I don't buy as much as I used to. This has mostly to do with having three kids, a house, and a long stretch of future to think about. So, when I do make the choice to purchase music it is somewhat of a bold step in that I want to be sure my decision will be backed up with something high quality. Well, over the past couple of months I have made a number of music purchases and looking back at those decisions I realized there was something pretty unique about all of them: they were all either promoted and funded on Kickstarter or released independently (the Kickstarters are also all independent releases). Adding to this, at the moment I have only received the actual music to one of these releases, meaning I "purchased" the music well in advance of the actual release and sometimes in advance of its actually being recorded.
Now, I fully realize I am not the first to point out novelty of Kickstarter as a means for an artist recording, making, and distributing their work. Really, as a source of artist patronage the novelty is beginning to wear off a bit. I mean yeah! Wow! it is really amazing a service like this exists. Artists and fans and carriers of forward-thinking ideas and inventions should be thankful. But what I really mean to comment on is the shift in my buying habits as a lover of music. To me there is nothing strange about the artists or their music that I have chosen to support this past few months. It is all very conventional by anyone's standards. It is all pop/rock/folk music and it all could receive the (much maligned) "Christian" or CCM label. But see, the fact that the music is all "Christian" was not intentional. This was simply the music I wanted to hear the most and they all happened to be either funded by Kickstarter or independently released.
You can find my list below of the music I am looking forward to, but first
here is why I think this my shift in buying habits is worth noting:
1. There was risk involved in the purchase process. While I did not stand to lost any money myself, since my credit card would not get charged for a failed Kickstarter campaign, there was a chance the music I was supporting would not get released or at least not released to the standards the artist hoped (a decent amount of the money fans put forward for these kinds of releases goes to mixing and mastering a project and sometimes, as in the case of Jeremy Casella or Steve Taylor, any extra money they received went into making the project better, such as recording strings, or in funding a tour). Fortunately all the Kickstarters I supported got funded (one of them, from Rob Weber, just barely so).
2. This is slow music (to borrow a concept from an upcoming book on church culture called "Slow Church"), meaning I have had to wait for this music to come out for a significant amount of time. Every single one of these artists are working with limited budgets and small teams of people. Even though they will be going through somewhat traditional means to get their product out (such as getting their CD's pressed and t-shirts made) when I receive my CD in the mail I will be receiving a mainly handcrafted product that the artist has poured themselves into for a bunch of fans they (the artist) knew in advance wanted to listen to their music. It's the musical equivalent of receiving a quilt from someone: it is personal and heartfelt and thus more meaningful. Also, for most of these projects it will be several months from when I first learned of the artist's Kickstarter to when they actual deliver their work to me (either through a download or physical delivery). But as a fan the long wait and buildup to the releases are worth it because...
3. I have a personal connection to (most) of the artists I am supporting. A few of these artists made my favorite music growing up as a kid, one of them is an artist I met after a concert once and have continued to support throughout his career, and another is a guy I used to go to church with.
4. Kickstarter represents the middle class and democratic patronage of the arts. Sure, I am a patron of the arts anytime I buy a CD or LP or download of an album, but in the case of Kickstarter I, along with all us other fans are only one step away from actually commissioning works ourselves. In the case of a Kickstarter campaign an artist "contacts" us and asks if we can fund a work that has already been mostly conceived or completed. I suppose, if we wanted to we could start our own individual campaigns in concert with an artist for a work that hasn't been conceived yet, but is only desired. That sounds like a lot of fun, actually. (Maybe we should all commission Sufjan Stevens to compose another "50 States" album, an idea I am sure he would not be up for, but perhaps enough money could talk him into it....). But the main point here is that a whole group of people who individually are rather powerless come together with an common interest (an artist they all love) in order to make sure an artist is able to complete their work and provide for their everyday needs. Patronage most often consists of the powerful gracing an artist with their overabundance of funds in order to commission a work. If all the artists I posted below knew Warren Buffet for example, they could have had their Kickstarter funded immediately, but instead they decided to come to us the common folk.
5. In order for me to purchase this music I had to take initiative as a fan. I could not just walk into a store and buy them. I had to go to individual websites and make sure my credit cards were all in order and all that stuff (in one case a purchase was rejected because I was using an out of date credit card and I had to go re-enter my info, which was a bit of a bother, but still worth because I want my music!). The easiest part in the whole process was initially finding out about the projects because all I had to do was log into Facebook, which means that...
6. I heard about all of these albums through Facebook either on my wall/newsfeed or through a Facebook group I am a part of. I check a decent amount of music sites pretty frequently, but in each of the cases bellow FB was the first place I found out about these projects. This is amazing to me.
7. Options. We live in the age where if you as a fan are willing to shell out enough cash to fund your favorite artists' latest project they will literally come to your house and do your dishes, knit you a sweater, or babysit the kids while you enjoy a date night. Not really, but artists are offering to record one of your own songs for you, perform a live web show for you, perform a house show (in your house!), and offer a whole slew of merchandise. Hmm...should I choose the coffee mug, the t-shirt, the autographed vinyl, the limited edition woodcut print? There are just so many options these days. Now, merchandise is nothing new I know, but this kind of stuff just was not available to me as a kid apart from a Beatles or Rolling Stones or Jimi Hendrix t-shirt/poster in my local over-priced chain music store (all of which have since gone out of business).
So here's the music list, for Spring 2014:
1. Peter Furler Band's Sun and Shield (not a Kickstarter)
I have recently spent a lot of time on Peter Furler's music on this blog and would not have highlighted it here again except that this was an independent release. To me this is significat as Furler, a man who is the fifth definition in the dictionary's entry on the "Christian Music Industry" has decided to do things on his own, sans record label. (Here is my review of the new album and here is my survey of 15 of some of his greatest songs).
2. Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil (a Kickstarter)
Steve Taylor might be the oddest member of the Christian music community. He is a satirist and a prophet. He is a cult icon to people like me. Check out his early work "I Want to Be a Clone" to see why he is a bit of a legend (it is safe to say NO ONE was making music like that in the Christian music industry in the early 80's). Well, Taylor has not released an album since the early 90's (in Chagall Guevara with the short-lived band of the same name in '91 and Squint in '93) while he managed to found an infamous record label (also called Squint and also short-lived), co-write a lot of Newsboys songs, and write/direct a few independently funded ("Christian") movies (The Second Chance and Blue Like Jazz). I think what I am most curious is to hear what Taylor has to say after all these years. What exactly has he kept bottled up inside?
3. Jeremy Casella's Death in Reverse (a Kickstarter)
My wife and I met Jeremy after a Caedmon's Call concert in 2004 where he was opening for them. We just went back to his merch table and there he was. We had a great conversation with him and bought a couple of his records. We have supported his music since then and have even seen him play a couple more times. I am particularly looking forward to this record because I know Jeremy has been reading a lot of N.T. Wright books and has incorporated that into his lyrics on this album.
4. Laus Deo's Moments With Him (a Kickstarter)
This is perhaps the most unique project I chose to support. Laus Deo is the work of a guy I used to go to church with. He was a worship leader there and even recorded his own live worship album one time. I've been following his blog a little bit over the years and have been watching his latest project unfold bit by bit. I am really intrigued by the prospect of this music as the simplest way to describe it is Manheim Steamroller with hymns. I am extremely curious to hear what he has done with all these hymn tunes I already love.
5. Rain For Roots' The Kingdom of Heaven is Like This
(not a Kickstarter)
Rain For Roots' first album is basically the best collection of Children's worship/Bible music I have ever heard (all originals by the way, with lyrics from Sally Lloyd-Jones who wrote the Jesus Storybook Bible). I have high hopes for this release whose songs are all based off of Jesus' parables.
6. Waterdeep's Double Album (a Kickstarter)
My Wife and I have loved Waterdeep, consisting primarily of husband and wife duo Don & Lori Chaffer) for quite some time. Even though they kind of disappeared in the mid-00's, they never actually went away, which is to say they have made a ton of music in the past ten years or so. Well now they've developed even more ambition and are releasing a double album this summer. Their Kickstarter went up right after this blog post went out, and after backing their project I decided to give an update to this post.