Molly Neuman has been head of music at Kickstarter for two years. She used her presentation at the BIME Pro conference in Bilbao to explain how her original career in music as a member of Riot Grrrl band Bratmobile informs the importance she places on community at the crowdfunding platform.
“My career began in community,” she said of the Washington DC scene which spawned not just her band but many of the other bands and labels – notably Fugazi, Dischord Records, Bikini Kill and K Records – that she loves and was inspired by.
The feminist movement underpinning Riot Grrrl along with its use of fanzines to link up likeminded acts to build new touring opportunities for each other was instrumental in creating a new type of underground.
“We created our own social network before that even existed,” she said of what that upheaval meant and how the acts from the scene created a new space away from the mainstream and out of the reach of the traditional music business.
“My band, Bratmobile, operated outside of the traditional industry,” she argued. “We didn’t have a manager. We didn’t have agents. We booked our own tours. All without the internet. We did things in a very manual way. [But] there were a lot of challenges to that.”
All of this is something Neuman feels is now coming to true fruition with the DIY distribution, creation and funding tools open to musicians today.
“More and more, what I am hoping we can offer as a platform and as an industry is looking at ways that artists can be receiving as much strength and power in their careers,” she said, “and how that can help the entire ecosystem be led by not just the major gatekeepers that currently exist but also the artists themselves.”
She added, “What is available now to artists in terms of technology is perhaps [negating] some of the challenges that we had; we didn’t know how to empower ourselves. The information simply wasn’t at hand. What might have been different [is that] we might have been in a much stronger position. We ended up not making it through. We were youthful and lacked some experience. But we did have an incredible time.”
She talked about the fact that 26,000 successful music Kickstarters have now taken place, with more than $200m being raised for music-based projects. Of course, there are the heavy hitters such as Amanda Palmer and De La Soul, but Neuman also singled out some other lesser-known projects that are equally deserving of praise and attention.
Alice Bag (a “Latina punk icon from the 1970s”) has been using the platform to give her career a new boost and shows how acts who never engaged with the mainstream can re-connect with an audience. “I love the fact that 40 years after she started her career, she is still making music and she has the opportunity to use her community to sustain it,” said Neuman.
Julia Nunes began her career on YouTube but has managed to parlay that into a broader recording and touring career. “She’s run three campaigns on Kickstarter and is not yet 30 years old,” explained Neuman. “She’s just a tremendous artist and she’s so highly engaged.”
Kickstarter also gives Nunes the space to do things entirely on her own terms and not feel she has to follow a traditional label-centric path.
“She uses the platform as the best means for her career,” suggested Neuman. “I don’t know if she ever wants to be on a label. She may, but she now has so much knowledge and experience; that’s not just the financial benefit of having run the campaign but also the strong and deep connection with her community that will give her – if she wants to do anything in her career – the experience and leverage to do so from a position of strength.”
Neuman then gave the example of Ted Leo who left the safety of a label setup to seek funding from his fans, citing him as an example of how quickly things can happen if the artist gets the community behind them.
“We were both quite nervous,” she said of when Leo’s Pledge campaign opened. “His goal was £85,000 and I was confident he would raise that in the first week. But we wanted to make sure he was in a good position of strength. He got to 20% within the first hour and by the end of the day, 12 hours later, he had fully funded […] He needed the money to finish the record and do all those things, but really the feeling of support from his community was so motivating. He said to me that he felt he could make music as he loved it again.”
British artist Kate Nash had also come out of the label system, having had a #1 album in the UK in 2007 with Made Of Bricks when she was signed to Polydor. After three albums, however, she was pushing a fan-led approach.
“The way she put it to her fans when she launched the campaign was so beautiful,” suggested Neuman. “She said, ‘I want you to be my label.’ That was exactly the right message. She was successful really quickly and raised much more than she had planned. It was so meaningful and her fans really appreciated it.”
Neuman ended by outlining the four Cs of Kickstarter (confidence, creativity, community, control) and how smart acts can turn this platform and technology to their advantage.
“Having artists in a position of strength with experience and with confidence makes our entire ecosystem so much healthier,” she said. “With that, we can have a sustainable industry. That is my big hope.”