THORLEY, MARK (Coventry University)
Crowd funding and its potential to create an alternative culture of production
[abstract] The field of cultural production has often included reference to those who stand between the producer and their audience. Whether referred to as gatekeepers by Paul Hirsch (1972), or cultural intermediaries by Pierre Bourdieu (1984), their role in deciding what the audience gets to experience has been discussed at length. Frequently, there is reference to the filtering function which they perform, which, in recorded music terms, dictates what gets recorded, how it is recorded and produced, what gets released, what gets promoted, and what gets dropped. Even in the music press, cultural intermediaries in the form of A&R personnel and record company executives receive criticism for their decision making whether for dropping recording artists before they are allowed to develop, or signing artists with grossly inflated advances only to see them walk through the door soon after.
Given the observations and criticisms of cultural intermediaries, crowdfunding would seem to offer significant hope as an alternative production process. Crowdfunding sites (as typified by Artistshare, Kickstarter and Pledgemusic) allow fans to become funders of music projects before they take place, usually gaining some access to the creative production process in return. Such hope does presuppose that there is a market for what is being offered though. However, it could be argued that cultural intermediation should represent the market anyway, in which case, a crowd-funded project cannot ‘create’ its own market or alternative production process. Alternatively, if it is the case that cultural intermediation does not necessarily represent the market, then a crowdfunded project has the potential to create its own market. In that case, crowdfunding offers exiting potential to create alternate cultures of production which would otherwise be forgotten or unrealised. Drawing upon established literature on the subject, and case studies, this paper discusses whether crowd funding can really create an alternative culture of production.
Mark begins with an overview of traditional model of cultural production, and he tracks the cultural and financial flow through it. He notes that this model has been negatively criticised (starting with Adorno and the idea of pseudo-individuality). The UNESCO report into cultural industries identified issues with monopolies.
We now look at the concept of Attraction, and Mark discusses the gatekeepers of the traditional model and identifies the idea of ‘Quality/Preparedness’ (Mollick 2012). Mark’s research into crowdsourcing suggests that there are many creative/economic advantages for creators. He firstly looks at the crowd-funding model via what he calls a utopian ideal of removing the cultural intermediaries.
He identifies suggested ‘conditions’ to maximise potential; having a rationale for using CF, not acting like a record company; responding to fans’ needs; and involving fans as participants. He looks at ‘negative’ motivations (after Lisa Potts 2012, Belt et al 2012) where artists may choose CF solutions because they are rejecting traditional models. He discusses the importance of A&R and its role in achieving ‘Preparedness’. The problem is that CF project creators are not as well equipped as an experienced A&R person to make a judgement about an artist/work. He states that just because people can use CF it does not necessarily follow that they should (especially if their motivations are negative).
Mark now discussed the avoidance of ‘record company behaviour’, and notes that some CF projects (e.g. Artistshare) end up behaving like them, but with limited capability and motivation. They have more control but less expertise – so the control is an illusion in practice. Rejection of a cultural intermediary devalues the role of that individual – CF projects underestimate the amount of record company-like work they must do (e.g. marketing). Mark calls for better use of the ‘new control’ and notes that this requires different behaviours.
So how can CFers respond to audience motivations? Mark states that CF consumer motivations are diverse and unresearched. He suggests that we can extend ‘Uses and Gratifications Theory’ (McQuail et al 1972), and then speculates about different motivations in potential CF investors – consumers may be becoming investors/cultural intermediaries, influencers etc. Whatever CF users may be, they are more than passive consumers.
The fourth challenge is to involve fans as participants, and Mark notes the potential for two-way communication between producers and consumers. He now looks at contrary practice, noting the Pottermore site’s failure to bring true fan interaction to the fore, and Artistshare’s lack of expectation of response in its participants. Both, he says, failed to respond to the central issue fo control.
Areas of maximum potential are identified – in platform, networks (Benkler 2006), sharing (Lessig 2008, Tapscott and Williams) and aggregation. He concludes that there is a good rationale for (non-negative) CF engagement; that the record company model is receding; that the audience motivations must be understood; and that the audience is participatory.