SXSWORLD February 2014


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Crowdsourcing Helps Creators Give the People What They Want C rowdsourcing has become the norm for gathering opinion by everyone from SXSW, whose PanelPicker determines conference programming by enabling registrants to vote on panel proposals, to Fortune 500 companies wishing to market new products. Artistically, it has been adopted by bands big and small, including Metallica, whose fans will curate set lists for some shows on the metal giants' European tour next year; and by directors like Ridley Scott, whose film, Britain in a Day, compiled footage made by ordinary people filming themselves on the same day. Crowdsourcing might be a new buzzword: Merriam-Webster cites its etymology as crowd and outsourcing, and its first known use as dating to 2006. However, seeking public opinion or input is at least as old as democracy. What distinguishes crowdsourcing from other avenues of soliciting Murder by Death ideas and input from a large group of people is that it is commonly Internet-based, and its potential reach is far greater than ever before. Crowdfunding, utilized to fund everything from records to repairing Route 66, comes under the crowdsourcing umbrella, but whereas crowdsourcing deals with the currency of ideas and opinions, it hinges on financial input. Still, crowdsourcing has commercial applications, too. "Industry has validated the notion of crowdsourcing as a business model," says Tim Scholler, Senior Vice President and Director of Shopper Experience at marketing agency Erwin Penland. "Procter & Gamble, historically one of the most aggressive spenders on R&D, is in its second decade of crowdsourcing through P&G Connect + Develop, drawing from scientifically or technically inclined individuals. My Starbucks Idea, on the other hand, more inclusively solicits ideas for new products or improvements from anyone, with the belief that customers usually know what they want." Crowdsourcing sounds like a death knell for the tastemakers of old, but on a cultural or progressive level, its "give the people what they want" attitude only works when consumers are fully informed of their options. That leaves critics and pundits safe in the crowdsourcing hierarchy, as valuable information and critical opinion suppliers. But where does all this input leave the creative process? Just as creative input has a commercial value, crowdfunding can have an unexpected validation beyond money. New York City-based veteran publicist and poet Anne Leighton turned to crowdfunding to publish her upcoming poetry book. "It was really positive for me," says Leighton. "People came out of the woodwork and I felt emotionally encouraged. It was a very spiritual journey and it helped fund my book. Validation makes you happier and that, in turn, at least for me, gives a more fertile mind to create." Indie band Murder By Death crowdfunded the vinyl edition of its latest album, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, with one option allowing donors who contributed $1000 or more to pick a song for MBD to 22 SXSWORLD / FEBRUARY 2014 G R E G W H I TA K E R by Linda Laban cover. Those requests grew into a full-blown covers studio album, As You Wish, which the band then digitally released. A drawback to this close interaction is a blurring of lines between artist and fan: Does financial input mean ownership and does creative input mean collaboration? "You have to be really careful how you engage," says frontman Adam Turla. "A lot of people email art they create for our songs, and sometimes we'll buy the use of it for a single or a t-shirt. But you have to be clear with expectations. For us, crowdfunding was a huge success and we engaged directly with fans on a larger level than ever before. We're not a hit band, we don't write hit singles, and we're not trying to be popular. So I don't think it would affect our songwriting," adds Turla. "The reason for making music is that you have something to say for yourself and want to share it." Because Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon was completed before the campaign, the creative process was unaffected. But, whereas the band rarely played covers previously, one song from As You Wish, INXS's "Never Tear Us Apart," is now a popular live addition. It is hard to say whether Van Gogh would have painted daisies rather than sunflowers if he had crowdsourced before picking up his palette, but it is not difficult to see that input, whether financial or ideas, might affect the creative process. "I don't like when crowdsourcing takes place before the creating happens, or, even worse, is part of the creative process," says Dave Godowsky, a Brooklyn-based label A&R veteran and band manager and singer-songwriter. "I personally like to have my favorite artists or bands come out with their work complete. It's the best way to show the result of their process, and it maintains some sense of mystery and surprise. Sometimes too much information is a bad thing, and crowdsourcing can be overly revealing. It can also seem desperate and lazy, even if it's not. When a band says, 'I don't know, what do you want us to play?' Or, 'You can design the artwork,' it usually turns me off in some regard." n

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