Buying Into The Future

Contemporary journalism constantly sees impressive words thrown around with impunity. ‘Path-breaking’, critics will slip into their review of the latest electronic wunderkind. ‘Definitive’, they’ll call the new Devendra Banhart mourner.

Words seem to lose weight and the awesome slips into mediocrity – so perhaps you’ll forgive me when I use the word ‘revolutionary’ as it was originally intended.

Leading crowdfunding website Kickstarter estimates that it will facilitate the funding over $150 million worth of projects in 2013 – ranging from art to music to dance to film and everything in between. To put things into perspective, this is $4 million more than America’s National Endowment for the Arts.

Crowdfunding, or what this idea has grown into, has slowly begun to merit the adjectives and the attention it’s drawing. For the uninitiated, the idea of a community paying for the project it wants to see created isn’t really new. ArtistShare was providing people the opportunity to bring together the live acts and the albums they wanted to see and hear ten years ago.

The wheels have turned smoothly since. Patrons the world over have taken the future of art into their own hands, quick and effective, cutting out the middle men: the administration, the management, the bullshit. Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls, one of the more famous musicians to emerge from the whiplash of the movement, tells it like it is on her Kickstarter account – “(…) crowdfunding platforms like this are the BEST way to put out music right now – no label, no rules, no fuss, no muss. just us, the music, and the art…”

Needless to say, the potential is enormous. Europe and America are testament to the fact that the crowdfund has deep pockets. In a country like India, where the plight of the alternative has been well documented, this could be the bugle call, this could finally mean change. It’s not only about the finances, although they do play an undeniably large role: it’s about people putting their money where their mouth is.

“Who wouldn’t like to play to pre-booked venues? It’d be great to see some show of strength, people telling us that they like where we’re going and they want to help us along,” says Aalap Davjekar of Delhi-based trio Apocalypse Meow. “I love how the concept is mutually beneficial – investors back us when we need it most, when we’re cutting albums or touring – and they get a share of any monetary profits as well as added incentives, like free tickets or copies of CDs.”

And the best part is, you don’t have to be a moneyed man to fund your local heroes. Donations come in all sizes and every bit could make the difference. Here’s an optimistic case in point: a group of Brazilians actually tried to get indie giants Belle and Sebastian to perform in their country by asking like-minded fans to help raise the cash for the expenditure. It worked.

Of course, the Belle and Sebastian concert played out like a wonderful media-fuelled fantasy. There is no guarantee that similar people in similar situations would be able to crowdfund with the same degree of success. More than sixty percent of the funding on Kickstarter falls through because the target can’t be reached by a certain date. Even if it is, the commercial sponsors themselves eat a sizeable chunk (about ten percent). Pragmatism kicks in with rupee rates being what they are, and funding a Belle and Sebastian concert will, sadly, probably remain a distant pipe dream for the most of us. And then there’s always the possibility that, like any art, you might never see any returns on your investment – or worse, the final product itself might not live up to its artistic promise.

But what is undeniable to the most hardcore of cynics is that art is branching out, not just aesthetically but practically as well. For an audience with the newfound power to interact directly with an artist and to know exactly what they’re paying for, this could eventually portend a happier and more productive music scene.

Personally, the Marxist in me wants to believe in a prospective future of foiled conglomerates and independent albums and sold-out niche gigs. And he likes to think it doesn’t look all that bleak anymore.

written by Tej Haldule


NEWS - 29. August 2012  

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