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Plan to be one of the crowd

Peter Andre is on course to sabotage the music industry.

STIGMA: Findlay Napier made a crowd-funded album and defends artists going 'cap in hand' to audiences, though warns musicians to be organised.
STIGMA: Findlay Napier made a crowd-funded album and defends artists going 'cap in hand' to audiences, though warns musicians to be organised.

Earlier this week, the gleaming pop beefcake announced he is to release a jazz album via the crowd-funding platform PledgeMusic, thus hobbling the credibility of a business model that has seen fans bankroll records from the likes of George Clinton and Buzzcocks.

Since PledgeMusic and similar crowd-funding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo launched around 2009 - asking fans to pay upfront for works of art (such as albums) - they have reaped equal scorn and praise. Critics take issue with crowd-funding's ethos of asking fans to pay for music before they have so much as heard it, while taking up to a 15% cut for the pleasure, sometimes with no real guarantee that the end product will see the light of day.

Supporters uphold it as the way forward; a model that embraces the grassroots potential of the internet and social media, while selling records and allowing avid fans to fork out extra for unique experiences, home gigs and personalised music. And with Record Store Day this coming Saturday - which spotlights not just record shops, but the way music is made and paid for in the modern age - crowd-funding's primary benefit is manifest: it allows artists to make records that they otherwise could not, as was the case with Diary of a Lost Girl, the first solo album from Louise Rutkowski.

Rutkowski has released music through almost every feasible means since the 1980s, from Sunset Gun (signed to major label CBS) and This Mortal Coil / The Hope Blister (on legendary indie 4AD) through The Kindness of Strangers with Craig Armstrong (via US empire Interscope) to self-releasing (6 Songs EP in 2001).

"It's really quite different now," she says of the landscape. "Especially when you are of my generation, where you signed to a record label, and the record label dealt with everything - or not, as was usually the case," she says.

"That was a big reason I didn't really hang around the major labels, because it was just a catalogue of things not getting done. They are not interested in you."

Earlier this year, Rutkowski took the reins and ran a successful crowd-funding campaign to cover costs for the mixing, mastering and manufacturing of her album, which was already written and recorded. She chose PledgeMusic because she perceived it to be the most trusted and credible platform.

"There wasn't a great masterplan behind it," she offers. "I toyed a wee bit with [Creative Scotland funding] early on, but I realised that wouldn't work, just because of their guidelines and the way they do things. So I started pondering crowd-funding, but I wasn't sure at first, because I'm quite private.

"And there's also that Scottish thing, you know - I can't ask people for money! That's really rude!"

Glasgow songwriter Findlay Napier recently ran a successful PledgeMusic campaign for £5000, to fund the recording of Very Interesting Persons, an album co-written and produced by Boo Hewerdine (The Bible, Eddi Reader). He echoes Rutkowski's initial concerns.

"I think there is still a stigma attached to crowd-funding," he offers.

"Some people think it's outrageous that artists should go cap in hand to their audience. But I think the concept of pre-ordering an album makes so much sense. It means that you can do things like concentrate on the music, rather than worrying about money, or paying off a bank loan.

"But it also means that you have to get your ducks in a row. How much will this cost? When are you going into the studio? Have you got enough songs? You can't screw that up."

Napier, who has released several albums through record labels, acknowledges that the VIP project could not have happened without the support of Creative Scotland (through the Trad Arts Mentoring fund, which facilitated the Hewardine tie-in) and PledgeMusic, which covered the record. He is generally upbeat about direct-to-fan models. But is there a risk that the increasing popularity of such platforms might lead to over-saturation? "It's probably creeping that way," he says. "Two pals of mine tried a crowd-funding thing and it didn't work - they'd already made the album, and had the artwork, but they were trying to get vinyl, and double-vinyl, so they were asking for a lot of money, five-figures. Maybe a lot of people looked at that sum, and went, 'no'."

Rutkowski says PledgeMusic have measures in place to ensure they are not inundated with ill-conceived notions (Peter Andre's big-band LP notwithstanding).

"My experience was that they wouldn't let you near starting a project if they weren't sure that you had the back-up to make it happen.

"I was impressed with that," she offers. "They are not in the game of things failing, for them or for you."

Indeed, Rutkowski had to mobilise her fan-base, including many This Mortal Coil devotees, to convince PledgeMusic that her venture held water - which suggests that crowd-funding is not the option for bands starting out, or those without established fans.

If an artist does have a secure audience, via which he or she can directly fund and release a record, is there a risk that record companies, especially DIY and indie operations, will become sidelined?

Edinburgh label Song, By Toad offered a possible answer when they teamed up their act Meursault to run a recent Kickstarter fundraiser for a US tour. "For an artist to get the most out of a DIY label, it always has to be a collaboration," says Meursault's Neil Pennycook. "When Matthew [Young, Song By Toad] and I put our heads together, we always work very well. We know where we stand on things."

As with Rutkowski and Napier's projects, Meursault's Kickstarter was unique and inventive, and spearheaded by a terrific record - in their case, a crowd-picked treat entitled The Organ Grinder's Monkey.

"Doing the Kickstarter campaign with Matthew got things done quickly, and it got them done well. I'm as proud of that record as I am of anything else," Pennycook says.

Meursault's campaign was hugely successful: they raised almost twice their £3000 target in 16 days. "That blew me away," admits Pennycook. "It was a reminder that people take what you do really personally. You can lose sight of that if you put out records in the traditional way."

Louise Rutkowski's Diary of a Lost Girl is out now; Meursault's The Organ Grinder's Monkey is out now; Findlay Napier and Boo Hewerdine's Very Interesting Persons is out on May 4.

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