Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

Bjork’s cautionary tale of crowdfunding

The news the Bjork has cancelled a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund the Biophilia app for Windows 8 and Android operating systems is a surprising one if you take it at face value. This is frickin Bjork! She has a huge number …

Mon, Feb 11, 2013, 18:38


The news the Bjork has cancelled a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund the Biophilia app for Windows 8 and Android operating systems is a surprising one if you take it at face value. This is frickin Bjork! She has a huge number of adoring fans. She’s an icon. A superstar. Her output is cerebral, innovative, always interesting and lapped up by millions of people. So why this humiliating failure?

The Kickstarter campaign was established to raise £375,000 in 30 days but raised less than £15,500 after ten, so Bjork pulled the plug. Unlike Amanda Palmer, the off-cited crowdfunding success story, Bjork couldn’t get this project off the ground. Crowdfunding has been presented as the great white hope for independent artists, but it’s also one of the most uncertain ways to get cash. Some artists might assume that you just lash something up on Pledge, Fund It or Kickstarter, and sit back and watch the figures clock up, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Many artists I’ve spoken to – filmmakers, theater makers and musicians especially – have a decent grasp of what it takes to raise money on sites such as Ireland’s Fund it. Musicians in particular see it as a sort of godsend. In Ireland, musicians don’t operate within the same funding parameters as theatre makers who look to the Arts Council and elsewhere to fund their projects, and filmmakers who often can’t even begin to think of a new project without the Irish Film Board getting involved. Other bursaries, local authority grants, tax breaks, government funding etc., go to visual artists, those working in the arts through the Irish language, writers and so on. But I’d wager most musicians in Ireland have never filled out an Arts Council application, or explored funding opportunities. Generally, they operate outside of these structures.

What musicians do have on their side is fans. Fans (sometimes) buy albums and songs, go to gigs and buy t-shirts. So crowdfunding monetizes that loyalty. But you still need a lot of ducks in a lot of rows to have a successful crowdfunding campaign. You need the fans in the first place. There is a targeted arrogance required to put your work up out there for your friends, family, and even strangers to fund. You’re saying that it’s worth something in the first place. In some instances there might be an unease with this. Why should I give a bunch of lads with guitars a few quid so they can faff around a studio and put out an EP? Surely if they were good enough, they’d be able to talk a label into facilitating that for them? Acts such as Julie Feeney have been hugely successful at tapping the crowd. And Feeney would be the first person to admit that launching, administrating, and keeping the momentum going on a crowdfunding campaign is pretty much a full time job. Apart from an actual fanbase, the initial goodwill, and the projected quality of the product itself, you need to keep pushing for the duration of a crowdfunding campaign without being spammy, needy or annoying. It can’t be viewed as charity, but as the fan being part of the process, and gaining interesting and worthwhile rewards as a result.

Bjork has a large fanbase, artistic quality and credibility to her output, and huge name recognition, so why did she fail?

One of the reasons has to do with the types of artists people want to fund. One would have imagined that Bjork has significant financial resources at her disposal. That might not actually be true, but that’s certainly the perception of an act of her significance. People might wonder then, why doesn’t she pay for it herself? Such a reservation can actually morph into disgruntlement pretty quickly, and it’s one of the reasons crowdfunding campaigns can go wrong.

Secondly, it’s about the fanbase. Let’s take an Amanda Palmer V Bjork comparison. Palmer’s fanbase is fanatical. Bjork’s is more passive, waiting for her to release albums or do giant gigs to consume her art, rather than engaging with it on a constant basis. Palmer talks to her fans constantly, and the fanbase that she has exudes an energy, loyalty and dedication that perhaps shows up the fact that Bjork is slightly more disconnected.

But the third reason is the most important one. Bjork wasn’t offering anything new. Biophilia is an old story. That might be a bit harsh, but at the time of her attempting to fund its progression on new platforms, we’d already had all the press about the album, app and the subsequent remix album. You’d imagine there would be an awful lot more enthusiasm surrounding a Bjork campaign if it was for a new project. Biophilia was already out there, so who cares about it being on Windows 8 and Android?

I guess Bjork can take come comfort from Biophilia winning a Grammy for Best Recording Package, whatever that means.