The culmination of a long association with pianist Matthew Mills, Bagatelles represents some 30 years of piano music by British composer Bernard Hughes.
Since February, I’ve been raising funds through a crowdfunding campaign with PledgeMusic. The campaign is supported through Sound and Music’s ‘Compose. Create. Engage.’ initiative, which aims to assess how useful crowdfunding platforms can be for new and experimental music.
Sound and Music have asked me (and the other composers running campaigns through the initiative) to reflect on the experience so far…
My PledgeMusic campaign is in support of a project called Fresh Yorkshire Aires, which showcases graphic scores and visuals that are connected to sound by artists and composers in Yorkshire. The campaign is intended to support the development of four new graphic scores from Yorkshire artists and composers (including me), for exhibition in Leeds and Sheffield, featuring musical realisations by Matthew Bourne and Philip Thomas, playing as a piano duo. All of the showcased artists live in Yorkshire, and all of the new commissions are inspired directly by the region.
I initially became involved with ‘Compose. Create. Engage.’ because I wanted to find ways of raising funds that would highlight and strengthen the artistic intentions behind my work, as well as financing it. Crowdfunding through PledgeMusic has many benefits for my approach but it’s also raised some questions about how I conceive of audiences and make my work available.
So, I’ve found the process challenging, and I’m still a long way from success, but I remain hopeful I’ll be able to raise enough to deliver my project in the way I’ve imagined. I’m fortunate to have some financial support from Leeds College of Music, where both Matthew and I are lecturers. The PledgeMusic campaign is an opportunity to further extend and expand Fresh Yorkshire Aires.
Rather than outlining my specific approach to fundraising through PledgeMusic (something which Marc Yeats has already covered in an excellent blog), I want to explain why and how I’m hoping crowdfunding through this platform will play into the strengths of my project.
More often than not, I try to support projects through institutional funding from not-for-profit organisations, or through publicly funded programmes and commissions, so this is a new process for me. With that in mind, I’ve divided this blog post into three sections based on my aims: building a community; growing interest in graphic scores; and giving audiences a tangible sense of their contribution. Under each heading, I’ve tried to highlight some of the practical and aesthetic problems that I’ve had to confront through the PledgeMusic campaign process.
Aim 1. To build an engaged, creative community.
Crowdfunding aims to directly involve audiences in the development of new work, something that simply selling tickets, or gaining business/institutional sponsorship won’t fully achieve. So, I’m hoping the campaign might help build a community around the project, particularly those based in Yorkshire.
Fresh Yorkshire Aires has an open online showcase, which local artists can help grow and shape by submitting graphic scores and other musical-visual work – it’s a partially crowdsourced exhibition. In a similar sense, by pledging support for new work to be developed through the project, audiences can take an active role in shaping (a small) piece of the artistic programme of their region. So, Fresh Yorkshire Aires is a celebration of this shared creative process.
On the other hand, the PledgeMusic idea of a community traditionally targets audiences as, first and foremost, consumers investing in a product (the prevalence of album pre-order campaigns is testament to this), which is difficult to reconcile comfortably with my definition above (though I am trying). The question for me is: am I building a community of “active participants” or “satisfied customers”? Probably a little of each.
Aim 2. To develop interest in, and understanding of, graphic scores.
My campaign is intended as an opportunity to engage people in graphic scores, which aren’t exactly mainstream fodder. Access to the exclusive updates section of the campaign page provides real insight into the particular challenges of making this kind of work, with some really candid reflections from the artists involved.
I believe that graphic scores have a potentially democratizing effect, allowing those who may not read music, or play instruments to a high standard, to gain aesthetic enjoyment from the musical score directly. However, the fact that audiences need to pledge funds in order to access these exclusive updates obviously clashes somewhat with this democratic impulse.
The access fee I’ve set is as low as my budget will allow (£7), and comes with a download of a live recording that will be made of the new commissions. Nevertheless, what I would ordinarily understand as educational or “value-adding” content (on a project blog for example) here becomes subject to a fee. In theory, I have the option of making all updates on the campaign page publicly available for free. However, the PledgeMusic business model relies on people pledging money in order to access this exclusive content, so I’ve largely avoided this.
You can purchase a ticket to one of the live musical performances through the campaign and gain access to the updates at the same time (£12.50). Even so, I hope that potential audiences unable to attend the events themselves will still see the benefit of paying for access to the updates we are providing. It’s a dynamic that is unfamiliar for me: in a publicly funded project, all potential audiences arguably have the right to access information about the creative process; with the commercial PledgeMusic approach, this information becomes a commodity.
Aim 3. To give audiences a tangible sense of the impact of their financial contribution to the project.
As with all PledgeMusic campaigns, pledgers can purchase products through my campaign. You can buy artist prints, downloads and scores through the campaign page (as well as tickets). As people pledge, the percentage of the project target rises for all to see.
I’ve also noticed a lot of artists on PledgeMusic offering “experience” based exclusives to pledgers – I hope any workshop or “meet the artist” offered through my campaign will empower audiences to be creatively active themselves (as commissioners, performers, composers, etc.). The risk is that, because the PledgeMusic campaign is a “for-profit” process, meet the artist(s) exclusives instead highlight the problematic gap between artist-producers and consumer-audiences.
PledgeMusic make clear to anyone running a campaign that we should avoid words associated with charity, such as “funding” or “donating”, opting instead for consumer-oriented language, such as “purchasing” or “pre-ordering”, and of course “pledging” (though that’s probably more of a brand identity question for them). I understand the logic of this but I can’t help wondering whether audiences familiar with work in the funded sector (which doubtless incorporates much of the new and experimental forms of music making promoted by Sound and Music) might prefer the charitable implications of “funding” a project, as opposed to “pre-ordering” a product. This might sound like semantics but I think the language an artist uses affects the way in which audiences connect with their work.
Some final thoughts
I remain positive about the possibilities of crowdfunding with PledgeMusic. I do think there is still work to be done to help the process augment and support the publicly funded sector, but I’ve stopped short of making any recommendations before I complete my campaign. In any case, I don’t have an overall perspective, I can only really comment on my own motivations (and reservations!) for fundraising through this platform.
For me, the question of funding is both a practical (financial) and creative (aesthetic) one. I hope my campaign, along with those of the other composers involved in ‘Compose. Create. Engage.’, will provide organisations like Sound and Music with a better perspective on how this kind of fundraising platform might be satisfyingly integrated with the practical (and ideological) demands of public funding sources.
If you’d like to find out more about Fresh Yorkshire Aires, and lend some support to the project, please visit: pledgemusic.com/projects/fresh-yorkshire-aires