Liverpool acts Miss Stylie and Esco Williams among those using new, democratic ways to finance their careers
Jade Jackson, aka Miss Stylie, got her first set of turntables when she was 12. By 17, she was standing outside a club in Liverpool in the rain refusing to go home until they let her MC. “I think they realised I wasn’t going home, so they let me in in the end,” she said. “I tore that place up.”
But the artist – who flits between grime, hip-hop and house – is still far from a record deal. Taking inspiration from the tattoo on her neck, which declares “Have No Fear”, she has decided to take matters into her own hands and joinjoined a growing wave of artists relying on fans rather than industry executives to get their music heard.
With a performance on Friday night at the Getintothis awards in Liverpool – the scouse answer to the Mercury Music prize – Jackson launched an appeal to her fans through PledgeMusic, a website that lets fans “pledge” money towards an album before it is made, paying for its production.
“People think it’s easy to put out an album but it ain’t like that no more,” said the 22-year-old from Toxteth, who gave up a possible career in football as a striker for Liverpool FC’s women’s team to concentrate on music. “This industry can be cruel, it can run you over. These days you have to create your own platform before anyone will even look at you.”
With CD sales in decline and record deals thin on the ground, artists are increasingly looking for new ways to fund their careers, including direct-to-fan funding sites such as PledgeMusic, Sellaband – used by Public Enemy – and Kickstarter.
Bands such as the Libertines have used Pledge recently, with the site launching two campaigns daily, compared with two a week when the company was set up in 2009.
Managing director Malcolm Dunbar said: “CD sales are falling and it’s difficult to even find somewhere to buy a CD, so creating your own buzz is much more necessary than it was.”
If anyone is going to save the music industry, it is fans: “Selling direct to fans will be an integral part of the industry. Fans are an artist’s lifeblood so it is increasingly necessary to engage with them and give real value for money.”
Getting fans to invest directly in artists is part of a new grassroots movement in music, according to Peter Guy, a Liverpool music writer and creator of the Getintothis blog. Friday night’s event was the inaugural GIT award to celebrate the diversity and talent of the city’s music scene, put together with no external funding and little sponsorship.
“That DIY spirit has just become the norm,” Guy said. “Artists and people in the music game don’t have to rely on that old record label infrastructure; people are just coming together, working collaboratively and doing it for themselves.”
Esco Williams – a Liverpudlian answer to Marvin Gaye whose recent DIY efforts saw him making a video on the roof of a multistorey car park – has just hit his target of £5,000 to fund his first album after an appeal to “you, yer mates, yer ma”.
He says crowd funding – creating a buzz at his live gigs, on Twitter and Facebook – has given him the confidence to follow his own path. With record labels now insisting on 360 degree deals that take a cut of everything from an artist’s T-shirt sales to live shows, fan-funding means any money made goes back to the artist.
“We’re doing everything in-house; whatever we do and whatever we make is for us, we don’t have to sell out. With a big label, you are not a priority unless you are Beyoncé,” Williams said.
With some major record labels increasingly relying on televised talent shows to find artists – the prize for BBC1’s The Voice is a recording contract with Universal – emerging acts are having to find new routes to stardom, according to Jon Webster, chief executive of the Music Managers Forum.
“Above my desk is a sign which says: ‘There are no rules any more’,” he said. There is still some reticence in the industry about using fan-funded sites, particularly around more innovative methods of raising money, such as selling experiences such as having dinner or going bowling with the artist.
Webster said: “Not everyone is comfortable with it. Some younger, perhaps more transient pop acts might embrace new revenue streams that older more established artists might not, for example.”
Miss Stylie’s manager, Andy Ng, said: “In this day and age, fans are the taste-makers. In the past, you signed with a label because they had distribution, radio pluggers, press teams, but that whole system is breaking down now. It’s a democracy, not a dictatorship any more.”
Getting her album made thanks to her fans is the first step, Miss Stylie says, on a path to world domination. “I’m going to be coming into a big game with my defences ready,” she said. “But I knew when I was waiting outside that club: I’m going to get there somehow.”
Alexandra Topping was a judge of the Getintothis award