Patronize Me, Please!

Everyone’s talking about Kickstarter, the online micro-funding service that last week announced that it was on track to disburse more than $150 million to artists this year—that’s at least $4 million more than the National Endowment for the Arts annual budget! It brings me back to a discussion the Glorious Noise crew had at the beginning of the record industry’s now amazing disintegration: will artists eventually rely on patronage to fund their projects?

It’s clear from the news last week that the answer is a resounding YES, though not in the way we’d imagined it then. Back then, in our drunken ramblings in Chicago, the idea was that artists would have wealthy benefactors who would bankroll projects because they valued the work at a higher rate than a $9.99 download. It would be a return to the Medici model and it would ultimately be bad for music—very bad. Mainly because the very rich have terrible taste. Just look at their houses, and cars, and clothes, and hair…ONLY the rich wear shoes like these.

Little did we know that the great internet democracy would rise up against the voices of power to reclaim the culture that was rightfully theirs! Brilliantly leveraging the power of both micro-loans and social media, Kickstarter has found a way to let fans directly support the artists they love BEFORE the artist has sunk her lifesavings into studio time and promotional costs on an project about which no one will ultimately care. Perfect, right?

Well, almost…

Playing to your audience is as old as entertainment and understanding who that audience is and delivering what they want is a great way to start a career, but does it lend itself to great art? If we left everything to the masses to fund, would we ever have had had a Bob Dylan—a goofy, Midwestern kid with a nasally voice and a whiney harmonica style with a penchant for old-timey folk songs? Sure, he would have found his audience and he might have eked out a career as the “song and dance man” he calls himself now, but the cultural effect might never have been felt.

That’s why, as much as I love Kickstarter and the opportunity it provides independent creative everywhere, it’s important that we still have patrons on a larger scale. Whether they are record labels who invest in and promote careers or it’s federal programs that seek to promote cultural endeavors in order for us to leave a mark on this planet we all inhabit for too brief a time. Now, if we could only apply the Kickstarter model to American political fundrasing…Hey wait!

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