CROWDFUNDING RADAR: Campaigns Serve as Artists’ Virtual Merch Table
Chuck Brodsky (Photo by Judi Sawyer)
Over the past couple of weeks, some unexpected names have dominated the news cycle: not Beyonce or Taylor, as you’d expect in awards season, but Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. If you aren’t familiar with the Young/Spotify dustup (and I’d love to know how you did it), ND’s Stacy Chandler has the digest version in her Bonus Tracks column. While the main story is a debate about the places where free speech and misinformation clash, it has inevitably detoured into a more common topic when it comes to streaming: low pay rates to musicians. As Chuck Brodsky, one of this week’s featured artists, says, “Honestly, I don’t expect to sell many CDs. Nowhere near enough to pay for itself. Most cars no longer have CD players.” Instead, crowdfunding is more like a virtual merch table, with backer perks providing items and experiences that offset the declining number of people who own, rather than rent, their music. This week’s artists don’t have anything specific in common except that desire to get new music into the world and a hope you’ll visit their “merch table.”
Chuck Brodsky – Gravity, Wings, and Heavy Things (click here to view campaign)
It isn’t surprising that the dose of reality quoted above comes from Chuck Brodsky. He is both the most experienced artist and the most experienced crowdfunder of this week’s trio. Brodsky has released 12 albums prior to this and launched three Kickstarter projects. He has made a name for himself not only as a songwriter covered by artists like Kathy Mattea but also for his baseball story songs. For this album, Brodsky has tapped Hollow Reed Studio’s Chris Rosser to produce and Lucinda Williams bandmate Doug Pettibone to provide pedal steel. Backer perks for this campaign include the album in digital or CD versions, a video of Chuck singing “Happy Birthday” to you or a friend, a personalized video of him singing any of his songs, and a Zoom hangout.
Tall Poppy String Band – Debut Album (click here to view campaign)
It says something about the rapid advance of remote technologies, especially during the pandemic, that a band could be in the same room with each other for the first time when they entered the studio to record their debut album. But that’s the story of Cameron DeWhitt, George Jackson, and Mark Harris, collectively the Tall Poppy String Band. A trio of dedicated fans and practitioners of old-time string music, they are also joining the growing movement of artists making old-time more inclusive, whether by playing with gender pronouns in standards, writing “queer love songs,” or just bringing new people in with “old time ragers and spooky mood pieces.” To reach their $10,000 funding goal, the band is offering a number of backer perks. In addition to the album in digital, CD, and vinyl formats, as well as a perkless $10 donation for those who want to stream the album guilt-free, there are virtual banjo, guitar, or fiddle lessons, a cover of your choice, and a commissioned original song from one of the three band members.
Tennessee Stiffs – Dearly Departed (click here to view campaign)
The first thing to know about Tennessee Stiffs is they aren’t from Tennessee, presumably for the same reason Ziggy Stardust and his Spiders weren’t from Mars;: You can’t let geography get in the way of a good band name. The second is that their music is nearly impossible to pin to a genre, which of course makes them about as “Americana” as they come. In reading about them, I’ve seen gypsy rock, death folk, blues rock, and their own self-description of “weird and eccentric folk” tossed about. Led by the duo of Cara and Ethan Sadler, Tennessee Stiffs is releasing an ambitious double album of semi-autobiographical material, with “some fantastical elements” if their campaign video is to be believed, and has turned to Indiegogo for help in finishing it. Backer perks for their $5,000 campaign include the album in digital, CD, and vinyl formats; a limited edition T-shirt; handwritten lyrics; and a private concert.