In an email to Billboard from late January, Ghostly International founder Sam Valenti wrote that “there’s a lot of companies looking to link creators and their fans… some have come and some have gone already.” One day before Drip, the forward-thinking “future fan club” that Valenti co-founded with Miguel Senquiz, was scheduled to become the latter, it has been rescued by Kickstarter, another uniquely sage tech startup. The purchase is Kickstarter’s first acquisition.
Drip launched as Drip.fm in 2012, partially as a counter to the morass of music proffered by streaming services like Spotify. Drip looked — looks — to give fans a personal way for them to support their favorite labels and get something in return. For a set monthly or annual fee, fans could subscribe to a label like Sub Pop, or early partner Stones Throw, and regularly receive music — roughly an album a month, plus odds and ends like b-sides — in their email inbox. While no badges or patches would be forthcoming (mostly — the cofounders told Spin at the time of launch you might could expect a keychain), the fan club parallel is obvious, and maybe necessary at a time when clicking an upturned thumb constitutes the lion’s share of appreciation.
Kickstarter would seem to be a natural home, technologically and philosophically, for Drip. The leading crowdfunding platform draws in the keen, curious and flush to projects that wouldn’t draw mainstream money. “On the web, people are searching for ways to make the most money possible, and here you have two platforms that are very clearly not doing that,” Yancey Strickler, Kickstarter’s CEO, tells Billboard.
Drip wouldn’t release a general subscriber count for the service, though in its goodbye the company claimed to have “generated millions of dollars” for its participating labels. Respected dance artist Nicolas Jaar told the Times last year that his own take on the idea, Other Music, started paying for itself within six months.
So what happened? We took this this far and this feels like as far as we should go with it is how Strickler imagines Valenti and Senquiz’s thought processes went regarding Drip’s unclosure. “To scale is hard,” Strickler says, “and [Valenti and Senquiz] intentionally focused on building a hyper-curated platform. That’s something that’s wonderful for building a great brand, but it does make it challenging to get to those next levels.”
“Art and music are an essential part of life and we started Drip with the belief that putting more agency into artists’ hands is a move towards a more diverse and empowered society,” Valenti writes in a blog post on the news this morning.
Since Drip’s launch, several companies have taken similar approaches to creative support as both Drip and Kickstarter. Platforms like Patreon and PledgeMusic offer fans a way to directly support artists — a sort of amalgam of subscription and crowdfunding. Services like Vinyl Me, Please offer vinyl lovers a way to receive a monthly surprise. The Grammy-winning reissue label Numero Group recently announced its own subscription service that sends customers a quarterly, limited pressing.
While the writing may not be on the wall insofar as the general public is willing to subsidize their favorite artists, Kickstarter is, rightly and based on past experience, convinced there are plenty of them out there.
The acquisition is a part of Kickstarter’s refocused attention on music, which Strickler says will be a major focus for the company. Another was the hiring of Molly Neuman, a founding member of Bratmobile and former co-owner of foundational Bay Area punk label Lookout! Records, as the company’s head of music in December.
“Pay $10 to Spotify for infinite music and you’re pretty much good,” says Strickler, “but that’s not enough to support our class of musicians. What are the other ways musicians can find economic freedom? The vision we’re working on is a world where artists and creators can live sustainable lives.”