As we head into 2012, it's worth stating: The Internet still hasn't destroyed music. This year saw Napster, the vanguard of first-wave web piracy, officially meet its end and Spotify, a label-sanctioned and completely legal free site that sort of does the same thing, launch to great acclaim. MySpace continued its descent into a musical ghetto as Facebook made it easier to listen to music on its site, and every band with an iPhone-toting member uploaded something to YouTube (most bands made it a rule: The bass player has to have a decent rig and iPhone or he/she isn't worth the effort). But the site that truly expresses the role of the Internet in 2011's music is Kickstarter. And Phoenix is a great example of that.
The crowd-funding site launched in 2009 and was dubbed by Miami New Times as "the smartest idea for a website since Al Gore invented the Internet." The fundraising process is simple: You post about a project (for instance, a band wants to make album), state a goal ($1,500), and promise rewards to those who pledge a dollar amount (a pledge of $20 gets you a free copy of the album; $50 a free copy of the album and a shirt; $100 earns you a home-cooked dinner at the drummer's mom's house).
Successfully raise the money, and Kickstarter takes a 5 percent fee and Amazon Payments (the site Kickstarter uses to distribute payment) will apply a 3 percent to 5 percent credit card processing fee. If you don't make the goal, no money is taken from pledges, and Kickstarter collects nothing.
New Times music feature
Searching Kickstarter for Phoenix projects reveals all sorts of stuff: Local rock band Born Loser and the Hangers On launched a campaign to press its second EP but failed to raise its $2,000 goal by September 28, finishing with only $460 pledged. A second campaign by the band to press a record was $777 short of meeting its goal with six days to go at the time of this writing. Popular indie band The Whisperlights met their goal, with 58 backers pledging $2,260.
"It's hard to make art without money," laughs local singer/songwriter Stephen Steinbrink. He launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a warehouse venue/art space, Yellow Canary Dance Hall. The funds were successfully raised, with more than $1,500 being used by Steinbrink and fellow organizers to purchase and upgrade a P.A., buy some "nice mics," and have extra cash to pay touring bands.
"[Kickstarter] is reintroducing the idea of artistic benefactors," Steinbrink says. "It's hard to get consistent funding, but ultimately, receiving that money from the people who want to see art get made really makes the most sense."
But Christian Filardo, of Holy Page Records and glitch-jazz project Good Amount, says Kickstarter is a mixed bag when it comes to returns.
"I have sort of a beef with Kickstarter," Filardo says. "They said I couldn't confirm my identity via Amazon Payments, so even if I reached funding, I couldn't receive it. However, they were willing to accept cash from me via PayPal, if necessary. I've made it a habit to just give whoever is raising money some direct cash."
Kickstarter has helped Filardo garner press for his projects, however. Though only $192 was raised toward his goal of $300 to physically press his Miles Davis-inspired album In a Quiet Way, the record was subsequently picked up by a small label in Florida for physical release.
Still, he likes the idea of Kickstarter: "I support creatives asking for money and with grant funding for artists being cut everywhere, Kickstarter has good intentions. But who the hell uses Amazon Payments over PayPal? Hell, I would rather they used Bitcoin over Amazon Payments."
Steinbrink says Yellow Canary Dance Hall ran into similar snags. "One thing we found," Steinbrink says, "is that if someone pledges money and they don't have the available funds in their account when it comes time to collect, Kickstarter doesn't deduct the cash. It's good for people — they don't have to risk overdraft fees — but not the best scenario for people launching projects."
Ultimately, the best thing about Kickstarter is an inherent nonsense filter: unreasonable projects stand little chance of being funded. "People will fund a cool movie or band or art project, but people can tell whether a project is bullshit or not."
2011 in Music: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
New venues in downtown Phoenix: Foundry on First beat Stateside Presents' Crescent Ballroom to the punch but closed for construction in November. Later, the Foundry's owners cited the Crescent's combination of bar, restaurant, and venue as an inspiration for the soon-to-be unveiled Foundry Live.
Lou Reed teams up with Metallica: In an effort to utterly squander the goodwill earned by 2008's Death Magnetic, Metallica teamed up with art-rock godfather Lou Reed for a mystifying, mostly unlistenable concept record. Everyone on the Internet wrote something about it, and by the time the Darren Aronofsky-directed video for "The View" hit the web, we were all too exhausted to say much else.
The Sound Strike rolls on: The musical commercial boycott of Arizona in the wake of SB 1070 continued but showed signs of more local involvement: Manu Chao and Immortal Technique both played free Sound Strike-sanctioned gigs in Arizona. Could Bright Eyes, Zach de la Rocha, or My Morning Jacket be next?
Amy Winehouse, 1983-2011: The real shame is that Winehouse garnered more attention for her hard-partying lifestyle than her tremendous voice; rockists bitched that she didn't belong in the "27 Club" with Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison but didn't seem to realize she'd be hanging out with Janis Joplin, too.
Kanye West's Grammy snub: Sure, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy dominated last year's Village Voice Pazz & Jop Poll, but the record didn't get a nod for Album of the Year. With characteristic humility, 'Ye admitted fault, saying he shouldn't have released that awesome collab with Jay-Z so quickly after his last triumph.
Phoenix and the vinyl frontier: Phoenix bands started pressing wax in earnest, including Future Loves Past, What Laura Says, Black Carl, Kinch, Destruction Unit, and the been-doing it-for-years folks at Gilgongo Records. Phoenix hopped on the vinyl thing big-time in 2011.
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Tucson tragedy spurs compilation: Music Against Violence, Fort Lowell l Records, and a coalition of Tucson writers, recording engineers, and venue operators released a compilation featuring Jimmy Eat World, Meat Puppets, Neko Case, Rainer, Giant Sand, Calexico, and many more, in honor of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and to benefit victims of the January 8 tragedy.
The curious rise of Odd Future: Like Loutallica, everyone and her mom had a case to state regarding Odd Future. Are they homophobic geniuses, irresponsible young'un, the next ICP, or the next Wu-Tang Clan? Odd Future got everyone talking and made Tyler, the Creator the go-to guy for guest verses. He also landed a variety show on Adult Swim, to debut in 2012.
Electronic blows up: Love it or hate it, electronic music was everywhere this year. Dubstep — with its unlikely figurehead, Sonny Moore (a.k.a. Skrillex) — stepped prominently into the mainstream, while moombahton, a genre with strong AZ artists like Pickster One and DJ Melo at the forefront, got asses shaking nationwide.
Andrew Jackson Jihad releases Knife Man: AJJ isn't a new band, but Knife Man established the duo as one of Arizona's best ambassadors. The record couldn't have been made anywhere but Phoenix, uniting guests from all over the Valley's musical spectrum under a banner of insightful, fearless optimism (hidden under a blanket of sarcasm, naturally).