Before the era of recorded music, the performer and their audience had a direct connection principally because they sat in the same room. The audience could show appreciation with various measures of enthusiasm, be non-committal or even ignore a performance. The performer could also respond to the audience immediately with their performance, or at a later date in developing new works to satisfy the audience. The invention of the Phonograph altered this relationship completely by breaking the link of time and space. Eisenberg (2005:129-30) notes the profound effect of the Phonograph, stating ‘the audience is not there…[is] the flip side of the fact that, for the listener, the performer is not there’. The concept of what Eisenberg calls ‘music as a commodity’ has therefore meant isolation of the performer from their audience.
This technologically-mediated shift has facilitated much of the work which record companies, publishers, producers, managers and associated personnel engage in. Examples include a manager guiding a fledgling artist at the start of their career; through to a senior Artist and Repertoire (A&R) executive continually knocking back an established artist’s recorded material before release. Whilst it would seem that all such people involved in these activities represent the audience, the link between the audience and the artist has become much more complex and difficult to navigate for the musician or recording artist.
Just as technology created the isolation of artist and audience, it is now offering a rejoining. Emergent technology initially offered an alternative to the traditional distribution chain in that music could be bought and acquired electronically. However, emergent technology is now providing a feedback loop between artist and audience. Rather than being in ignorance of audience response until work has been released, artists can now be informed and influenced by their existing and potential audience. The digital link can now therefore be two way and new platforms are being developed which make this link increasingly functional.
The need for research
Given the implications of this rejoining, it is surprising to note the limited extent of research on this subject. There is, of course, related research and this tends to fall into a number of categories. These firstly include works which refer to the shift in music consumption in the age of the digital download as typified by Kusek and Leonard’s ‘The Future of Music’ (2005). Works which examine the legal and business aspects of using digital networks to distribute recorded music content include Sparrow’s ‘Music Distribution and the Internet’ (2006). Lastly, there are plenty of ‘how to’ books which extol the virtues of the internet and how artists can achieve success without record companies. Examples of these include Ashurst’s ‘Stuff the Music Business (2000) and Mewton’s ‘Music and the Internet Revolution’ (2001). Whilst being useful, they give little consideration as to how the recording or performing artist should gain either working capital or cultural capital from their audience.
This paper examines ways in which emergent technological platforms are bringing artist and audience together again principally through its focus on the Artistshare platform. Launched in 2002, it was the first model to allow the audience (or participants as they are referred to as) to invest in recording projects before they take place. The recording artist gets the opportunity to realise projects through their audience becoming involved and committing funding. The audience in turn gets the opportunity to have a closer involvement with a project from the start through to completion (and beyond, in some cases). This involvement can range from purchasing a special edition CD, through to being credited as Executive Producer, the cost being relative to the perceived value of the involvement. The result is a change in the relationship between the artist and audience (they can no longer realistically be called consumers), and suggests a number of issues which warrant examination. For example, what did Artistshare artists anticipate to be the effect of involving audiences in their creative process and what were the final effects? Do those who invest more money deserve more influence and does the relationship shift at all?
The insight of the artists using the Artistshare platform is clearly central. Though information about the artists themselves is available via the Artistshare website and their own online profiles, it does not provide the detail necessary for this study. For this reason, a qualitative approach was taken in the form of a survey (see appendix 1 for questionnaire). The survey was divided into three sections; background, reasons for using Artistshare, and relationship, influence and access to the creative process. The ‘background’ section aimed to establish genre, how Artistshare is being mixed with other distribution channels, and what packages were being offered. The ‘reasons for using Artistshare’ section aimed to explore the reasoning behind adopting such an innovative method of connecting and funding. Lastly, the ‘relationship, influence and access to the creative process’ section aimed to explore the actual effects of using the platform. The effects explored were firstly on the processes of writing, arranging and pre-production, followed by performance and lastly, the technical process of recording. The remaining questions centred upon the relationship with fan-funders and the effect of the package paid for. Apart from the background section, the questions were largely open-ended, this being adopted as the best way to solicit the attitudes, beliefs and knowledge of the group in question.
Before the survey was employed, initial work (covered in the ‘background to artists using Artistshare’ section) examined the overall adoption of the platform. This aimed to highlight use of the platform, location of users and genres. This data was taken from online sources such as the Artistshare site itself, and the artist’s own online profiles and activities. As such, it supplements the qualitative content and seeks to provide further material for discussion.
The methodology employed has implications for the scope of the research. Though providing a much needed insight into the effect of fan-funding and crowd sourcing for music projects, it only looks at one platform (there are now a rapidly-evolving number). Additionally, it is based on the response of thirteen Artistshare artists who chose to respond to the survey rather than all of the artists who presently use, or have used the platform.
Results and discussion
Background to Artists using Artistshare
In order to see what kind of artists use Artistshare, their genres, countries of origin and mix with other channels were examined. In terms of genre, shown in figure 1, though Artistshare covers a considerable breadth of music genres, from classical through to comedy, the greatest majority are involved in producing jazz. Even if all the artists of other eight genres were to be combined, they are still dwarfed by the number of jazz artists looking to fund projects through Artistshare.
As figure 2 shows, the majority of artists originate from the US with Canada being the next most represented. There are significant numbers where the origin is not known (or hidden) and though there is actually representation across Europe, Asia and South America, numbers are low in each country.
An artist may previously have used more established channels such as being signed to a record label and may indeed mix different approaches at the same time. As Figure 3 shows, artists are not coming to Artistshare in the first instance. Instead, they have previous business relationship with record companies (or similar) who have released their albums. It appears therefore that artists are not using it when they are starting their careers – instead, as established recording and performing artists, they are using it as a replacement for previous models.
Reasons for adoption
Artists were asked about why they adopted the Artistshare model, and how they anticipated it changing their working. There were a variety of rationales and motivations expressed for adoption, and these fell into a number of categories shown in figure 4. The less common answers referred to building relationships, being able to market better, it being a good idea, or merely it being new. Most common, however, were references to control, economic factors and ownership.
These references to control should be considered within the context of the artists having previous experience of other channels of release for their work. They are looking for a way of funding and distributing their work which will facilitate better control than previously experienced. A typical response on this point is from Monday Michuru, who explains why she moved from a label to Artistshare:
‘At this point, I knew it was about retaining the rights to what I felt I should be putting out for my audience to hear, rather than to let the record label(s) dictate what they think is “worth” (or really saleable) and I pulled out of the deal.’
Such a motivation does not express the wish to control their work from the start of a career – it is a perceived need for improvement and a marked reaction against what Bourdieu (1984) originally termed as the cultural intermediary. The cultural intermediary exists in many fields whether film, literature or in this case music, filling the gap which technology (amongst other factors) opens up between creator and consumer. In this instance, Artistshare is seen as a way to wrestle control back from cultural intermediaries.
The second most commonly-cited response was to a change of the economic or financial model because of the direct route between participant and artist. Circumventing the traditional way of a record company funding a recording offers two advantages. Firstly, it means that the record company is not taking a percentage of the sales revenue so there can be more for the artist. Secondly, a project which a record company may choose not to fund can be funded. Thinking about how record companies fund projects exposes a common underestimation of the role of the cultural intermediary though. Commonly, cultural intermediation is thought of merely in terms of A&R, though in reality, it extends much further. Business affairs, legal and marketing functions also involve cultural intermediation, and the factors which influence their decision-making are far more complex. For example, accounting functions may decide whether or not to fund a release based on a roster of artists also being promoted, and how the company is performing financially. Therefore, there are advantages to being able to circumvent the complex decision-making processes, and make projects work which may otherwise not get funded. An example of this includes Allan Harris, a jazz/r&b vocalist and guitarist based in the US who used Artistshare to fund his ‘Cross the River Project’. Similarly, Maria Schneider sees advantages to using the Artistshare platform because her records are ‘expensive to make’.
Closely related to control, and economic factors are references to ownership. Contrary to established models, with Artistshare, the artists themselves retain ownership of the recorded works. Monday Michuru sums up her thoughts on this aspect thus:
‘I like the independence, felt that I had a strong enough fan base for this to work, knew that it meant I could retain my artistic rights to write and produce what I felt was good and not be dependent on other people’s opinions.’
Ownership of the work is attractive to artists for two reasons. Firstly, it means that the artist takes the rewards as well as the risk in embarking on a project. Secondly, it means that the work can be exploited as the artist sees fit – release it as and when they like, and use it in other contexts as and when they decide it is appropriate.
The motivation to control, adopt a different financial model and own the work are obviously inter-related in that control is facilitated by ownership; ownership modifies the flow of money and so on. This concept should also be thought of in the context of the data on genre, country of origin and previous channels. For example, the creative freedom desired here is probably at the heart of jazz more than other genres. Also, previous releases (as the sample group have) provide the artists with credibility and an established fan base. It would be far more difficult to get participation without having a previous track record such as that shown here.
Anticipated change in working
Moving beyond the reasons for adoption, the respondents were asked how they anticipated Artistshare changing their way of working. As figure 5 indicates, the vast majority of responses referred to no anticipated change in working. This is closely related to the issues of control and ownership outlined previously as it offers the opportunity for work to not be creatively managed by others. The question is probably somewhat limited in the response which it solicits though, as surely having more creative and financial control, and favourable ownership would mean a significant change in working. It seems, however that respondents are considering how they behave as composers and recording artists. In this instance they see the new model as having little impact on how they operate. They are therefore moving from previous arrangements which impinged upon their work, to a situation which they anticipate the funding will have little impact on.
There is some evidence of the artists sampled being aware of how the relationship with the audience is now changing and can no longer be really considered as producer and consumer. An example of this is the response from Torben Walforff (a Danish guitarist focussed on ‘jazz that draws on country, rock and blues’) who states that:
‘I am aware that I am now making music for some that follow what we do, and if anything, it’s inspiring to know that this is followed, and someone is waiting to check this out’.
This response, whilst not commonly expressed, is interesting as it suggests awareness before using Artistshare of how the relationship could be a closer one, and that the responsibility to deliver to the audience will rest squarely with the artist. Tracy Silverman, a violinist also reiterates the potential improvement in the financial situation when he states:
‘I didn’t think it would change my work at all. I thought it might help to expediate my work by allowing me to fund it more quickly than if I were to wait until the work was complete before making my money back’.
Having considered the reasons and anticipated effect of adopting Artistshare, the actual effects need to be considered. As part of the survey, respondents were asked about how it changed their working in a number of ways; the effect on writing, arranging and preproduction, the effect on performance in the studio and the effect on the technical process of recording, the nature of the relationship, and the implications of different participant packages.
Actual effects – writing, arranging and preproduction
With writing, arranging and preproduction, responses fell into distinct categories. Shown in figure 6, these included references to being slowed down, references to feeling supported in the process, and lastly, references to there being no effect at all. The effect most cited, of being slowed down refers to the work which artists have to put into giving participants the additional experiences for which they are paying. This concept underpins much of Artistshare’s philosophy, in that whilst piracy of digital recordings is difficult to eradicate, provision of other content or value cannot be replicated so easily. Participants become part of the Artistshare project and can log in to receive updates, videos, diary entries and so on. This provides additional value, moves them on from merely being consumers, and justifies the payment they make to become participants.
Crucially, the provision of content is the responsibility of the artist rather than Artistshare themselves. It does therefore present considerable work which is often outside the core skill set of music composers, performers and producers (an issue for this contained sample). In the traditional record company model, the provision of marketing material and merchandise would be the responsibility of the record company. In this instance, not only is there no record company, but the provision of content is markedly different to that of the traditional model. It needs to provide insight into the artist themselves, the motivation and progression of their work, and overall, provide additional ‘value’ to the participant. The implications of having to do this work are explained by Monday Michuru who states:
‘It actually took a lot of time away from the actual creative process itself. I felt it disrupted the rhythm a little bit, slowed down the process, and I felt I had to explain myself in the process’
Two aspects are worthy of note in this typical response. Firstly, this effect has not been anticipated by any of the artists before using Artistshare – none of them referred to thinking that they would have to provide additional content to the participants. Secondly, not only does it slow down the process, but in order to make participants feel part of the project, the process itself has to be explained by the artist. Rather than just ‘doing their thing’, the artist has to explain themselves, justify what they are doing, talk participants through the process and so on (a practice not one generally undertaken in composing or producing recorded works). The practice of doing this directly with the audience is therefore a significant shift in responsibility for which the artists in this sample are not obviously prepared. It can also lead to the artist feeling that the participant is really backing their work though, as Maria Schneider notes:
‘I actually feel supported. I feel like I have people “in my corner” cheering me on. Makes me feel less alone. I feel pressure, but I always feel pressure. It presses me to try and do my very best’.
Actual effects – performance in the studio
When asked about the effect on performance in the studio, responses again fell into distinct categories as indicated in figure 7. Most referred to there being no change in their working with the Artistshare model, though there were also references to being slowed down, and an increase in pressure. First and foremost, most felt that there was no effect and that the Artistshare model did not impinge upon their performance at all. Perhaps this is the ultimate aim of such a model in that by connecting the artist directly with an audience which appreciates their work, they should not be hindered or influenced by the audience. It does though, ignore any expectations which the audience may have. So whilst participants may expect to have some sort of influence in turn for their commitment, the artists in this sample do not acknowledge or respond to this. The references to slowing down explained previously appear again here as typified by Allan Harris who notes that ‘working under a deadline, underfunded and stressed is not a good way to do things’. Performing is stressful enough, and having to consider the proximity of artist to participant, and the fact that they need to produce additional content to make them feel included introduces greater pressure to this group.
Actual effects – recording
The artists were asked about how using the Artistshare model affected the process of recording. Responses again fell into a number of categories, the proportions of which are shown in figure 8. The technical process of recording is clearly related to performing in the studio, and it can be noted that responses followed a similar line. Most refer to there being no effect on the process of recording. However, the other two categories of response (reference to having to document the process, and it being slowed down) both result from the need to provide participants with supportive material. The pianist DD Jackson, sums up the situation when he states that ‘I found the requirement of uploading little snippits of content to give the impression of value very timesome and overly controlling’.
Influence of fans who buy different packages
The Artistshare model allows participants to play a part in a project in a number of different ways from purchasing a special edition CD, through Bronze and Silver participation through to becoming Executive Producer. There is then, a differentiation between participants starting from how much they are prepared to invest into the project. Given that the cost of a CD is much less than becoming an Executive Producer (costing several thousand dollars), this opens up a new line of interest relating to how much influence the different participants have on the artist. For example, should a participant who invests more financially have more creative influence, and indeed, do they expect more? In examining this issue, the artists were also asked about the influence of participants, and how the package they bought dictated that influence.
None of the respondents referred to participants having any different influence over their work based on the level of their financial commitment. Therefore, an Executive Producer investing several thousand dollars has no more input into the artist’s work than someone buying a special edition CD. This is an interesting result as ordinarily; investors who put more into a company or a project have more say on its content and direction as a way of managing the greater risk to which they are exposed. Though beyond the scope of this paper, it would be interesting to know how this aligns with the participants’ expectations, perhaps building upon some of the concepts of Active Audience Theory. On this point, it can already be said that those who become participants have incorporated (rather than resisted) the message and its dominant ideology (Abercrombie and Longhurst 1998:15). Seen here though, all participants once involved and irrespective of the level of their investment have the same (minimal) influence over the work. The level of financial input does not go totally unrecognised though as there are references to participants who invest more being given greater ‘insight’. These stem from legal obligations– the package offered to an Executive Producer participant clearly has to offer something more than a less expensive package in order to be attractive to potential participants. It also underlines the fact that participants are getting a look into the creative process of an artist, but have no influence over it. The situation is best summed up by Torben Waldorff, who states that:
‘The recording of the music is not effected. But for the heavier contributor we will make an effort to give a special insight into the project and the process that’s going on. This may also include memorabilia, autographed items etc.’
A new way of linking with fans or just another way of funding
When asked whether they now see using the Artistshare model as being a whole new way of linking with fans, or merely another way of funding, there were equal references to it being both. On the positive front, there were references to it being inspiring to know that fans were part of the process from the start, and were backing the creative success of the project. Respondents such as Maria Schneider and Jon Gordon referred to the relationship using terms such as ‘inspiring’ and ‘a new closeness’ whilst also mentioning how these fans have continued to be engaged with their work. However, there were just as many references to it being a different way of funding which inevitably brought a new set of challenges. On this point, there were some responses which were critical of whole Artistshare model, principally because of the amount of work and risk which is transferred to the Artist. An example of this is from DD Jackson:
‘Having been on both an “actual” indie label (Justin Time) as well as a major (BMG/RCA Victor), the perception I had was that you were basically “on your own” in terms of trying to direct traffic/interest to your site and do promotion (the latter something an “actual” label would at least try to do).’
Also, in the following response from Tim Armacost:
‘The big difference working with Artistshare has made for me is that it shifted most of the burden of producing the recording onto me, including all of the financial risk.’
It is therefore acknowledged that the price of connecting with fans more closely has a downside for this restricted sample. This is principally the fact that the work of managing the relationship is transferred to the artist as is the financial risk. If the project is successful, it should benefit the artist, but much of the investment which produces the return comes from the artist themselves.
On the nature of the link, it is important to note here that the Artistshare platform does not effectively support communication between the fans themselves (the communication is between the recording artist and each individual fan). This is interesting given the increasing power which fan communities can have particularly within a networked computing environment (Jenkins 2006: 141-142). As Jenkins notes, new technology can allow fandoms to converge quickly and to influence media products, though in this instance, such an effect is not facilitated.
Nature of the relationship
As there is a more direct connection between artist and participant, respondents were asked to describe their relationship with participants and whether it changed at all. All of the respondents described a closer connection, a relationship which was deeper, and in some cases, one which they think can be leveraged in future. Observations on the relationship were typified by references to getting to know people better and it being ‘warmer’ (Maria Schneider) and the fact that fans who donate are now much closer to the artist (Allan Harris). It was also noted that these closer relationships offer potential for the future even if the artist does not stay with Artistshare. An example of this is the response from DD Jackson:
‘I think social media in general has allowed for a much better and more direct relationship with fans, something I intend to leverage in future with competing sites.’
A closer relationship does not however, guarantee greater revenue because in this instance, participants have a choice as to what level of package they take. Whilst these offer different levels of engagement, they do present the artist with a situation where the costs of the new relationship can be much greater than the return. This situation is summed up by Tracy Silverman:
‘Yes, a much deeper experience. It is encouraging for me to know that a fan is interested in a much deeper relationship. Most fans, however, funded at the lowest level, which was a CD at a standard retail price ($15.99) which meant that I was offering them all the extra content at roughly the same price or a dollar or two more than it would cost them elsewhere.’
From the results, it can be seen that within the sample, there is a shift in the relationship between recording artist and their audience when they adopt the Artistshare model. It is no longer a straightforward producer consumer relationship. The anticipatory effects were generally viewed as positive (being able to have more control, ownership and a more favourable financial model). However, in practice, a number of themes arose which were not anticipated. These can be summed up as a closer proximity to participants, an apparent freedom through eradication of the cultural intermediary, the production of additional ‘cultural goods’, an underestimation of the breadth of cultural intermediaries, and consideration of implications for the future.
Proximity of artist with participant
Recording artists sampled using the Artistshare model experience a much closer proximity of relationship with their fans. Not commonly anticipated, this was extensively expressed as being part of the experience. Thus, the new technology and practices are bringing the relationship back to the one which existed before the advent of recording technology (and Eisenberg’s music as a ‘thing’). This new proximity is interesting to note in the context of other writers’ views on the relationship between creators and consumers. Garnham (2000:162) notes that it is mass communication which has created a ‘historically-widened split both between creators and consumers, and between consumers themselves’, thus making the opportunity for discourse on standards of taste and evaluation limited. It could be argued that creativity, expression and innovation come from such discourse, and without it, work can stagnate. Therefore, with this new proximity, there seems to be better potential for work to develop within a community of discourse and evaluation. This is particularly relevant in the field of jazz and similar genres where there is an established community of critique and discussion. This community supports and nurtures new ideas and modes of expression which are seen as crucial to take the artform forward. It would arguably be less important for such a community to exist in the genres of, for example, pop or hip-hop. The role of cultural intermediaries in contributing to the gap between producers and consumers has also been referred to by Negus (2002:508). So, whilst we might be told that marketing, public relations and promotion are bridging the divide between producers and consumers, the reality is the exact opposite. Cultural intermediaries actually maintain and sustain the gap between producer and consumer because their role is dependent upon the existence of the gap. In this case, not only are the creator and audience closer, but the new process has the potential to deprive cultural intermediaries of their oxygen. Without a mode of working which necessarily needs their input, their growth as a function (which has been significant until now) may lessen.
Deliberate reference is made here to technology and practices rather than merely technology. This is to reflect the fact that to see it merely as technology-determinism (originally highlighted by American Sociologist Thorstein Veblen) would be over-simplifying the factors at play. The hard determinists would point to the fact that the new technology employed here is the agent of change, altering the dynamic and the modus operandi. However, viewing the technology as the determining factor is clearly limited. With these findings, it cannot be ignored that most of the artists using Artistshare are working in jazz, and other what might be termed ‘serious’ genres (there is little appetite for it amongst pop or hip hop artists for example). This supports the idea that there is an element of social determinism at play as particular genres and territories are adopting it. These subsets of artists share many characteristics which make the new platform attractive to them – they have established audiences, they are engaged in art-orientated rather than commercially-orientated music, they wish to have the greatest freedom from creative control and so on. Furthermore, they are likely to shape future technologically-facilitated ways of connecting with audiences. This is shown by some of the respondents making reference to later delivery platforms such as Kickstarter, Pledgemusic and IndieGoGo which they believe offer the artist a better experience. Social determinism is therefore at play given that particular genres and certain territories are adopting it. Were it technologically-deterministic, as a service available globally, a greater spread of genre and territory would be observed.
Apparent freedom from the cultural intermediary
Adopting the Artistshare model in order to be released from the role of the cultural intermediary is a commonly-cited reason given the fact that most had previously released material through other channels. Having used the model, there were very few references to financial participants in a project having any influence over creative or technical processes. The greater control desired does seem to have been achieved by the sampled group, and it is notable that even a participant who has paid to become Executive Producer has little influence. The artists are either unwilling, or perhaps see no need to respond to the participants’ tastes.
As this apparent freedom from the cultural intermediary concerns the relationship between artist and audience, the work of Hirsch, who originally introduced the term of ‘gatekeeper’, is relevant. Hirsch (1972: 128) states that ‘Artist and audience are linked by an ordered series of events: before it can elicit any audience response, an art object must first succeed in (a) competition against others for selection and promotion by an entrepreneurial organisation, and then in (b) receiving mass media coverage in such forms as book review, radio station airplay, and film criticism’. What is evident from this sample is a twofold change. Firstly, the artist no longer has to compete against others for selection by another organisation such as a record company. This seems an attractive (and possibly simpler) concept to a recording artist as they may find having to navigate the complexities of record company operation too complicated, or may in fact object to the whole idea of dealing with a commercial organisation. Culturally, it could be argued that more ‘serious’ genres such as jazz are more likely to object to the commercial realities of the recording industry. On this point, it is worth referring to the work of Hesmondhalgh (who incidentally provides a useful critique of Bourdieu’s later works). Hesmondhalgh (2006:215) refers to Bourdieu’s field of small-scale production noting it can be subdivided into two sets; those who value symbolic capital highly (in the form of recognition, awards etc.) and the ‘aspirant, bohemian avant-garde’ who even reject symbolic capital. In this instance, being one of the later is clearly inconsistent with getting recognition from fans to such an extent that they will fund your work. Being in the former category is less problematic but as Hesmondhalgh notes, the whole field of small scale production claims to shun economic capital which makes getting recognition acceptable, but converting that to funding more problematic.
It can be said that getting participants to fund a future project is not necessarily easier, but it is certainly different. The artist still needs to compete with others but in this instance, the competition is against other things which participants could spend their money on (not necessarily just music). Importantly though, they are also spending their money on a project yet to take place. There is therefore a higher degree of faith involved than with merely buying music. This is reflected in some of the responses from artists who appreciate the trust placed in them, and the responsibility (and in some cases, pressure) which this puts on them. The situation demands a different approach, the skills for which are not really clear as yet. Whilst the skills needed to secure a record company contract are now understood, and reflected in literature, the skills needed to get consumers to become participants to fund a future project are not so well established. The fact that here, this is being done by musicians and recording artists who may not have an immediate skill set for this role makes it even more notable. Many of the negative comments and references to extra work refer to the uncomfortable position which the artists sampled find themselves in when having to manage the artist/participant relationship. Secondly, in relation to Hirsch, the mass media coverage is no longer needed as the artist connects directly with the participants. This seems a liberating mode of operation, considering the limitations of programming on radio and television. However, now the artist needs to get exposure for their project amongst a competing maelstrom of other internet content. This is why Artistshare is adopted so widely by artists with previous recording contracts, and established careers. In this instance, they already have an established fan cohort, and have already proved themselves capable of delivering music recordings to market. If they were fledgling artists, the challenge to get participation off the ground would be unrealistically difficult to achieve with the Artistshare platform.
Production of additional value ‘cultural goods’ in addition to music
For consumers to become participants, they need to be offered an experience over and above that which they would receive in purchasing recorded music after it has been released. The Artistshare website describes the approach as ‘redefining the music industry by allowing fans to finance artist projects in exchange for access to the artist’s creative process’. Much of this access is provided through the provision of additional material such as video clips, diaries and so on. These are designed to bring the participant into the creative process and, as part of the Artistshare concept, provide an overall experience which cannot be pirated. It therefore offers a way of minimising loss of revenue between audience and artist which can happen with illegal filesharing, downloading and pirating. Anderson (2009) argues that anything digital will ultimately end up being free so Artistshare offers an experience ‘bundle’ which is not completely digital. Most of interests though, are the formats through which the value experiences and insights are offered, and their relationship with the core product of music. Anticipating the change in adopting the Artistshare model, the artists sampled here gave little thought into the reasons for, and reality of, providing these additional value experiences. By contrast, in reality, they found the effort needed to be considerable, and an interruption to their usual flow of work. In essence, the role of mediating between the audience and their creative and technical processes was originally ignored or underestimated, and latterly, under-appreciated. Providing insight into a creative process is not as easy as it sounds and recording artists and creatives are generally unaccustomed to having to communicate what they do whilst they go along. It therefore means putting considerable thought into articulating a process which generally comes innately, reflecting on the process, disrupting the rhythm and trying to translate this into a form which the audience can value and understand. Providing consumers with the right information so that they can comprehend the production or creative process is again one which has traditionally been met by the cultural intermediary. Du Gay et al (1997: 5) state that cultural intermediaries ‘play a pivotal role in articulating production with consumption by attempting to associate goods and services with particular cultural meanings and to address these values to prospective buyers’. Here, the artists are articulating production with consumption themselves instead of the cultural intermediary. However, two new and distinct challenges arise, namely, the questionable ability of the artist to understand consumers, and secondly, the fact that these are not merely consumers, they are participants in a project yet to happen. On the first point, the recording artists do not have the independence to stand between producer and consumer (or participant). They inevitably understand their own craft, but may have difficulty in even reflecting upon their own work, let alone communicating it. This may be behind the breadth of comments on the process of providing the additional material – reference to slowing things down, it being tiresome and controlling and so on. On the second point, the task is even more complex than the traditional role of cultural intermediary because in addition to articulating production with consumption, recording artists actually need to persuade consumers and fans to become participants. The role therefore includes promotion and pitching as well as articulation. The provision of video diaries etc. is effectively the production of new cultural goods, as there is no change to the core offering of music. It is this production of additional ‘cultural goods’ which presents the artists here with the considerable challenge for which they are unprepared.
Underestimating the breadth of cultural intermediaries
Comparing the anticipated effects with the actual, many of the problematic responses reflect an underestimation of the breadth of functions which cultural intermediaries perform. Increased control, ownership and a more direct funding stream are attractive concepts, but they overlook the fact that managing these elements takes time and expertise. Whilst it may be better to fully own the copyright in a recording, exploiting it takes effort and expertise. Also, being able to oversee how a project is taken forward is creatively liberating, but without an appreciation of the participant’s needs, can be time-consuming and irksome. Even if the recording artist has some of the expertise to do this (which is far from guaranteed), it takes time out of producing music to do it. The underestimation of business functions as cultural intermediation seen here is not unusual though. Negus (2002: 506) underlines this point when he states that ‘the significance of accountants and business affairs staff is severely played down if they are simply reduced to ‘suits’ and assumed to have little understanding of, and contribution to the creative process’. In actual fact, the business elements play a crucial role in measuring, controlling and dictating the success or failure of a project. Reflective of this, the anticipation of using Artistshare looks towards the financial advantages without consideration of the financial and business affairs work involved to make it work.
As the first platform of its type, Artistshare has established a different way of working which has been adopted widely, albeit concentrated on particular genres and territories. Given that the Phonograph and recorded music have been with us for over 130 years, the operational changes facilitated by new platforms are still in their infancy. It cannot be expected that these models will remain as they presently do, or that recording and performing artists will not further alter their practices. Given that point, it is useful to look at facets which the Arsistshare model could perhaps facilitate but does not and some opportunities for further work.
Firstly, despite the potential, artists are not responding to their participants creatively. They see no need to, and utilise the platform to be liberated from the typical intervention from actors already discussed. This is understandable, but is missing the potential of responding to the audience in the development of work. The only way in which Artistshare can measure fans’ needs is whether they buy into a project or not. If they like what is on offer, they become participants, if not, they pass-up the opportunity and the project stands less chance of being funded. Whilst the link between artist and participant is two way, it is only capital rather than information which flows from the participant to the artist. Were information to be allowed to flow additionally, new work could be developed which may have a wider audience. The unrealised potential of this link is not surprising though given that these ways of working have only recently been facilitated and practices need to change through cultural and social mechanisms as well as technological. Negus (2002:508) refers to the problem of there not being an enduring articulation or substantive dynamic which links production with consumption, and though the technology now exists to provide the link, the practices have not fully embraced its potential. So whilst a jazz musician would feel quite comfortable in saying they ‘play-off’ (or are inspired) by an audience in a live setting, they may not want to be influenced by participants in this instance. Furthermore, there is evidence from the production of other cultural goods that any mechanism which facilitates the consumers’ input into production can be useful. An example of this from Du Gay et al (1997:65) refers to ‘reading the signs on the street’ in order to reflect the cultural practices and preferences of the consumer group in developing new products. Levy (1997: 123) also refers to the shift in creative activity towards a more fluid and expressive environment with ‘a collective event that implies the recipients, transforms interpreters into actors, enables interpretation to enter the loop with collective action’. Having the technology to facilitate this but not utilising it is missing out on untapped potential for developing new work. It is effectively a kind of half-way house where the integration and value of the fan or audience is unappreciated and untapped. This situation is somewhat ironic in that having wrestled control from the traditional record company model, artists examined here seem to remain in the outmoded producer and consumer way of thinking. However, as Jenkins (2006: 146) explains, fandom represents a potential loss of control over intellectual property, so it is perhaps understandable that having gained control, artists examined here are not keen to give it up readily.
Secondly, artists who use Artistshare or similar platforms can appear unwilling or unable to perform many of the functions necessary to make the model work. So, whilst they can control the project, they may not have the expertise to persuade people to participate. They may also not have the expertise or time to produce the additional cultural goods in the form of videos, diaries and so on, necessary to give the participant the extra value they need. There is therefore potential to subcontract these functions to specialists in the field, be they marketers or media producers and bloggers. Whilst this may seem a retrograde step (almost returning to the previous record company model which artists wished to leave behind), it is not actually the case. This is because the control and ownership desired are achieved, but it allows the artist to do what they are best able to do without getting involved in work for which they are untrained or ill-prepared.
Lastly, there are opportunities for further work which this paper has left unexplained or unresolved. For example, the motivation of the participants remains unexplored, and given the shift in business model, is a crucial factor for the academic and business communities. Such research could draw upon Uses and Gratifications Theory to determine why audiences become participants and what precisely they expect to get out of participation. Work could also take place into other platforms which have emerged since Artistshare including Kickstarter, Pledgemusic and IndieGoGo referred to by the group of artists sampled here. As a rapidly emerging field, this would offer further insights into how new technological platforms are altering the producer and consumer relationship.
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Appendix 1: Questionnaire on the effect of the Artistshare fan-funding platform on creation, performance, recording and production
1.1 Did you have previous recording contracts with independent or major labels before using the Artistshare model?
1.2 Do you presently mix Artistshare with other outlets for your music?
1.3 What are the options you give fans to fund your work?
1.4 What genre of music do you record and perform?
1.5 Would you prefer your answers to remain anonymous?
2 Reasons for using Artistshare
2.1 What were your reasons for initially adopting the Artistshare model?
2.2 How did you think allowing fans to finance your work would change your work?
3 Relationship, influence and access to the creative process
3.1 How has the Artistshare fan-funded model affected the creative process of writing, arranging and pre-producing your work?
3.2 How has the fan-funded model affected your performance in the studio?
3.3 How has the fan-funded model affected the technical process of recording?
3.4 Do fans who have paid for different packages influence your work in different ways (for example, do you feel more responsibility to satisfy a fan who has paid for a more expensive package)?
3.5 Do you find the model bringing you closer to your fans as inspiring, or just another way of funding the work?
3.6 How has the experience been different to the way you envisaged it?
3.7 How would you describe your relationship with the fans that fund your projects (is it different to those who buy recordings afterwards)?
3.8 Does the influence of your fan funders shift at all (for example, with time or after a previously successful project)?