Crowdfunding on Fire


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A couple of months ago I had an opportunity to combine my love of heavy music, social networking and tech blogging to support a band which I’ve been following by the name of City of Fire.

The band is now at close to double their original funding target via the Pledge Music website, and will be able to fund the mixing of the album and a promotional video with a few more pledges. Their first single is due out in a month’s time. I have a personal interest in that single as that is the song that will be handwritten for me by the singer/songwriter Burton C. Bell.

City of Fire... leveraging crowdfunding and social networking to support their artistic endeavours.

This month is the 20th anniversary of an album that literally turned the music world on its head when it was released – Nevermind by Nirvana. I was a teenager when that album came out and can still listen to it today with a little nostalgia but also a degree of pleasure that it still holds up to today’s batch of artists.

(As a side note, there is a link between City of Fire and Nirvana. Burton C. Bell, City of Fire’s vocalist, was actually one of the young fans in the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video, and also covered the Nirvana song “School” on Fear Factory’s Archetype album.)

Nirvana was a phenomenon that will probably not be repeated because of the much more fragmented state of music today. Nirvana were able to speak to an entire generation regardless of their music tastes, but today it is much less likely that any band would have that singular influence on the music culture.

Despite their stardom and success, Nirvana’s music itself still sounds rebellious and independent. Bands with a similar attitude and style looking to get their big break have a dizzying array of ways to connect to fans that weren’t available back in Nirvana’s day. The closest one would get to hearing Kurt Cobain’s thoughts would have been to attend a concert or read an interview in a magazine.

Nowadays bands, and in particular the musicians themselves, can create an intimacy and direct relationship with fans that can be a reward in itself, or in the case of City of Fire, result in the creation of new music. I had the General Manager of Roadrunner records in Canada responding directly to my questions regarding the pledge – you really can’t get much more direct than a senior record label executive corresponding with you.

Crowdfunding and social media interaction are all part and parcel of an independent artist’s activity to not only get noticed, but get up close and personal with fans and interested onlookers. It really doesn’t matter how niche your music is, or even where you are geographically situated – if you make the effort to mingle and interact with your followers, your journey will be partly theirs.

Just like crowdsurfers at a rock concert, the brief touch of a thousand virtual hands will help carry bands like City of Fire to where they belong – in the studio, forging new music and then on the road, sharing that passion with fans and music listeners everywhere.

(Ritchie listened to the entire Nevermind album while writing this post and indulged in some private air drumming on selected songs.)

Crowdfunding: Turning Great Ideas Into Reality

Last week I was fortunate enough to be a guest of Bing Lee and Canon for an Olympic “One Year to Go” fundraising event, to help our athletes make their way to London next year for the 2012 Olympics. It was a high profile, first class event. The NSW Premier was in attendance, as were other local and international dignitaries. Every table had a representative past Olympian to host the night. The fundraising, which involved auctioning off signed flags, an electric car, and Olympic event packages, raised around half a million dollars that evening, which was then matched by our State Premier.

It was a fun night out, and it’s great to get behind the dreams of our nation’s best athletes, but it didn’t compare to the personal satisfaction of a much smaller scale fundraising activity for a band that I’m very much a fan of.

I’ve been following the album releases of a band called Fear Factory ever since they unleashed their first album, Soul of a New Machine, back in the early 90′s. I’ve loved most of their material since their debut, and a lot has to do with the unique vocalisations of its singer, Burton C. Bell. Fear Factory ushered in a new style of metal that many bands have been emulating ever since.

However, success does not always result in complete artistic or financial freedom. One of Burton’s side project bands is called City of Fire, and they released their debut two years ago, to positive reviews and reasonable record sales. However, when it came to following up with their second album offering this year, they simply didn’t have the support to make it into the studio and produce an album.

Through friends and contacts, Burton and his band members heard about Pledge Music, a site that hooks up bands with their supporter base to raise money for a variety of causes – the two biggest ones being charities supported by performers, or in City of Fire’s case, to ask fans to help fund studio time to produce the new album.

I personally heard about the City of Fire fundraising activity through the General Manager of Roadrunner Canada, where City of Fire is based. I registered with Pledge Music to see how it worked and what I could do in terms of my own contribution.

Pledge Music helps bands gain purchase commitments to their album upfront. In this particular activity, for the small “pledge” of $10, you would get a digital copy of the album once it’s completed, $12 would get you a CD copy, and $15 a signed CD copy. Paying for the album upfront secures the funding because there is already enough committed interest to justify the production expenses.

Beyond the music, bands are able to offer other enhanced and sometimes personalised products and services for a larger pledge. For $2,500, City of Fire will come to you and play at your very own house party. For $150, you get the privilege of photographing the band at one of their concerts. Taking gig photos  was one experience I would have put money up for, except that it was limited to their local area, in this case Canada.

I ended up pledging $150 for a handwritten, signed copy of the lyrics to the first single off the new album. I must admit, I am a fan boy, and can’t wait for my personal piece of metal memorabilia.

Within two weeks of posting their project on Pledge Music, City of Fire had enough pledges to finance some studio time and produce their new album, and has in fact continued to gain support beyond the initial required funding. This is where it gets interesting for anyone involved. When I received an email from Pledge Music advising that the funding target had been reached, I really felt personally attached to that milestone, and had my own mini-celebration. That emotional connection, particularly when it comes to artistic endeavours, is a powerful motivator.

This concept, commonly known as crowdfunding, is a funding model that has evolved and grown with the internet’s reach and scale. Crowdfunding is not limited to performers who want to produce a new work of art. One of the most famous examples of crowdfunding is the Tik Tok and Luna Tik project. This project, which was initially posted on Kickstarter, offered an accessory that converted the current iPod Nano into a wearable watch. The activity required $15,000 to fund the initial production, and the project ended up with funding (and therefore sales) of close to a million dollars. Not every project will achieve the same level of success, but it illustrates the power of going public with your idea and being able to commercialise it with the help of people who believe in your initiative.

Whether it’s a technology, sports or music venture, crowdfunding is a financing tool that shouldn’t be underestimated. Whether you’re an artist, an inventor or an entrepreneur, if your idea has potential, seeking the support of like-minded individuals through Kickstarter, Pledge Music and many other networks may just take your dream from the drawing board and into the hands of people all over the world.

Have you been part of a crowdfunding project? What pointers would you give to anyone considering this type of publicly generated funding?

Metal Twilight: Why Metal Bands Do the Best Ballads

I love the playlist concept. It allows me to fine-tune my song selection depending on my mood or activity. My “running” playlist is made up of mid-paced metal and rock tracks that really help with the jogging rhythm, with bands like Sevendust, Fear Factory, Disturbed and In Flames contributing to my motivating engine. I have a “best of 80′s”, “best cover songs” and yes, even a “classical” playlist. We’ll talk about that one another time.

The playlist I’d like to explore today is the contemplative one, the playlist that lets me breathe a little slower and in a more relaxed state. “Metal Twilight” is the name of this playlist. These are the softer songs, some acoustic, some simply slower and more deliberate – but they all share a common thread of being labelled the “ballad”.

I’ve had one version or another of this playlist for years, maybe more than a decade. For all the crushing rhythms and insanely fast and heavy riffs that a band can produce, they are also capable or the most subtle, reflective pieces that make you wonder how they can occupy both musical universes. To me, it is still the same world they are living in, and it comes down to this: intensity.

Metal bands are the masters of contrast. Take the opening licks of many metal albums over the past couple of years and you’ll find many of them begin with an acoustic arrangement. Metallica utilised this for the opening track of “Master of Puppets”, a thrasher called “Battery“. It starts with an acoustic riff that builds to a melody, which is then carried on by drums, heavy guitar and bass. Spine shivering. Just have a listen to the latest albums by Lamb of God and Chimaira: both begin with a soft passage that build and segue into the pulverising remainder of their albums. And what do I do? I practically bite my nails waiting for that wailing riff to take me by the throat and slam me into the ground – the suspense kills me!

It takes real talent to pull that off, and just as much musical skill to produce a song that doesn’t rely on the volume to be set at 11. The “metal ballad” can sometimes showcase a band’s technical prowess in its quieter moments that present a wider appreciation of their abilities in songwriting, singing and performing.

As I mentioned before, it’s about the intensity. These tracks can leave you just as breathless and impressed as the rest of a band’s repertoire. Because a lot of these bands exist on the fringes of the mainstream music market, they don’t get the exposure or success that might occur if that same song were performed by a more recognisable, safe band. Take for example, Creed’s “Arms Wide Open“, a song about the impending birth of a child. I think Sevendust are lyrically and musically superior with their tune “This Life“. But because they are less well-known, people don’t have the chance to enjoy it, and it’s left to the true fans to spread the word.

Challenging and thoughtful subject matter from a lyrical point of view is something that has always attracted me to the metal genre (more on that in another future blog post), and the same applies to the ballads by those bands. Some non-metal friends often point out that “you can actually understand what they’re saying, for once!“, but my view on metal vocals is that it’s another instrument in the band as much as a deliverer of lyrics. Their point is taken on board, though. These songs should help the band reach a wider audience that may then become a fan of their heavier material.

So I thought I’d share some of the compositions that you may not be familiar with if you’re not a metal fan, avoiding completely obvious references to Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” and the like. Here are a few treats that you may enjoy regardless of your music taste. Hopefully it widens your horizons to seek out some of these bands’ other material.

Dark Tranquillity – Auctioned

Evergrey – Waking Up Blind

Helloween – Don’t Stop Being Crazy

James Labrie – Coming Home

Opeth – Harvest

Sevendust – This Life

Spock’s Beard – Shining Star