A New Dimension for Engagement: “Fan-Funding”

With gratitude, I share this interview with Brian Camelio, the founder of ArtistShare – a pioneering “fan-funding platform for artists” to which I was introduced just a few weeks ago.  I contacted Brian through his website’s general information e-mail and asked if he’d be willing to share his experience & insights.  I am profoundly grateful for his willingness to do so.

In addition to reading this interview, I encourage you to thoroughly explore the ArtistShare website and perhaps even engage yourself in a project (or two) to discover what I am excited to share as a powerful and potentially transformative direction in audience development.

BrianWithBruceAndWillieIn this photo, Brian (left) and Bruce Lundvall (Blue Note) visited Willie Nelson on his tour bus with author Dan Ouellette to interview him as part of the “Playing By Ear” project  – a fan-funded book project chronicling the life of Bruce Lundvall.



Brian Camelio, ArtistShare

  • In ArtistShare you have created what you call “the Internet’s first fan funding platform for artists.”  I hope this isn’t a chicken/egg question, but I’m really interested to know:  Which came first – the demand of artists to FIND funding – or the supply of fans to ENGAGE with artists?  What specifically sparked this opportunity for you?

It’s hard to say for sure but I would have to say “the demand of artists to find funding” as we discovered the supply of fans to engage with artists only after creating this platform.  Back in 2000 when ArtistShare was in its formative stages I was starting to see real problems for any industry whose product could be digitized and shared.

Being a musician, the music industry was familiar territory and most of my good friends were having problems with their record labels (or lack thereof).   I saw a need for artists to find funding outside of the traditional model in order to both take back control of their work as well as a safeguard for the inevitable devaluation of the CD due to digital downloading.   I felt there was a need to completely change the “product” into something that gave the artist more leverage in the business and was immune to the destructive qualities of digitization and the Internet.   Once I had that clear in my mind it became more apparent to me that the value of any creative work was truly the creator and the creative process and that is when ArtistShare was born.

From a very young age music has been one of the driving forces in my life and with the advent of the Internet I felt we could create a completely new way to engage artists and fans and in turn safeguard the careers of current and future artists.

  •  With ArtistShare you are driving a wholly new model for connecting artist and audience.   In the 10 years you have been at this, what are some important/surprising insights you have learned about the relationship between artist & audience?   (Any hard-won lessons you’d be willing to share?)

Over the last decade of funding artistic projects with the ArtistShare model there are definitely a few constants.   The most important thing I have learned is that people respond to honesty within a project.  We encourage the artist to document their project as honestly as possible.  Things definitely do not always go as planned and that is the beauty of the process.

  • Should I be surprised that there are only 10 “projects” featured on the ArtistShare website?  When I first heard of ArtistShare, I imagined that it would be filled with dozens or even hundreds of project offerings.  I suspect that limiting the number of available projects is purposeful on your part – that full funding of a few quality projects is a better outcome than incomplete funding of many.  So, what does that say about the size or voracity of the “market” of audiences who might be interested providing such support? Is this type of audience engagement a growth market – and if so, how do you know?

There are definitely more projects going on than just the ones that are featured on the website.    We have an internal selection process for what we feature based on a variety of factors.  We also consciously try to put the focus on “the artist” rather than “ArtistShare” so a lot of the marketing for a project is done elsewhere in more artist-specific places.

That being said we do limit the number of artists we take on and look for artists that have the same philosophy as us.   In the end it has less to do with “funding goals” for a specific project and more to do with long term career goals for the artists.  All of the other things tend to take care of themselves.

  • Do you imagine that the ArtistShare platform could (or would ever want to) expand to include other art forms?  Or is your vision squarely focused within the recording arts field?  What are ArtistShare’s long-term goals?

We are actually not limited to music (although that is what we are mostly known for).   We have books, film and even had a fine art project a few years back.  The selection process for projects varies based on the project itself and the artists involved but we are definitely open to most anything.

Our long term goals are to continue and help artists connect with fans (and vice versa) and help nurture those relationships.    It is very important to me that great art and music continue to flourish in the world.

  • ArtistShare seems to open up new qualities of deep engagement between artist & audience that all kinds of arts & cultural organizations (theatres, music groups, dance companies, museums, botanical gardens, etc.) would crave.  What opportunities do you see out there that nobody is yet filling?  What advice would you give to the leaders of those kinds of organizations who are looking for their own unique ways to engage audiences?

Every new project is a new story and every artist’s creative process is unique.

I would say that if you are leading an organization it is very important to keep that in mind and not to try and create a “formula” for success.

  • What advice or warnings might you offer to artists or organizations (in any genre) that are experimenting with platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo as a way to raise funds for their projects?

I would say to be very careful how you present yourself.   Remember that the goal is a sustainable model.   The next project is more important than the current project and if one focuses too much on “raising money” it can kill a relationship quickly.  After all it is about the creator and the magic of the creative process.

  • Lastly, as an innovator in social media, what resources (books, magazines, blogs, links, services, conferences, etc.) might you recommend for artists and others who work in the arts & cultural sector who aspire to higher levels of understanding & innovation regarding the opportunities of technology & social media? 

Things change so rapidly so there are few resources that remain relevant however there are a few folks for whom I have great respect.    I would suggest following them and reading their books/blogs/etc:

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