Overcoming the Expected

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“Too many bands nowadays seem to go about the production of their merch with the sole objective of fulfilling fans’ perceived format preferences, and end up with lackluster products that offer no advantages over a download… We’re fast approaching the point at which the convenience of digital files is preferred by everyone, and in order to sell, the physical version must offer something the digital does not. It must somehow be made into an object that every one of your fans has to own, has to hold while they listen to your music, and has to show to all of their friends. It must be transformed from a disposable good into something your fans will fetishize.” — Music As Artifact from the Bandcamp blog

The way we experience music has changed enormously over the past decade, but the dominant way that bands release it has not. Downloading is more common, vinyl and even the cassette are back in favor, and tools like Kickstarter are out there, but when it comes to releasing music and merch, things aren’t all that different. Start a band, record 12 songs, put out a CD, and pray that someone pays attention. That describes 99% of bands’ experiences.

Musicians have dominated much of what we call Web 2.0 precisely because the structure is so templated. This has not been a good thing. It has tunneled musicians further into the mindset of MP3s and CDs at the expense of more creative ideas. When artists do get creative — like Josh Freese or Radiohead or Jill Sobule or OK Go — people notice. Their campaigns show imagination and an understanding of what it’s like to be an actual fan. It excites the base and even grows it, too. You don’t need to be an Allison Weiss fan to be charmed by her offer to make you a personal mixtape of whatever songs you want, performed just for you. We all want our favorite musician to make us that offer — just name the price.

Today’s Project of the Day, Why I Must Be Careful’s “100,000 Honey Bees to Create One-of-a-Kind Album Art,” does a spectacular job of turning something rote (a new record) into something wildly imaginative (a record sleeve made out of real honeycomb). Kickstarter is full of artists releasing music in fascinating permutations. Last year the Austin band Shearwater released a deluxe, 75-page album-accompanying dossier exclusively to their backers; more recently we’ve seen imaginative projects from J. Wise of the French Kicks and Beach House drummer Graham Hill. Their projects have benefited from their creativity.

Not every reward can be special and not every project has a big idea. We get this. But the benefits of being creative are enormous. A Kickstarter project is a unique opportunity to sculpt the world according to your point-of-view, your imagination the only limitation. Take advantage of it.

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