Kickstarter path to Grammy nominations

Singer Amanda Palmer holds the record for the most money raised for a music project - US$1.2 million - for her 2012 album, Theatre Is Evil.
Singer Amanda Palmer holds the record for the most money raised for a music project - US$1.2 million - for her 2012 album, Theatre Is Evil. PHOTO: ST FILE

NEW YORK • The Nashville Symphony was in austerity mode three years ago as it recovered from the financial crisis and a flood that caused US$40 million in damage to its building.

To help finance an album by composer Joan Tower, it turned to Kickstarter, which is associated more with rock than classical music.

The campaign raised US$15,585 (S$22,307) from 86 backers and this month, Stroke, one of Tower's pieces from the album, is up for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.

Once viewed as a fringe area where baby bands make pleas for help, Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites have become part of the standard financial circuit for musicians, with releases that are edging closer to the mainstream.

This year, four albums connected to Kickstarter campaigns are up for Grammy Awards. In previous years, four have won.

Since its founding in 2009, Kickstarter - where artists, inventors and creative types solicit early payments from supporters - has raised US$1.9 billion for nearly 100,000 projects of various kinds.

Music has been the most popular category, with 22,000 successful campaigns, although creators in technology and film have raised larger sums for fewer projects.

Singer Amanda Palmer holds the record for the most money raised for a music project, US$1.2 million for her 2012 album, Theatre Is Evil.

The Grammy nominations this year show the site's breadth. Composer Andrew Norman's Play is also up for contemporary composition on an album by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Miguel Zenon's Identities Are Changeable has a nod for Best Latin Jazz Album; and the Cedric Burnside Project's Descendants Of Hill Country is up for Best Blues Album.

Crowdfunding outlets have become familiar sights in the Grammy catalogue. ArtistShare, a company founded in 2003 that has a partnership with the Blue Note label, is represented in three jazz nominations: the Gil Evans Project's Lines Of Color and the Maria Schneider Orchestra's The Thompson Fields are up for Best Large Ensemble Album, while a saxophone performance by Donny McCaslin on The Thompson Fields is a contender for Best Improvised Solo. Three of Schneider's albums that she made using ArtistShare won Grammys.

To extend its reach in music, Kickstarter has hired Ms Molly Neuman, an indie scene veteran, as its head of music.

She started her career playing drums for the riot grrrl band Bratmobile and was most recently interim president for the American Association of Independent Music, a trade body for small labels. She said: "When we're thinking about the future, it's really about how we can help artists give fans what they want in a more seamless way."

One example of how this might work, particularly for one-time stars who retain sizable followings, is a campaign started last week by Naughty By Nature.

It is looking to raise US$100,000 for a 25th-anniversary EP and offering perks for generous fans, including being in a music video (for US$5,000) or getting a private concert by the group (US$10,000).

"Thank God for technology and a loyal fan base. We feel like we don't need to be dependent on a record label anymore," said Vin Rock, a member of Naughty By Nature.

For now, the most valuable asset Kickstarter offers to artists may be its position as a conduit for money.

Mr Gil Rose, the leader of Boston Modern Orchestra Project and its label, BMOP/sound, which has used Kickstarter for four albums, said the site is most useful as a supplement to other forms of fundraising and functions best when the artists involved activate their own networks online.

Mr Alan Valentine, president of the Nashville Symphony, was more blunt in his assessment of the need for alternative funding types like Kickstarter. "You have to be innovative or you die."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2016, with the headline 'Kickstarter path to Grammy nominations'. Print Edition | Subscribe