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If You Think the Music Industry is Dying, You're Not Paying Attention

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It's an interesting time to be an indie musician.

Record stores are closing their doors at an unprecedented rate. Music labels are suing fans for downloading albums from torrent sites. Unknown artists are exploding to worldwide stardom in a matter of days based on viral videos and word-of-mouth. It seems like none of the old rules apply anymore.

Is there any hope for music? Can the industry adapt to meet the pressures and challenges of a rapidly evolving digital frontier?

Let me give you a bit of an insider's perspective. I play in an indie-roots rock band called Enter The Haggis. We're from Toronto, and we had the good fortune to arrive on the scene about a dozen years ago, right as the online revolution was gathering steam. It's been fascinating to witness the effect technology has had on our career trajectory.

Twenty years ago, bands kept their fans engaged through mailing lists -- not email lists. In those days it took a week's work and thousands of hand-addressed envelopes to make the hardcores feel like they had an inside scoop; today it takes me 15 minutes to reach 40,000 people. Communication is just about effortless, and the effect this has had on the industry is staggering.

When I was in high-school, if a band wanted to make a recording and promote it internationally, they had to get signed. Today my band can make a record in a cottage in northern Ontario that sounds better than a million-dollar project did in the 70s. We can promote ourselves faster and more efficiently in an afternoon than a team of marketers could a generation ago. The tools to grow and succeed are available to every single act, large or small, with a little bit of effort.

Kickstarter is a natural step in the evolution of the artist/fan relationship.

For those of you who don't already know, Kickstarter is a website that enables content creators (bands, artists, film-makers, designers) to invite their fans and supporters to be involved in new projects from the very beginning, and to pledge their support in exchange for rewards and exclusive behind-the-scenes access to a project during the project's inception.

My band chose to fund our upcoming album through Kickstarter. It's still a new idea, inviting your fans to essentially be your "label" and invest their money in your project before it even gets started, but we managed to fund our last album Whitelake through the generosity and support of our fans so it didn't seem like a huge risk. We set our goal at a reasonably modest $20,000.

The concept for our album is a little bit odd. We've spent the last decade traveling around the world and it's always been interesting to witness the way events unfold when you see them through the media of individual cities and towns. One day our guitarist Trevor had an idea: why not capture a snapshot of a single day in the world through the lens of one newspaper, and turn it into an album?

We picked the Globe And Mail, one of Canada's biggest papers and decided on a day more or less at random: March 30th, 2012. The idea was to write an album specifically inspired by the stories and headlines in that issue of the newspaper, then release the album a year later and ship copies of the paper out with the album. We bought 1,500 papers which are currently taking up half of my girlfriend's basement. It's sort of like a time-capsule.

We announced the concept and launched our Kickstarter campaign at the same time. We were cautiously optimistic. We set a deadline of September 3, and promoted the fundraiser through all of our available outlets.

We hit our goal of $20,000.

In eight hours.

We doubled it in nine days.

As I write this, we're sitting at about $56,000 -- and the campaign is still running for another three weeks. It's shocking and humbling to see the support of our fans, but it's also evidence of a new era of the fan/artist relationship. Why should a band pay thousands of dollars to middle-men? Fans know what they like, and no matter how the labels whine about the death of music as a business it's obvious that people WILL pay to support the artists they believe in -- and that they WON'T pay if they aren't sufficiently engaged.

Is the industry dying? Is music unsustainable now that the masses can acquire it for free with little or no effort? From where I'm sitting, it's hard to understand that argument. I'm currently on tour, playing songs I wrote for people who are willing to pay to see me, and they're funding my career directly. From my perspective, the music business is thriving.

If the industry can't find a way to fit into the relationship I have with my fans, they'll find themselves on the outside looking in -- and I can't say I'll miss them.

It's an interesting time to be an indie musician.

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Enter the Haggis, Whitelake