The

Fo­rum

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@gmail.com

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?

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