Fans show ’em the money

As we brace ourselves for the 2010s, the music industry’s future — one unsettled during this decade with illegal file sharing — is experiencing a bit of nostalgia.

The Times recently buzzed about the single’s resurgence, since we’re all shopping for individual .99 cent iTunes tracks that we’ll more or less blast on our smartphones.

But we still take music for granted as free, and — like it or not — our favourite musicians continue to get caught out in the cold, trying to spare a dime. Yet, just as musicians were the first to feel online’s free culture — remember Napster? — they’ve also found a new way to pay for their craft: fan funding.

As more musicians break away from record labels, they’re increasingly appealing to loyal fans to support their touring, recording and promotions. The incentive? Fans’ donations follow an online tiered system that grants an immersive experience: autographs, sitting in on recording sessions, and even having a say on what makes it onto an album.

Take Saidah Baba Talibah. The Canadian singer/songwriter has sung backup on Canadian Idol and for artists like Tom Jones and Enrique Iglesias, and while she’s a critical favourite, mainstream success and major label support have so far eluded her.

Until now: In October, Talibah digitally released The Phone Demos. The EP is the basis for a comprehensive strategy to encourage the fan-funding of her spring 2010 album, S(C)ream.

“I noticed that a lot of people in the folk and songwriting communities really called on their supporters to help get stuff done, be it recordings or even touring across the States or Canada,” Talibah says about her strategy.

“It’s so important for artists to have a connection to their supporters and to the world, on their own terms.”

Talibah has the usual Facebook/MySpace/Twitter set-up to help promote her musi, but she’s exposing S(C)ream’s process in the hopes it’ll bring fans close enough to donate money to help cover the album’s recording and rehearsal costs. Her strategy (at just $15, you get a signed CD and private concert invite) has been incorporated into the videos and live photos she regularly posts online.

Some have been critical: In a Boston Globe piece on the subject, Dave Kusek, vice-president of Berklee College of Music, has noted the danger of not delivering what fans want. “They’re effectively loaning you money in the hopes that they’ll get something in return. So if you don’t come through, you’re running the risk of alienating your fans and eliminating those relationships.”

Talibah feels she’s still getting something out of fan-funding: A better understanding of her audience, and exposing her fans to making an album.

Socialite in brief
• Public Enemy is looking to raise $250,000 US for the recording and release of their 13th album via Sellaband, an Amsterdam-based fan-funding website. Chuck D is quick to note that PE doesn’t exactly need the financing, but wants fans’ input in creating a collaboration-driven album.”

• Lily Allen is “social networker of the decade,” reports The Observer. But just last month, the British pop star got rid of her Blackberry, gave away her laptop and shut down her Twitter account with the following status update: “I am now a neo-luddite. Goodbye.”

– Rea McNamara writes about the on/offline statuses of niches and subcultures. Follow her on Twitter @reeraw

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