A reason for optimism?

One issue that comes up again and again in debates on downloading, distribution and the future of music is the use of new and unusual ways to reward creators and/or avoid losing a big stash of money on a much-needed tour or recording project. I was pleased to see a very good example of this in an email that found itself in my inbox late last week, from a band called Clare and the Reasons, who I saw, enjoyed (and gave my email address to) at a gig in the Norwich Arts Centre about a year ago.

The email contained a picture of a lovingly-painted bus, the cover of the upcoming album, and a link for further information. At the link, a gentle but persuasive plea for contributions is made. But this is not charity: this is a clever sales pitch. Using the Kickstarter website (which allows pledges for projects to be gathered in a central location), fans can choose anything from $7 (digital download of a live set) or $20 (a book of lyrics, music, photos etc for the forthcoming album, Arrow) to $10000 (a trip to New York, a visit (and dinner) to the band’s house and a private gig in the same location, though there are some alternatives at this level). Some options are presumably a little tongue-in-cheek (selling of souls, for example) and others are quite quirky ($2500: [various benefits from lower levels and] “a song about your girlfriend or boyfriend, it can be funny or sad. We’ll do a home recording of it after talking to you and learning about him/her. Then we’ll perform it and post it on youtube.”) The increasing-rewards idea is quite common for the support of public broadcasting in the US, though less familiar in the case of music. The target in this case is a reasonable-sounding $5000. Does this model scale well? Does it include a good bargain? (In the case of charitable donations, you can often figure out the real value of the sweetener by looking at the tax-deductible element; not so here). If you received an email like this, would you bite?

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