Just a heads up—there will be no closure in this.
I’ve been thinking lately that crowd-funding is a bit like the old systems of patronage, where people gave money to artists to keep them afloat and keep them producing things and, sort of, how that effected the sort of things that were written and painted and otherwise created.
At the moment, grants can be seen as patronage. Rich people and corporations hiring artists to produce pieces for them is fairly commonplace. But the kind of patronage that I’m talking about, the kind of patronage that crowd-funding seems closest to for me, is the kind of patronage that Michelangelo had from the Medici family. The kind where there’s kind of a relationship between the artist and the patron.
But I feel like that kind of relationship is problematic. Because while Michelangelo was reliant on the Medici’s, the Medici’s were a handful of people that he was able to speak to face-to-face, and their good opinion could be cultivated or ignored as he chose. Crowd-funding is problematic because you are reliant on others but cannot really address their opinions, affections, and dissatisfactions. And it would be impossible to respond to all of the varied responses to a piece of writing or artwork if crowd-funders are patrons. On top of all of this, the nature of the artist as an independent creator has evolved to a point where the “sole creator in all their madness” is a state of being that some artists think they have a right to. There are some obvious arguments to counterbalance that but they don’t really have anything to do with patronage, and I’m trying not to stray to far from my main point here.
There’s a problem is authorial voice. Imagine writing one single email to your mom, your sister, your best friend, and your boyfriend. What would the tone of that email be? What would the voice be? In patronage, if you know that your patrons want … I don’t know, they want your main character to fuck the hot guy, say, and you want to kill the hot guy, you might be influenced to not kill the hot guy, just because you knew enough about what your audience wanted from you that it interfered with your ability to tell the story. And sometimes the reader doesn’t really know what they want. For example, Game of Thrones.
This paragraph has spoilers, if you haven’t read or seen Game of Thrones (by the way, why the fuck haven’t you read/watched Game of Thrones? Get on that shit, dude!) so unfocus your eyes and scroll past. Eyes unfocused? NO, THEY CLEARLY ARE NOT, CAUSE YOU’RE READING THIS! You’re doing this to yourself, now. When I read Game of Thrones for the first time, and Ned died at the end, I nearly threw the book across the room. But I can’t see how that story would have sustained itself if he hadn’t died. I doubt I would have continued reading if he had. Or I might have, but I wouldn’t have felt the itchy junkie need to keep reading without his death. I would never have said that I wanted him to die. But he needed to die for the rest of the books to matter, or for them to be any good.
I’m not saying that external influence can’t be good or important or worthwhile, just that authors making use of crowd-funding and building platforms in this way need to know that it exists and that, when it’s immediate and linked to your fiscal survival, it can carry a weight that it can impact the story, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. Maybe that doesn’t make people as anxious (again, sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way) as it makes me. I’m a Lonely Garret Writer (which I think will be a term that I use from now on, since I think I’ve used it a couple times now). If something is wrong I want it to be all my fault and if something is right I want it to be all my doing.
One of my professors thinks that crowd-funding is a flash-in-the-pan sort of thing. I don’t know. I feel like crowd-funding is just another facet of patronage, which has been around since time immemorial. As a species, we are continually deciding that we want art or stories or music enough that we’ll pay for it to be made. It’s interesting when compared to the continuous devaluation of the written word that we see in eBook pricing and the competitive efforts of print publishing to keep prices on par (cheaper paper, cheaper ink, shittier product that costs less money and has less added value and which, as a result, becomes less valuable in the social psyche). Maybe part of the crowd-funding successes lay in the fact that people are paying for what they want. Publishing is in the business of trying to charm the uninterested because, somewhere along the line, we convinced ourselves that everyone wants books. And they don’t. It’s a small, weird subsection of people that is interested in reading for pleasure. And those are the people that you have to be reaching out to. Those are the people who will pay more than 99 cents for something that they want, something that they like.
But you’ve got to get them to like you first. And I suppose that could be seen as another problem of crowd-funding—it’s still the culture of personality at work, at least to a certain extent. You have to sell yourself to sell your work for crowd-funding to really work for you.
P.S. An instance of quasi-patronage that I find endlessly entertaining is the George Harrison/Life of Brian patronage.