J.S. Bach had the Lutheran Church.
Haydn had the Esterhazy family.
Beethoven had Archduke Rudolph.
Bartók, Stravinsky, and Copland had Koussevitzky, Diaghilev, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
People with lots of money, we’re talkin’ Esterhazy money, are not, by and large, spending it on the patronage of classical music the way they might have 250 years ago. There are certainly some who are, and while the NEA is funded less and less each year, there are still a handful of composers (mostly already well-established) that are receiving commissions from individuals and government/non-profit grants. They are, however, the exceptions.
In addition to people like Rich Uncle Pennybags and non-profits, one of the biggest support groups for composers has historically been performers, particularly over the last hundred years or so. Conductor Serge Koussevitzky commissioned Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra; clarinetist Benny Goodman commissioned Copland’s Clarinet Concerto.
The internet has lowered the entry cost of so many industries and other ventures. Why not patronage? In Spring 2010, Facebook ruffled feathers with some new policies about privacy (and a leak of some personal info). Many informed users were worried that Facebook had too much control over the internet and users, and up popped a little startup called Diaspora. Diaspora was working on a new kind of social network to compete with Facebook, and to raise money, they turned to Kickstarter. Kickstarter allows users to pledge support to creative products. It brings together people who are creating niche products with the niches they want to access and influence. Diaspora was able to raise over $200,000 mostly with donations of $5 to $25.
Kickstarter has an interesting all-or-nothing approach to fundraising. When starting a project, you set a goal and a deadline. People pledge various amounts. Different amounts get different rewards. If you reach your goal, backers’ credit cards are charged for their pledges and you get the money. If not, no money changes hands. This makes sense. The Diaspora folks couldn’t have done much with $200, and it would suck to be one of the people who gave part of the $200 just to see nothing come of it.
That got me thinking about my own niche, contemporary concert music. How could this model work for us that are creating music which unfortunately (yet honestly) has a very small audience? Kickstarter could be perfect for arts patronage in the internet age. Commissioning consortia have been around for quite a while, but when was the last time you heard of a commission that you could participate in for twenty-five bucks? (crickets)
So, I’m going to try it. I’m going to use Kickstarter to put together a commissioning consortium for a solo saxophone piece I’ll start working on this summer with Tim Rosenberg. I’ll keep updates on the blog, and on the Kickstarter project page. I’ll have a link to that here when I launch the project. My goal is to raise at least $500 in 90 days. Wish me luck!