Melodic death metal heroes Allegaeon are under fire this past week for initiating a crowdfunding push on the website Patreon, which is a platform that allows a continual support of an artist through a monthly subscription model. There are of course different levels of support, but you can commit to as low as $1 per month. It’s become increasingly popular in the music world and the YouTube community for its consistency in an inconsistent industry. But although it operates basically as a tip jar and/or a upper tier subscription for hardcore fans (having zero impact on anyone else), many ignorant, misguided loudmouths on the internet have decided that it is tantamount to begging and like many other great ideas, it (and the band) are being panned by trolls, some of whom for some reason have access to large platform mouthpieces such as Decibel and clrvynt.
I’m here today to set the record straight on why Patreon and other similar platforms are good for bands and fans, and why the shitty attitudes of people railing against them will be the death of the music we love if we don’t get it right, right now.
To Patreon or Not To Patreon
It’s one of the most hotly debated ideas in the new music industry across social media – to Patreon or not to Patreon. Many see it as begging for money, a sense of entitlement, some kind of pathetic cop-out, as if the supporter gets nothing in return.
But that’s not what begging is. Begging is asking for something when you can offer nothing in return. Begging is throwing yourself on the mercy of others because you have no other choice. These five men living in America have a choice, and it could be an easy one. Of course they can get “real” jobs – that’s always there, isn’t it? If you’ve been in a band, you know the feeling – how much easier and better would your life be if you quit the band, and spent that time making money instead of losing it? Of course it would be easier. That’s not the question though – the question is do the fans want the music to continue badly enough to pay for it?
There’s an easy way to answer this question – open a channel to allow the direct flow of money from patron to artist. It’s no different from a tip jar at a cafe. You are already paying for your coffee – some of that goes to your barista. But you can also choose to give money directly to the barista, bypassing Peet’s altogether. If your barista quits, there will be another to replace them. But the more you tip, the more likely it is that your favorite barista will be there tomorrow making your triple vanilla mochachino 3/4 caf with a smiling hippo in the foam. In case you’re a moron, in this metaphor, the barista is your favorite band.
There are no shortage of bands out there. Anytime one falls, there are ten to take its place. There are plenty of bands willing to slog it out on the road for no money, just as there are always scabs ready to accept whatever pay and poor working conditions that unions seek to improve by striking.
Patreon and other crowdfunding sources can be a boon, or an embarrassing flop. Protest The Hero successfully crowdfunded $341,000 for their album Volition, 273% of what they were asking, while Orgy fell incredibly short, raising a meager 8 grand of their $100,000 goal. This happens when there is a mismatch between the artist’s perceived value and their actual value.
Every time I’ve seen an artist go the Patreon route, however, the comments section reacts the same way – stop begging. Get a real job. Stop asking your fans for money.
Crowdfunding is the bee’s knees. What you’re saying when you say you don’t like crowdfunding is that you want to add an unnecessary middleman to the equation (a record label) and that you want to pay more for less content from the artist, because you don’t want to see the business part of the equation. Everything a band does with crowdfunding money is the same thing that a label will do for them, only a label gives them 15% of the profits and takes the rest. So why the moral outrage when the band wants the money directly? Answer: you don’t like seeing how the sausage is made.
A Lesson in Capitalism
I hear it everywhere, from musicians to managers to publicists and fans – “There’s no money in metal”. They say it with a sigh and a defeated finality that their favorite sound must be relegated to the smallest venues with no catering, the bottom of the sales charts, and eventual burnout from living in poverty. From the same mouths I hear criticism of bands who are successful, because they’ve achieved major-label status, brand sponsorships, endorsement deals, or other markers that they are making money.
This attitude is pervasive, self-perpetuating, and self-defeating, and the eruption of hatred for Allegaeon’s Patreon is the result. The detractors have accepted this idea so deeply that they think that the artist must also accept it, and any notion to the contrary must be squashed, and they are very vocal about it.
$25 an hour. 3 times the minimum wage. An insult to the bands with balls.
This is how we see ourselves in the metal world. We don’t believe that working musicians are worth 3 times the minimum wage. “If you can’t afford to be in a band, then DON’T BE IN A BAND!”. This is a twisted inversion of the transaction, where the working artist is expected to sacrifice everything while the consumer gives nothing and receives all the benefit. Not only must the artist raise his own capital to pay for the privilege of performing, but then they must endure poverty and derision from a public who downloads their art for free and then criticizes it openly.
This demonstrates a true ignorance of the functioning of the open market and the value of the artist in society, and the relationship thereof. If you think $25 an hour is a lot of money, then metal is well and truly fucked, and we’ll think we’re living like kings when we’ve reached $25 an hour while every other occupation laughs at us. The author of this petition framed it as a multiple of the minimum wage – comparing it to the actual MINIMUM AMOUNT LEGALLY ALLOWED to be paid. We don’t think we are better than the literal bottom of the barrel.
If we boil down all the rhetoric, theissue that many are taking with Allegaeon is that they have overestimated their value on the open market, are asking for too much money, and are holding the band hostage with their “threat” to break up. The former may be a fair criticism, but only if they fail, and it’s certainly not a fault worthy of the inflammatory rhetoric and hatred they are currently receiving. There’s no question that bands work hard – but the detractors are mad because they think that they don’t work hard enough to earn the money that they’re asking for.
I’ve been a teacher – it’s not easy. But being in a band is just as much hard work, and there’s NO stability at all. There’s no question that they’re earning what they’re asking for, if there’s any justice. You just think they’ve overestimated their worth, despite an ignorance of what/how much work they’re doing. You have a contract with your boss at your school – you do X tasks, you get paid X amount. At a certain point you might feel you deserve more money for X work – you negotiate a raise. Why is that somehow better than the arrangement a band has with its fans? Bands don’t have bosses. The fans ARE the bosses – you can negotiate a raise in essentially the same way, but with the (hopefully) thousands of people that make up that title. Most bands don’t ever have the conversation with their fanbase, they just break up or continue on suffering in silence.
You just think their music isn’t worth what they’re hoping to get for it.
A thing is worth what it is traded for.
You don’t get the deal you deserve – you get the deal you negotiate. There isn’t some omniscient force determining what the value of a thing is and you are either over- or under-valuing it against the price hewn into a sacred stone – whatever you allow the thing to be sold for is the value of it. Knowing the value of yourself as an artist or the product you create is very important, and setting that value is a matter of creating it and letting it be known.
Pop artists do this effortlessly – any metalhead who’s ever complained about the success of a pop artist like Britney Spears over a “far more talented” artist like their favorite band that shreds has missed this point entirely – people will pay $300 for front row tickets to see Britney because she and her team of managers and publicists have created that value, and priced it as such. Metalheads see those kinds of prices and think that they are morally superior because they would never pay or charge those kinds of prices, but all they’re really doing is creating an endless downward trend of devaluation.
Allegaeon has taken the first step in deciding their value, which is setting the price. More like a suggested price – you can bet that even if they don’t quite hit their mark, they’ll continue on with the band. Many people interpreted this as a threat to break up if they don’t get what they’re asking – I watched the video, and I think that’s a poor interpretation. They simply stated the reality that in order for a business entity to function, they need capital. Of course the consequence of being suffocated is death – it’s not a threat to say that if you don’t get any oxygen you will die, merely a statement of fact.
Haven’t you ever heard that your favorite band has broken up, and thought to yourself – I would pay $50 to hear them make another (insert pivotal classic album here)? So why not keep that from happening? Because they were honest about asking for it?
The public reaction has been painfully reminiscent of that of John Lennon’s assertion that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. A wrong interpretation, an overblown, idiotic reaction, and zero perspective on the larger implications.
If they get what they’re asking, or more, then they have correctly calculated their worth on the open market. Whether or not you think the perks are a good deal, it’s not up for you or I to decide what their value is, except as to whether or not we want to spend our money on it. If people are willing to pay, then Allegaeon is right.
Above And Beyond
Sure, they, and every other mid- to low-level band (metal or otherwise) in America can continue on without crowdfunding or any kind of funding – they’ll keep working the kind of day job you can get that will give you time off for touring (the $10/hour kind) to save money to pay to tour to play for people who think they’re not worth what they’re asking. What Allegaeon and other Patreon bands want is to increase the output of their art and their presence in the lives of their fans – but only if the fans want that and are willing to pay for it.
The artist’s ability to create is determined partially by their freedom – you can’t write, record, and tour if you have to spend all your time working for the man, as it were. What you’re really giving an artist when you give them money is the freedom to create.
Every show I go to, I hear endless complaints about the prices of band merch – $25 shirts, $50 hoodies. But look outside of metal and you start to see that we have simply devalued the worth of the artist – fans of other genres of music are willing to pay far more for a piece of the artists they love. You might say that most metalheads are poor – but do you think they’re poorer than fans of rap? Because that doesn’t stop Kanye from selling $60 Saint Pablo t-shirts, or Rihanna this $250 hoodie. You think you’re a fanatical worshipper of Iron Maiden – but you’ll only have to pay $40 for your hoodie. Are you a big enough fan to pay $250? You bitch about the price, but don’t consider the cost.
A Change Of Attitude – Or The Death Of A Genre
There is only one thing that will bring the state of our beloved music out of a tailspin – we need to change our attitude about money in metal. We need to eliminate the word “sellout” from our vocabulary. If there is in fact no money in metal, then in order for it to continue the money needs to come in somehow – or metal is over. Because of this, we need to stop criticizing the way in which bands get their money to continue. Many people balked at the idea of members of a metal band making $50,000 a year. That’s because most metal fans don’t make that much, and they think that’s a lot of money – and that these musicians don’t deserve that much. We need to believe (rightly) that both metal bands and metal fans are worthy of more money, and that there is no shame in asking for and receiving their value’s worth.
Personally, I wouldn’t bat an eye if Tom Araya stopped in the middle of a concert to take a sip of Pepsi and say “You got the right one baby, uh-huh!” so that Slayer could make a bit of cash. If Pepsi thinks that Slayer fans would like Pepsi, and want to pay Slayer to drop some product placement, great. Shill away, just keep playing Angel of Death. (And if you think Tom and/or Slayer would never shill, here’s why you’re wrong) Of course, Slayer don’t have that much of a problem getting butts in seats or selling their music and merch, but I think Allegaeon are better than Slayer and I think they should get a Pepsi endorsement to pay for their van’s new alternator.
If the members of a band worked for Pepsi at their day job to fund their band, you wouldn’t call them sellouts – now they’re “working class” and worthy of praise. Pepsi would be, in effect, already sponsoring their band. Something about the fact that they worked makes it morally acceptable in your eyes, so as long as they worked before they worked on the hard work of being in a band it’s okay. But the second we find out that they’re officially involved then we accuse the artist of shilling. But you don’t think that you’re shilling for Starbucks when you stand behind their counter wearing a green apron serving their products? Pepsi, in this case, has recognized the value of the artist, whereas the “fan” has not – ironic, to say the least. We’ve created this imaginary distinction between how a typical business operates and how a band should operate, because there’s some “purity” that needs to be maintained by a metal band – like having some money coming in corrupts the quality of the music. This also means that brands are reluctant to sponsor metal for fear of backlash. Thanks, punk rock, for initiating this irrational idea.
Speaking of punk, some punk band’s singer decided to take the opportunity to promote her band with this deranged, reason-proof rant on clrvynt.com in which she calls Allegaeon “pussies” “the laziest, most pathetic, sub-human beta males in America” and other colorful inaccuracies and alt-right trigger words, based mostly on the fact that their Patreon move makes them unfuckable in her eyes.
She also criticizes them as lazy, citing her job as an account executive as proof that she is not. The singer of a punk band thinks she is superior to them because she is literally working for the man. How punk rock of her. And hey, if you can’t get a handout from your fans, why not just get one from the government, like White Lung did (to the tune of $90,000)?
I bring this up because punk is a picture of where metal could end up if we continue with this self-destructive attitude of self-worthlessness. Punk rockers are terminally self-policing their own punk-ness and purity and morally crusading against any of their number who achieves any kind of success, financial or otherwise. As a result, punk is essentially the music of the homeless, and its popularity is nil because popularity is inherently bankrupting in their eyes – a perfect loop of self-defeat.
You wouldn’t accuse John Williams of being a pussy would you? He gets up every day and works on music, the same as Allegaeon, and he gets paid to do it. He has to negotiate with producers for the price of his music, and his value is what he sets it at. He sets the price, and if no one is willing to pay it, then no John Williams scores will be made. Would you accuse him of threatening to quit to get money out of his fans? Never. A street performer puts his guitar case out for you to put money in if you appreciate their performance – would you call them lazy, entitled, beggars? I certainly hope not. This is merely the larger-scale digital version of that open guitar case.
As of this writing, Allegaeon is 3/5ths of the way to their goal, with subscriptions totaling about $3000 per month. Whether or not this model is sustainable will depend largely on the band’s ability to make good on the promises of their perks, to continue to offer content of high value, and to ignore the detractors who claim knowledge of their worth. But it is at least promising that such a goal can be achieved, and that the fans have spoken – challenge accepted.
If we don’t change our attitude about this, metal is going to die. We will mourn over its starved corpse, wondering how it could have happened, when we told it that it didn’t deserve to eat, it wasn’t worthy of nourishment, and chastised it for asking for nutrition. We told it that its suffering was noble, that it needed to suffer to be worthy of our praise, and that its purity was sacred and money was taint. We held a pillow over its face and told it to get its air from somewhere else, and then we were surprised when it suffocated.
Will we continue to martyr the artists? We “fans”? We “metalheads”?