You gotta pay the band

I have produced a few CDs over the years that were solely funded by me, and had no chance of being big sellers. This situation makes budgeting the project difficult, especially when it comes to paying the musicians. In some instances, I have just built a modest (but hopefully respectful) amount of money for each musician into the budget, and paid them for the recording. This makes the gamble mine alone, and makes the bookkeeping much easier, in the unlikely event that the CD actually makes money. We did do the first Lucky 7s CD with the understanding that once the initial investment was made back, we would share equally in the proceeds. No one was paid for the recording on the front end. Happily that CD has made a little money, and every once in a while I get to send each of the guys a check (a small check, but a check none the less).

Recently Kickstarter, and similar sites, have become a popular way of trying to finance recording projects. It is not difficult to see how this could seem more appealing than the personal savings method of financing. There has been a good bit of reaction to this trend, both positive and negative, and some insight as well.

All of this brings me to a new Kickstarter project I was recently asked to support. It is Steve Swell’s Nation of We. Steve has taken the curious angle of running the campaign to pay his band. It is not uncommon for artists to make a recording on their own, and then have a label pick it up. It is also not uncommon for the label to pay the musicians in product, i.e. the musicians provide the master, the label pays for pressing and distribution, and the musicians get paid in product (CDs they can sell themselves to make their money). Unless the CD really sells a lot, there is often no exchange of cash between the label and the musicians. NB: I don’t know that this is Steve’s deal on this CD, I just know it is common practice.

Part of me wants to complain about what a shame it is that we have to resort to organized begging to pay musicians for their creative work. The other part of me thinks it is cool that Steve wants to do right by his band, and that using Kickstarter to offer what amounts to CD pre-orders is a great idea. I’ll save the long form rant for a time when my thoughts on the matter or better organized.

I supported this project, and recommend that you check it out and see if it is something you would like to support as well.

2 thoughts on “You gotta pay the band

  1. Interesting use of a Kickstarter campaign. I admit, I am not entirely hip to the KS philosophy, though not intellectually against it either. I do find myself issuing a sigh of exasperation just about every time I come across a KS project (“not a-*nother* one?!” goes my brain). It does truly feel like organized begging. And people take it to new levels everyday. “Pay for my recording” is one thing, “Pay for travel expenses so that I can attend this festival/competition” starts to become too much. Before long it will be “Pay my rent so I can stay home and practice!” (I may be the one starting that campaign!).

    But when thought of in more practical terms, at least KS projects support the ideology that artists and art need to be financially supported. Not that they should be, but they need to be, which is more than we can say for so many restaurant and bar owners who feel it is a privilege to simply play for free! And really, as far as the bandleader and musicians go, wouldn’t the $15 spent for the food/drink minimum be better served as a donation to their project, in which the donor will get at the very least a digital download of some sort?

    I don’t know… will the economy in the shape that it is in and our leaders incapacity to do much about it, perhaps a change to the KS method of financial support isn’t such a bad idea.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Kelly.

    The first time I heard about Kickstarter, I thought it was brilliant. Then I started seeing musicians asking for crazy amounts of money to make a record. KS became the new way to get some “major label largesse.” If it costs $14k to make a singer/guitarist solo folk record, you are doing something wrong.

    I like the KS campaigns that have reasonable expectations. I guess like any other tool, some will use it well, and others will be greedy with it.

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