AS entertainment moguls in the making, we’ve been having fun exploring the diverse business pitches that come our way. Here at Wombat Media, we’ve been toying with supporting a gay road movie, a dirt-floor circus act or a little craft volume that could become the next The Blue Day Book.
Mind you, we’re feeling jaded with the number of folk bands knocking at the door so, this week, we might just support some Melbourne kids who want to go to Scotland to sing – who knows, could be the next Choir of Hard Knocks.
Being an entertainment mogul has never been easier. All you need is a crowd funding site; a bit of room on your credit card; and a penchant for picking the next big thing.
Some people think we’re crazy. Why give money to artists you’ve never met, they ask. Isn’t that what the Australia Council is for, they cry. And, what do you do with all that useless stuff you get in return? Well, we say, giving money to cool-sounding projects gives you boasting rights at the hipster cafe down the road. We’ll know Neon Bogart before he launches his first album and we’ll nod knowingly when someone mentions tree theatre. And what’s wrong with getting free t-shirts and virtual hugs?
Crowd funding may seem like panhandling on the web to old-fashioned patrons of the arts but it’s much more than that. Sites such as Pozible in Australia and Kickstarter in the US were originally seen as extensions of tapping your friends and relatives for money. They capitalised on the fact that social media has made the old ‘‘ family and friends’’ network an ever-widening circle that includes your grandma’s cousin’s nephew in Nebraska.
Obviously, the most basic thing crowd funding does is raise money. But more artists — and investors — realise it’s not just about raising money. It’s evolving into a new sort of business plan for the artistic community. If you’ve convinced 10,000 people to give $20 each for your gig, you haven’t just got $200,000 in the kitty, you have an audience. If you’ve convinced that many people to kick in, you’ve also done your research. You know this idea will work, you know it taps a vein, it’s catching something of the zeitgeist.
So, when you pitch a project on a crowd funding site, you’re testing the idea, building awareness of your work, identifying an audience, and testing how much it is prepared to pay. You’re winning a vote of confidence that only a dollar can provide.
Venture capitalists might call this proof of concept; artists might call it, ‘‘ I told you so’’. But the next step is to go to investors and tell them they should put their big dollars behind it because you’ve got so many people to put their little dollars in. For example, that gay road movie set out to raise $88,000 from crowds and $220,000 from private investors.
But it’s not just venture capitalists who are swayed by $20 supporters. Increasingly, government bodies are following crowd funders into projects. For them, it’s a no-brainer. The biggest problem with government arts funding has been the challenge of picking projects the public wants, not the stuff arts aficionados on council boards think is worthwhile.
We might all have been spared many drab Australian movies in the past decade if their makers had been forced to test their concepts. For instance, how would Dead Europe have performed on the Pozible site? What would crowd funders have made of the idea of a man with testicular cancer and a hankering to be a dad ( Not Suitable for Children)?
Sceptics of the crowd model say it’s micro finance for the First World. Or, they dismiss it as a different medium for charity. Some think it’s socialism for the arts, if only because the artists all seem to live in inner-Sydney Redfern. The cool thing about it is that it’s all those things.
But the best thing about making like an entertainment mogul on crowd funding sites is seeing the huge amount of creativity that bubbles up from the streets. Trawling through crowd funding sites is like online shopping for ideas; it’s the YouTube for the hipster community; it’s a road show for people who want to be patrons. Better still, it gives you street cred. Who else but us mini moguls of the entertainment world have heard of tree theatre, mute poetry or the edible stage?