MIDEM 2013 opened in Cannes with a raft of how-to sessions. One of the freshest of those featured Kevin Wortis who drilled well under the surface of his ward Amanda Palmer’s million-dollar fan-funding exercise.
Wortis (see Q&A below) is a 22-year-music biz vet who’s worked as a booking agent, manager, label head and co-founded World's Fair. However, he may have just had his most interesting year yet: As partner and director of Girlie Action Media and Marketing’s label services, he helped oversee Amanda Palmer’s unprecedented $1.2 million dollar Kickstarter campaign -- an utterly unique experience he had a thing or two to say about.
Wortis delivered a punchy, four-point presentation on how the recording process relates to fan-funding: First, he said \ the artist and their team must “circle the wagons” bringing the fans into the process and enabling the core fan-club to spread the word. Secondly, the team must create “unforgettable experiences” that rise above the drone of all the other competing releases. Next, all activities must be monetized and centralized. Finally, he employed terms already looming as the buzz phrases of this year’s MIDEM – “authenticity” and “transparency” --- which can't work unless artists are extremely comfortable with the process -- "it needs to be real.”
Wortis succinctly captured the modus operandi of fan-funding. “It’s about selling access to the inner circle and sharing the process with them,” he said. “Make people be a part of it, enable them to be a fly on the wall. Bring in the fanbase and they become evangelists, they spread word on social media and allow them to be a part of everything.”
As an example Wortis cited IndieGoGo’s fanfunding project by Canadian alternative rockers Protest the Hero,” which is offering backers a guest vocal or instrumentation slot on a recording for the sum of $5,000. Already, three parties have taken the offer. Palmer's crowdsourcing even extended to the spelling of Palmer’s “Theatre is Evil” studio-album project, which sparked a wave of dialog on Twitter with regards to the “Theater” vs “Theatre” debate. Fans, it turned out, wanted it to be spelled “Theatre.”No biggie, only 5,000 promos had already been distributed with the American spelling. The crowd-source discussion ruled.
NEXT PAGE: Q&A WITH KEVIN WORTIS
MIDEM Q&A:Kevin Wortis on Amanda Palmer, Crowd-Funding, Quick & Dirty Meetings
Since Kevin Wortis joined Girlie Action two years ago, there’s been a lot of action for one girl in particular – Amanda Palmer. Wortis heads label services for the former Dresden Dolls singer and other artists on NYC-based Girlie Action, and he played a part in orchestrating her landmark crowd-funding project with Kickstarter, one which netted $1.2 million.
Prior to joining NY-based Girlie Action in early 2011, Wortis, a 22-year-music industry veteran had worked as a booking agent, artist manager and label head before co-founding label services company World's Fair. He signed and authored marketing campaigns for Rough Trade, Daptone, Play It Again Sam, Fabric, Dandy Warhols, Lady Sovereign, J Dilla and the Secret Machines. He has also served as President of Rock Steady, where he worked with emerging artists like Best Coast.
BILLBOARD.BIZ: With Amanda Palmer tagged as the million dollar fan-funded artist, has that proved a distraction?
KEVIN WORTIS: No. It was a huge success. Wildly exciting. And it proved the validity of the platform -- that’s what’s amazing about it. It allows all of us to take a look at this and say this can really work, in lieu of a label if that’s what an artist wants to do. In fact, Amanda’s really not that big an artist. She has an incredibly deep relationship with her fans but there are artists who are significantly bigger, who could raise five or ten times that, if they chose to go down that route. It’s pretty exciting and it’s something artists who don’t want to be on labels -- and labels -- have to look at. It’s proof of concept and not a distraction at all.
If there are artists who can build 5-to-10 times Amanda’s numbers, when are we going to start seeing that kind of action?
With Amanda, we did about 24,000 backers worldwide and they averaged about $54 each – 24,000, that’s not a lot. If the Flaming Lips did it or Radiohead came back and did it, or one of 150 bands did that who have significantly bigger fanbases and equally-robust conversations with fans, how can it not happen? It makes sense for labels. Labels put up a huge amount of capital and they wait 90 days or six months, until it comes back. With crowd-funding, you can see all that money before the record is released. I can’t imagine why it won’t happen.
There was some negatively around Amanda’s campaign, certainly in terms of the sum raised and how it was used. How did you handle that?
Amanda will talk about everything: every dollar she spends to every feeling she has. That’s not authentic for every artist; not every artist wants to do that.
There was a time when artists were behind a curtain. That’s been pulled away, and the audience can peer behind. Do some artists still need that curtain of mystique?
That’s all about respect and privacy. Some artists don’t want to have anything to do with fans, personally. They can’t look anyone in the eye. That’s okay, that’s who they are. Everyone is different. When MTV started, we all thought, “holy shit, now everyone has to look good, they all have to act, do all these other things and not just write songs.” Now with social media, they have to be pithy in 140 characters or less, smart, witty, communicative and that’s the new criteria.
What do you hope to get from MIDEM?
I am mostly here meeting with people I currently work with but don’t see very often because they’re Europe-based. That’s really what my days are filled with. It’s a great place to meet people from all around the world who you work with. You get to meet everyone quick and dirty, have a drink. Mostly it’s about meeting folks you already know.