Dear Hunter: Episode 11 — Hunter Vs. Harris On Crowdfunding

Dear Hunter

For his next column, Chimaira frontman Mark Hunter, fresh from a successful IndieGoGo campaign, challenged me [GSA founder Chris Harris] to a debate, of sorts, on the issue of crowdfunding — which I find patently offensive for reasons I can put into word…and others only my gut could put into words. I sent him some skeptical questions, and as someone who’s been through the process with much success, he wrote back with honest-to-goodness answers in an attempt to dispel some of the mistruths about these campaigns.

So, you know how I feel about these Kickstarter and IndieGoGo campaigns. Do you think I’m just an idiot for thinking some — NOT ALL — are exploitative?

I don’t think you’re an idiot for thinking that. Like all things in life, a few bad apples can spoil a bunch. But that doesn’t mean apples aren’t still awesome and we know they help sustain life. The music world is evolving while removing old paradigms at rapid rates. New methods have to be explored. Exploiters are a necessary evil and won’t last. It’s good to watch the shady at work because it helps improve the quality.

Some argue crowd-funding shouldn’t be used by bands with deals. From your perspective, when bands with deals launch these campaigns, is it merely a response to the way record labels act these days?

I’m not sure what goes on with artists and labels these days. I’m out of the loop. I do know our label, eOne, has been nothing but supportive with our campaign. Our goal was to try something new as well as give our fans as much content as we felt would truly make this new album feel like an experience.

We also wanted to help eOne as we are in business together. Finally, I think there are a good amount of fans who want to venture and try new things. I personally found it fun to work on the project and it was out of the box compared to the last few releases.

I remember the days when bands would struggle, fund their own recordings, and if they couldn’t find a label to release them, that was that. This notion that if you can’t pay for your own recording sessions, maybe you shouldn’t be recording…is there anything to be said for that?

Artists want to create and they will find a means. I don’t see a need for restricting methods. Nobody is forcing anyone to fund these projects. I think that it’s better for the artist to see how it all works, and if anything, they’ll actually learn to appreciate just how hard it is to succeed and that simply having a project funded is only a tiny step into the overall success of an album release.

On the surface, especially with certain campaigns (i.e.; clothing line and recording studio owner Tim Lambesis’ campaign for tens of thousands for his Austrian Death Machine project), it looks like a money grab. Explain why it isn’t…at least for Chimaira.

I can’t speak for anyone but Chimaira here. We have always been a band that experiments with and embraces the latest technology. When the band started in 1998, we used Napster and other digital outlets that at the time were unknown by the masses and considered taboo to the conservative.

Part of our reasoning behind the campaign was to experiment with and embrace a new ideology. Navigating the terrain of the music world these days is not as formulaic as it once was and creativity is necessary.

Also, without diving into too much information, when the new incarnation of Chimaira formed, we started the company with $0. While we are still signed those funds went to the making of the album. We won’t personally see much of anything from the campaign. It’s all going into the products we have to manufacture, the videos, documentary, and try our best to keep Chimaira Inc. in the black.

We fully realize this is a rebuilding phase for the band and that includes financially.

Don’t you see how technology like this is changing the way things are done. In the past, if you were a shitty band no label wanted to touch, you could still save up money, use it to book studio time, and record a shitty demo. These days, every young band thinks they should have success overnight without touring in a van or paying any sort of dues. Aren’t these sites basically supporting ill-conceived projects?

I don’t see how. If I were an unknown musician that started an Indiegogo campaign and raised the money to record a CD, then what? Artists might think they deserve one thing, but reality is another. Jut because the CD was funded, doesn’t mean it’s going to sell anything. Labels also put out pure shit left and right just to keep their office doors open. I think the audience responds accurately and appropriately.

I’ve heard the question, “Is it any different than pre-sales?” Sadly, the majority of people, when they buy records, do not pre-order. Why not just take pre-orders then and call it that?

There are all types of different fans. There are super fans who want the coolest shit, there are fans who want to buy only the regular version, there are types that only care about digital and then there are the downloaders. All are thought about when we release an album. This was our way of upgrading the standard definition of pre-order.

Do you think fans who do contribute to these campaigns should have access to a full and proper accounting of how the money was spent?

I think that’s up to the campaign owner. It would be complicated in our situation as some funds will go to pay for people that work for us and the details of their salary should be left private. Also, fees for artists, directors and such would have to disclosed and I could see that being problematic.

Our campaign made $60,000 after fees and whatnot, you’re looking at 50. There are six guys in the band. Even if we took every cent, that’s not what I’d consider “making bank.”

Do you think there is any chance bands have already taken advantage of these kinds of sites, by overstating what they’ll actually require to make a record, thus profiting before a project’s even completed?

We studied successful campaigns before we launched ours and I never came across anything fishy. Every band is different.

Do you understand why some folks have problems with these types of campaigns?

Sure, but I don’t think it will go away anytime soon. There are some awesome non-music related projects out there that are actually benefiting humanity. At the core, it’s a good concept.

…to be continued, perhaps.

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About Mark Hunter

Mark Hunter was the lead singer of Cleveland metal honchos Chimaira. You should follow him on Twitter at @chimairamark. The band released seven albums, including their most recent, 2013's Crown of Phantoms, before calling it quits in 2014.

  • Allison

    mark i love you so much. chimaira rules!

  • paganheart

    Congrats to Mark and Chimaira on a well-executed and successful Indiegogo campaign; it’s a perfect illustration of how it should be done. On another note, it will be interesting to see what becomes of Tim Lambesis’ Austrian Death Machine campaign; already on other boards there are people who want their money back, fearing that Tim will use it to pay for his legal defense instead. This is the downside of such campaigns; if the money isn’t/can’t be used for it’s intended purpose what becomes of it? Can people get their money back? Crowdfunding is still in it’s infancy as a way of doing business and such questions will have to be addressed as it moves forward…hopefully without destroying the good things about it.