned approach to funding a project was recently discussed on a podcast presented by CDBabydotcom (the podcasts are over at CDBabyPodcastdotcom). The specifics were a bit different in that the artist was asking for donations per track: they said each track would cost $xxx and if a donation was received, the donor would receive a mention in the liner notes that “xyz track was underwritten by Joe Smith” or some other shout-out / thanks.

    This approach has also been noted by popular author/blogger/podcaster Dan Miller, who lives in Franklin, TN, and I gather runs in the same circles as Dave Ramsey. I have no affiliation with either other than observer and occasional listener.

    There’s a book out by a best selling author (a Marketer’s Marketer) named Seth Godin called TRIBES and in here, he mentions that the music industry has failed to listen to or lead it’s tribe. Parenthetical note: consequently, the old record companies that are still working under the “music scarcity” model are going bankrupt by the hour (another topic / another day).

    I mention this because the gatekeepers of music, music funding, and music distribution are dissolving. As a result, the notion of having to be “picked” by Daywind, Gaither, etc., is slipping into the annuls of the music industry history books.

    Sure, there are those artists that believe in an ever-shining persona and can’t put their pride on the shelf long enough to admit (publicly) that they need some financial assistance. IMHO, this does nothing to further the music or message God intends to spread using the fruit and resources of believers.

    I’m all for independent artists — that do music right and well — to succeed. This methodology, while appearing somewhat cumbersome, is in many ways groundbreaking.

    I must admit that, if artists of no reputation begin hounding and begging for money for this or that, and have no track record of discretion for use of funds, I typically check out.

    But, perhaps we can talk about the credibility and financial prudence of Christian artists another day?

  25. Nate Stainbrook wrote:

    Wade I attended a three day gospel event this past weekend; Gold City sang one night. I did a quick review of what I felt were the highlights, on my blog you can read that here…

  26. Ode wrote:

    CDguy and CVH, appreciate your reply.

    Well, good for SG! Being with big main labels is not as profitable as it was before, due to reasons you explained.
    my fav progr rock band Dream Theater deliberatly left Atlantic and went with small indie label, with even better results.

  27. Wade wrote:

    Thanks Nate that is GREAT NEWS!!!

    I LOVE GOLD CITY!!! I want them to be SUPER DUPER GREAT AGAIN it is looks like it is headed that way from what you say!!!

    I have gave especially Daniel a hard time in the past but it was because I love them so much.

    I am proud to say I was the first to book them in the Chattanooga Area after Robe of White singled and Ivan had not been with them long… fell in love with them then and have ever since!!!

    Go Gold City GO!!!!

  28. Nate Stainbrook wrote:

    Wade that is pretty neat about you being the first to book them in Chattanooga… Speaking of “Robe Of White” I did not mention it in my review; but Keeton did a bang up job on that one as well. He has that Gold City tenor range that has really been lacking lately…

  29. Wade wrote:

    Good to hear Nate… I hope he was able, unlike most ppl that sing the song, to get all the words in a timely matter!!! That always bugs me when hear most ppl sing it!!!…the phrase they have such as issue getting all the words in…SEE MY NAME IN THE BOOK OF LIFE

  30. Ben Storie wrote:

    I think Belinda Smith is the bomb diggity.

  31. Ben Storie wrote:

    I encourage everyone to dip into their personal savings, retirement funds, piggy banks and children’s inheritance to contribute to her recording.

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