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date: 08 May 2021

(p. 551) Participatory Culture and Fundraising

Our final three chapters explore the developing relationship between the Internet and funding, an issue that has surfaced across the Handbook. In a period of dwindling investments in music, and artists who have not yet reached a degree of popularity that guarantees, to any real certain extent, potential investors, “Music represents one of the primary sectors where fertile ground has been found for crowdfunding” (Chapter 30). Yet the relationship between the project initiator and potential funders is complex and often problematic, demanding both an investment in time and effective communication skills, while highlighting the importance of self-management. As such, Part Seven provides both a historical overview of crowdfunding and insights as to how best to develop that crucial relationship between producer and fan/funder.

For those readers who are less familiar with its practicalities, Mark Thorley’s opening Chapter 29, “Virtual Music, Virtual Money: The Impact of Crowdfunding Models on Creativity, Authorship, and Identity,” examines the pros and cons, bringing professional insight into how the Internet offers musicians the possibility of connecting directly with their fans and audience, who, as potential funders, form part of a “virtual alliance” with the producer, who also works virtually: “The project is pitched, fans coalesce around it, and it is funded and most probably sold—all virtually” (Chapter 29). But as Thorley reveals, “Although virtual facilitation is leading to an undeniable shift, the reality is unlikely to be as straightforward as the utopia that (p. 552) has been suggested” (ibid.). A review of the changing role of the producer reveals both the breadth of backgrounds and the work involved in running a crowdfunded project. As he observes, in terms of identity the project initiator may see himself or herself as, for example, singer, musician, or music arranger and may not be conscious of a shift in identity toward that of producer. Nevertheless, he or she has to take responsibility for a combination of logistical, creative, and financial functions.

The first objective, then, is to outline and justify the term producer (as a collective to refer to such a range of creative practitioners) by examining the work involved in running a crowdfunded project. Motivation is a key issue, not least because crowdfunding can be used to fund a wide variety of projects—including music, technology development, film, literary works, and software—as well as compete against the huge range of media content the Internet brings. Similarly, underestimating the role of cultural intermediation, not least that of the artist and repertoire (A&R) person and the guidance this brings with it, can create problems and “risk of failure in a crowdfunded project” (ibid.). As Thorley observes, “A key aspect of crowdfunding is the manner in which the producer retains ownership of the work” (ibid.), but even though this may suggest more control, “it may be over a limited set of opportunities” (ibid.). As he explains, facilitating a more direct connection between producer and audience can have a liberating effect, one that fosters overall diversity, but this has to be balanced against the risk of pitching a product yet to happen, and the extent to which the various types of crowdfunding platforms have control, influence, or insight into the creative process. Identification of the crowdfunded project as “the next stage of virtual music development” (ibid.) provides an interesting hook into a discussion of “the specific nature of a crowdfunded project” (ibid.), its often DIY approach, and why quality and the ability to construct offerings that are attractive to fan funders remains an important part of the decision-making process. Not least, “Crowdfunding involves significant shifts in the behavior of the funders” (ibid.) thanks to the increase in uncertainty and responsibility, and as such there must be “reasonable hopes of getting something from the experience” (ibid.). After all, “this commitment dictates whether a project finds a wider audience” (ibid.).

The significance of Thorley’s observations is evidenced in Francesco D’Amato’s chapter, “With a Little Help from My Friends, Family, and Fans: DIY, Participatory Culture, and Social Capital in Music Crowdfunding.” As his case studies reveal, DIY requires construction of both social networks and social capital, and here “the participative web offers new opportunities,” enabling “users to establish new ties based on shared interests and objectives” (Chapter 30). The importance of social networks for crowdfunding DIY cultures is, as D’Amato sagely notes, fundamental: in a virtual environment “no community generally equals no funding” (Lawton and Marom, cited in ibid.). This shift toward a “DIWO [do-it-with-others] … new business mentality” (Lawton and Marom, cited in ibid.) is evidenced in the number of musicians who adopt crowdfunding as a means of (p. 553) finding “the resources necessary for self-production of specific projects” (ibid.), and the associated importance of dedicated business platforms “with their own interests and business models” (ibid.). D’Amato’s insight into construction and management of social networks and capital is informed by “in-depth interviews with both musicians and backers, as well as quantitative analysis of data concerning the networks of backers of specific campaigns” (ibid.). The success of his first case study, Honeybird & the Birdies, resulted from the band’s self-management approach and their “intense live activity,” which afforded “opportunities to build social networks” (ibid.). This included “a relationship with Enrico Gabrielli, a musician of the more popular group Calibro 35, who later produced the album financed through crowdfunding” (ibid.).

In contrast, Fabrizio’s project, Cobol Pongide, lacked the support of a booking agency and experienced difficulties in consolidating and maintaining a relationship network. As D’Amato observes, “The lack of an external critical point of view on the project and the weakness of some virtual relations simplistically labeled as fandom can end up being two limits to the DIY in virtual environment” (ibid.). An analysis of funders reveals both the importance of establishing strong ties—“the difficulty of activating the participation of individuals outside the preexisting networks of contacts”—and the implications of failing to reach established campaign goals (ibid.). As he concludes, “An effective crowdfunding campaign therefore requires specific resources and skills, for both the accumulation of social capital prior to the campaign, as well as for the work involved in converting the social capital during the campaign and for the promotion outside of one’s own networks. Obviously, such resources and skills are not equally distributed” (ibid.).

Justin Williams and Ross Wilson also explore the implications for artist-fan interactivity on the Internet. As they observe, even though crowdfunded musical projects “have their roots in earlier forms of patronage … the online iteration … has new implications for the value of composition as labor, the added value of paratextual products, and the relationship between fan-consumers and artistic creativity” (Chapter 31). “Music and Crowdfunded Websites: Digital Patronage and Artist-Fan Interactivity” examines three case studies: Maria Schneider on ArtistShare, Amanda Palmer on Kickstarter, and Public Enemy on Sellaband. It offers “a comparative analysis of the methods, ideologies, and level of interactivity in each instance of crowdfunding” (ibid.). As they explain, “A current challenge for record labels and music-related companies is how best to mix traditional and emerging business models in order to take advantage of fan-consumer behavior in what has been called Web 2.0” and its “crucial part in not only the crowdfunding model, but also in the online and offline identity of the artist and consumer in the digital era” (ibid.). More specifically, as “online platforms have been able to mobilize fan communities worldwide who wish to help fund a project” (ibid.), this also raises the question of motivation and rewards: “whether or not the paratextual products are actually incentives to invest or (p. 554) whether or not they [the fan communities] wish to fund these projects in support of the artists regardless of these extra items” (ibid.).

With online artist-fan interactivity shifting the balance from a passive audience to an active user of the media, it has become increasingly evident that online intimacy in the artist-fan relationship can contribute to an artist’s success by cultivating both an identity and the necessary online following that leads to crowdfunding. As a resource, social networks can “achieve things people either could not achieve by themselves, or could achieve with great difficulty” (Field, cited in Chapter 30). Williams and Wilson agree: “Crowdfunding sites vary in their rhetoric and branding that they use, but most emphasize the agency of the fan in the process” (Chapter 31). A selective and comparative list of crowdfunding websites (Table 31.1) illustrates how “the collective or the crowd has become of high symbolic value in Web 2.0 and potentially can be transformed into exchange value through digital patronage” (ibid.). As a Web 2.0 phenomenon, crowdfunding “allows the consumer to engage in what Vincent Miller calls ‘networked individualism’ … actively supporting artists and sharing one’s tastes with a network of like-minded fans, and then broadcasting those tastes to one’s other communities to help shape her or his online identity. The notion of collective intelligence is thus placed on the fan’s choice in artist, rather than the creative output of the artists themselves” (Chapter 31). It is worth noting that all three of their case studies arguably benefited “from the increased ideological (and often monetary) value on the ‘user’ or ‘crowd’ in Web 2.0 participatory cultures, as well as the convergence of the online retailer with the crowdfunded digital patronage system” (ibid.). As such, even though investments by funders attracted different rewards, the key to success remains building and sustaining a relationship between the artist and his or her fans. Without such interactivity—as all three chapters demonstrate—successful crowdfunding is unlikely. The key to success, as Williams and Wilson conclude, depends on the funder’s belief “in the person or group’s artistic vision and abilities in order to see it as a worthy endeavor” (ibid.).

Field, John. 2008. Social Capital, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Lawton, Kevin, and Dan Marom. 2010. The Crowdfunding Revolution. Self-published. CreateSpace.Find this resource:

Miller, Vincent. 2011. Understanding Digital Culture. London: Sage.Find this resource:

Additional Recommended Reading

Anderson, Tim. 2014. Popular Music in a Digital Music Economy: Problems and Practices for an Emerging Service Industry. New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Anderton, C., A. Dubber, and M. James. 2013. Understanding the Music Industries. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Find this resource:

(p. 555) Collins, S., and S. Young. 2014. Beyond 2.0: The Future of Music. London: Equinox.Find this resource:

Crossley, N., S. McAndrew, and P. Widdop. 2014. Social Networks and Music Worlds. New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

David, Matthew. 2010. Peer to Peer and the Music Industry: The Criminalization of Sharing. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Find this resource:

Glanville, Jo. 2015. Smashed Hits 2.0: Music Under Pressure. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Find this resource:

Hardy, Phil. 2013. Download: How the Internet Transformed the Record Business. London: Omnibus Press.Find this resource:

Jones, Michael. 2012. The Music Industries: From Conception to Consumption. Basingstoke: Palgrave.Find this resource:

Kernfeld, Barry. 2011. Pop Song Piracy: Disobedient Music Distribution Since 1929. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Find this resource:

Klein, B., G. Moss, and L. Edwards. 2015. Understanding Copyright: Intellectual Property in the Digital Age. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Find this resource:

Knopper, Steve. 2009. Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Music Industry in the Digital Age. New York: Simon and Schuster.Find this resource:

Kot, Greg. 2010. Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music. New York: Simon and Schuster.Find this resource:

Kretschmer, Martin, et al. 2001. “Music in Electronic Markets: An Empirical Study.” New Media and Society 3: 417–441.Find this resource:

Maguire, J., and J. Matthews. 2013. The Cultural Intermediaries Reader. London: Sage.Find this resource:

Marshall, Lee, ed. 2013. The International Recording Industries. New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Park, David. 2007. Conglomerate Rock: The Music Industry’s Quest to Divide Music and Conquer Wallets. Lanham: Lexington.Find this resource:

Rogers, Jim. 2013 The Death and Life of the Music Industry in the Digital Age. London: Bloomsbury.Find this resource:

Stahl, Matt. 2013. Unfree Masters: Popular Music and the Politics of Work. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Find this resource:

Tschmuck, Peter. 2006. Creativity and Innovation in the Music Industry. Dordrecht: Springer.Find this resource:

Wikström, Patrick. 2009. The Music Industry: Music in the Cloud. Cambridge, UK: Polity. (p. 556) Find this resource: