By Aileen Duncan

Illustration by Marisa Gallemit

Technology is having resounding impacts on every part of our life and the music scene is no different. In fact, it’s one of the cultural industries where changes have been felt first. We’ve seen a massive transformation in the way music is produced, distributed, and consumed.

Decentralizing this process has both disrupted and democratized the way the industry works. The direct costs of sharing your music with an audience has been diluted, but the traditional ways of making a living as an artist are no longer viable. Does anyone really expect to make money on an album? At the same time, there must be ways to make a living while doing what you love. Creatives are gonna create, and the most entrepreneurial of them will adapt.

Historically, producers of art benefited from sponsorship and financial support by aristocrats and wealthy members of society. This system of patronage is best known in the arts, but also existed in other disciplines including academia and astrology. This model is the basis of a new funding platform, Patreon, and it’s gaining some traction in Ottawa.

There’s one major difference though, which is that contributions are spread between many people and provided on a monthly basis. Crowdfunding has proven to be effective for many types of campaigns, and could be successful in music scenes.

It may feel strange to imagine commissioning a record, or supporting a monthly dance party but this model actually makes a lot of sense. Rather than paying to instantly receive a product, long after the upfront costs were paid by the artist, this allows the consumer to share the risk of creating an experience that they appreciate. It feels less like an impersonal transaction, and more like you’re investing in the people behind the music.

TIMEKODE is the latest group to embrace this model. They’ve been hosting monthly dance parties for over a decade, currently in the basement of D’Afrique restaurant. One of the group’s founding DJs, Kwende Kefentse, aka Memetic, said with their Patreon campaign, they’re trying things a bit differently.

“With this form of crowd-based support, it’s usually based on a product,” he said. “What we’re doing is different because it’s about supporting us in our endeavour to bring people together in a room every month. Even though we’re using a digital means to do so . . . [we’re] connecting with our audience in bigger, different ways.”

Social connection has also changed in the 12 years since TIMEKODE began, also driven by technology. This crowdfunding campaign is part of a broader focus on modernizing to remain relevant.

“Our orientation is a bit classic. We press records and play records, but it’s important to be progressive as well,” said Memetic. “As time goes on, we’ve been getting more into different kinds of media . . . [Photos and videos] are important now to communicate what’s happening inside the event, in more ways than just word of mouth. And what does that even mean now? Word of mouth is basically a link.”

Regardless of these changes, one constant has been the value of bringing people together to create and share an experience based on music.

“Providing a space to consume culture that’s fresh and new and pluralistic, and that’s part of a larger collective—we feel that it’s essential,” Kefentse said.

The DJs are aware there is some risk in undertaking this campaign, especially to their brand.

“The thing about doing crowd-funding which can be risky is that you’re inevitably spending your social capital to do so,” Kefentse said. “We hope that people will think, ‘We’ve been supporting this organization for a while, might as well put it down in advance and see what these guys can do.’”

The goals associated with a successful campaign are worth the risk, and include releasing a new record, expanding the scope of their monthly parties, and bringing in well-renowned artists.

“A large part of [the campaign] is developing additional streams of income,” he said. “Whatever service you usually provide, it helps to develop some security around the way in which you provide that service.”

From an economic standpoint, cultural services are better able to provide value to consumers if they have predictable income and a direct line to discover what their audience is looking for. It’s a safer way to try new things in cultural programing. In turn, this helps create a more vibrant city.