The current economic environment has made times a bit rougher for artists in America, particularly musicians. Take DJ Kool Herc. The pioneering hip-hop DJ, who created the music's breakbeat foundation by switching back and forth between the breakdown section of two different funk sides, was hospitalized for kidney stones last month.
Herc's friends and fans began a fundraising campaign to help pay for his surgery, which, due to lack of health insurance, he cannot afford. Although he has been released from the hospital, Herc is depending completely on donations by fans and supporters within the hip-hop industry to the DJ Kool Herc Fund to bail him out of this serious health crisis.
For most musicians, making music is a full-time job: A career that doesn't come with a salary or benefits. A part-time job, merch and record sales, shows, and maybe a place to crash while touring are the only tangible means of maintaining financial stability. Sometimes it's when they've finally reached an equilibrium that a car breaks down, instruments break, or someone gets sick.
So what's an artist to do when he or she has bills to pay on top of bills for creating music?
In the past few years, sites like Kickstarter.com have arisen that serve to alleviate artists' monetary burdens by depending 100 percent on fans to fund "projects" like albums, shows, and other releases. Kickstarter doesn't charge anything for starting up a project and runs on an "all or nothing" process - if a project doesn't meet its target goal, no pledges are charged and the artist loses nothing (but also gains nothing).
The site also requires projects to come with "rewards" for pledges. Rocks Off asked a few local artists how they feel about direct fan-to-artist support, such as fan donations for health complications and creation of albums, and if there should be any difference between the two.
FAT TONY: [That support] comes out of a respect for the artist. I think since an artist can be very literally personal with music, it's easy for a fan to feel a strong connection to the artist -stronger than a fan of an actor or photographer may feel (though fans can develop strong connections to any aspect of art). With Kickstarter, you can get your fans and people interested in you to invest in your project through one controlled site. It gives them all they need to know about the project and about yourself.
GEO, THE CUTTERS: I don't have insurance at the moment. I think that insurance is a necessity but it's an individual's responsibility - I don't think it should be put on fans. I think if a situation comes up, a benefit show is a good thing.
I had a friend who had a urinary tract infection and had a benefit to get his antibiotics. The flyer was hilarious. In the end, he raised the funds he needed because of the show. I think it would be really weird to rely on your fans on a constant basis.
Any type of site [like Kickstarter] is fine. If it's one where you ask for funds to make a record and people contribute, something positive comes out of it. I saw that Ssion (a Kansas City group) did that.
CHRIS TAMEZ, RIVERS: Unfortunately, I'm one of the many fish in the ol' "uninsured barrel of healthcare." That being said, the thought of who my health insurance provider is, is a distant one so I live life without it. It's definitely something everyone should have, too bad I'm not in the capacity to afford it!
A lot of people are in the same shoes, especially local musicians. So let me assure you that whatever money local artists come in contact with does NOT go towards health insurance. Much more pressing issues and planning is where the money goes. You know, like buying new strings and sticks or wait, maybe that thing called rent.
As for artists asking fans if they would be interested in giving money to help a poor brotha out, it would have to be in the form of a benefit show, where fans are free to make donations to help a good cause. I couldn't just blatantly ask for handouts, my conscience would run rampant into a barrage of guilt-ridden feelings. Never the less, I too make donations to support the greater good and would gladly except the same kind of gesture.
Any Web site that promotes and helps new artists and bands grow is a friend of mine. Being in that very position of trying new ways to promote yourself, I would say its a valuable commodity. Sites like Kickstarter, Bandcamp, and Reverbnation are all perfect for self-promotion and distribution. Kickstarter is great, I'd even use it myself.
Artists are put in a tough spot these days when it comes to making money off their records. I think in this day and age it's almost impossible for bands to rely on people buying their record when they could just download or burn it from a friend (unless they're picking up a physical copy at a show).
Setting up the opportunity for fans to purchase your music through the form of a donation is a cool idea. That makes it easy on the listener, not having to pay an outrageous price for a record. You would be getting a higher volume of your material out and into people's hands, as opposed to waiting on folks to pay ten or 15 bucks for your album. Isn't donating fun??!
ILL LIAD: I still work a 9 to 5 like everyone else, and thank god my job has great benefits to cover me if anything should happen. Honestly, I would never rely on anyone for money if something happened that took place in my personal life. I feel that there should be a respect factor between you and the people who dig your music.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
If you're an underground artist, you should act like a fucking underground artist. I put a whole album out for FREE and the bitch is still free....A lot of [prima donna] ass niggas walk around like they're Kanye West and they're not. I don't think that whatsoever; it consists of the music and the movement.
The longer they see you grinding and the longer you deliver great music, they will follow you as a person who enjoys it and supports you when its time to make the next step. It's very good to have people come out to shows and support the music; most of all my personal shows are free for everyone besides the kiddos.