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Tim Chipping

Ranting & Reeling

Tim Chipping’s monthly column

Culture minister Ed Vaizey claims the arts are “pathetic” if they don’t seek private philanthropy. A grown-up must’ve told him “The world doesn’t owe you a living, son”. And it doesn’t. But the world does owe it to itself to maintain a varied artistic diet. Previous generations believed the intrinsic value in a culturally rich nation outweighed any cost to the state. Vaizey and his ham-faced colleagues think it more beneficial to spend your taxes on antique chairs, bailing out corrupt banks and buying water cannons to quell the protests against bailing out corrupt banks. That private education wasn’t wasted.

Musicians have been ahead of the curve in seeking alternative funding for their endeavours ever since record labels stopped writing six-figure cheques for architects of sonic cathedrals. Increasingly people are paying for the production of their music with crowd funding. The philanthropist in this case is you.

These campaigns are hosted on websites called things like PledgeKicker and DoOne. In return for financing someone’s pipe dream a reward is promised. But for the economics to work, these incentives are often of little to no monetary value. It’s not uncommon to read: “For £1000 you’ll be named as an executive producer in the credits.” Is there a distinction between monetising a new relationship between artist and audience, and exploiting their goodwill?

“As well as her expertise on the dulcimer, Jenny Fruitcup is a certified pixie. For £100 you’ll get a signed copy of the new CD plus three magic wishes (wishes may not come true in pledger’s lifetime).”

It brings into question our sense of entitlement. I’d love to see the Pyramids but I can’t afford the flights. Will you help pay for my trip if I promise that for £50 I’ll send you a handwritten postcard featuring a pharaoh of your choice?

Some projects are evidently worthwhile. Contributing to a favourite artist’s creative independence, for example, might be a reward in itself. Crowd funding has its place but I feel uneasy about the conceit in expecting unproven projects to be bankrolled by kind intentions. There are other ways.

Bandcamp began in 2008 as a platform for musicians to independently preview and sell their work online. There’s a flexible pricing system, allowing for donations without the promise of mittens woven from the drummer’s dog’s hair, but with the instant gratification of a download or the slower satisfaction of a CD in the post. And you can pre-order, giving the artist advanced capital to help with the costs. It’s a pleasingly transparent transaction.

I like rummaging through the site trying audio streams of things I’ve never heard before; following links and recommendations and sometimes just intuition. For me this is the closest the digital world has come to replicating the romanticised thrill of flicking through a record shop’s new release box.

Before the internet made almost everything accessible, music buying was a treasure hunt. Based on little more than an intriguing name or arresting artwork, I’d take an unknown 7" to the grumpy counter at Rough Trade and meep “Can I hear a bit of this please?” More often than not I’d go home with a new discovery. With Bandcamp’s amassing pages of home-grown oddities, that experience has returned – without the need for human interaction. Progress.

Tim Chipping


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