In our exclusive Australian interview with Voyager, the band’s well-spoken vocalist and residential keytar rocker Danny Estrin discusses their new Pledge Music campaign for ‘Ghost Mile’, the business models of crowdfunding, the perception of a band’s income, giving something back to their supporters, crazy fan stories, & more.
Come May 12th, Perth’s Voyager will be releasing their sixth album, ‘Ghost Mile‘. This album – whose title is derived from the lyrics in its eponymous track, which detail the nihilistic manner of “the meaningless of everything we do on this Earth” – marks the first time the group have released two albums in a row with the same line-up. It’s also the second time that Voyager will have tread the crowd funding waters for a record’s release.
For their fifth album, 2014’s ‘V’ – an album which saw them conclude it its cycle with a tour supporting Karnivool and Deftones – they stunningly hit their $20,000 Kickstarter goal in just three days. Goddamn! Based on that initial response, the quintet is very confident that this Pledge Music campaign for ‘Ghost Mile‘ will see similar success and hopefully, exceed it. Their Pledge Music page was unveiled last night (Monday, February 27th) and it has already reached 37% of their goal reached. Double goddamn.
[Update: they’re at 80% now after just over a week.]
Of course, bands using crowd funding platforms ain’t anything new. Architects did it for their mind-blowing One Hundred Days DVD, so to did Your Demise for their final send-off; The Kids We Will Always Be DVD. In fact, a few fellow Aussies have also used Pledge Music, Pozible and similar such campaigns in the past; namely sleepmakeswaves for their hopefully glorious upcoming ‘Made Of Breath Only‘ album, The Getaway Plan did it for ‘Dark Horses’, and so too did Earth Caller for ‘Degenerate’, among others.
As for the ‘why’ behind Voyager’s reasoning for taking this route, it should be painfully obvious to you why. But just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, vocalist Danny Estrin is here to tell you why.
“Many people will ask ‘Why can’t the bands just cover it themselves?’ and that’s because those costs would have at one point in this industry, been covered by a label. Which isn’t really the case anymore. Unfortunately, artists often get shafted a lot these days but this Pledge Music setup helps to avoid that, and just so that labels or certain companies aren’t taking the piss out of us. For a band is a business and no business can survive without good cash flow injection.”
“We do music for our fans and for ourselves because we love it. However, it’s just not viable to do what we want to do without that financial backing. So this model works well for us and the fans also, because they can get the music and they then can get even more back from us. You’re contributing to this album. You can even have your name in the liner notes of the CD [vinyl copies may come later]. “It can be so cool to be apart of such a project like this”, he exclaims.
So, if you weren’t aware of the ‘why’, there you go! It’s that same ‘why’ that also fuels me, despite the fact I don’t make a huge amount of money through my editor role and my writing. But I still do it’s because I love writing and I love the music that I write about. Shockingly, bands and people like myself are actually very similar when you strip away each side’s opinions and bullshit.
So far, a large majority of ‘Ghost Mile’ has already been written and recorded, but some parts are still yet to be finished (namely tracking keys and programming synths and pads and such), and the record still needs to be fully mixed and mastered too. These Pledge Music funds will not only help the band get over the line for finishing this ten-track, 45-minute album off, but it will also cover the record’s mixing, mastering and manufacturing costs.
As stated previously, those costs of helping a band or artist finish an album – from paying for the studio time, the engineer or producer, covering the recording process, then the mixing, mastering and manufacturing stages – would be incurred by the label in most instances. That’s a luxury that Voyager, and many other artists for that matter, don’t have underneath them these days. Hence why the band is using this avenue to replace that supposed label support, which has made the band definitely push themselves on this records, Estrin asserts. Now, if you’re not familiar with Pledge Music, Voyager has got you covered.
“Pledge Music is more of a pre-order platform rather than a traditional crowdfunding campaign, as people are pre-ordering the album directly from us. So we can then sync that cash flow back into covering the production, recording, mixing, mastering processes.”
This method is what Estrin thinks is the right way to go for many bands and artists out there; crowd funding campaigns of this manner ensure that bands can still afford to create their music and also have a direct commerce link with their fans. “But there has also been some backlash towards the crowdfunding models”, he adds.
Thankfully, this “upliftingly melancholic” band hasn’t been at the critical forefront of what is for some, a very contentious issue. In fact, the only criticism that the band ever received was from international fans due to payment options. “Funnily enough, the only complaints we got last time were from German fans who didn’t have PayPal, so that was one consideration with choosing this particular platform”, the singer informs me.
When you support Voyager via Pledge Music, you can simply pre-order the album ($15), or you can opt to get a handful of goodies for yourself for a high price; signed CD and Ghost Mile poster, Signed drumsticks, signed drumhead, and handwritten lyric sheets. You know, the usual stuff that bands offer during these types of campaigns.
You can also purchase “experiences” which are essentially the rewards you get for your contribution. There are three big “experiences” to choose from; an invitation to the album’s listening party in Perth, a Skype session with the band, and the rarer $5,000 option – getting a private house show performance from the band. Estrin clarifies how the band will make these all work.
“The listening party will be a physical thing in Perth, where we’ll be hiring a venue, putting the album on, having a Q&A session with us – it’ll be very cool. The last time we did it was at our drummer’s house [Ashley Doodkorte] and that went really awesome. You’re paying to get a night to have a sneak peak at the album, to talk to us about it, and ask us any questions you want. It’ll be great. We’ve also Skyped with fans before, like with Skype lessons and such. We’re all pretty approachable and that’s what we’re well known for, that we’re pretty nice guys generally. I also think that’s what helped us get so far in overseas markets too; us being very approachable. That also helps with getting rid of those awkward moments in Skype sessions. Which can be very awkward!”
As for the house show – which will be understandably resigned to an Australian residence – the band have never actually played a house show before. Regardless of that and despite wherever the house show happens, the band were smart enough to include potential flight costs in the experience. And it was here, in our talk about playing these less conventional shows, that Estrin tells me about one very awkward, very weird encounter with a fan while on tour in the US.
“With all of the awkward performances that I’ve done in front of people, including one for a fan who asked me to come up to his hotel room and sing a song to him in his bathtub – nothing sexual, nothing sexual – I think that I can do any kind of house show.”
Well, that’s good beca- wait, what!? Hold the fuck up! I ask the singer to elaborate on this frankly bizarre tale and he was happy too.
“We had to cut a set short while on tour in the US and I tweeted after that show that people should come up to me at our hotel and ask me for a private performance, mainly in jest. But one guy took it quite literally and he said [in an American accent], “That song…you promised that you would do it. Do you mind coming up to my room and singing for me? Nothing weird…”. Well, that’s already weird but I’d had a few drinks and was down for it. Next minute, I’m singing one of our more emotional songs to this guy in a bathtub, I finished, he was happy with it, and I left. Again, nothing sexual, but this guy loved it and he got in touch with his deeper Voyager desires”, laughs the singer.
“It’s so weird”, he adds, after we both finish laughing, “but man, it is such a great story! So if someone buys that pledge and they’ve got a studio apartment in Sydney somewhere, and there’s barely any room in there, we will make it work. Even if it’s just me singing to whoever that person is in their bathtub – we’ll do it.”
That’s some dedication right there. Voyager are a band unto their fans, bathtubs or not.
Of course, whether or not you opt for the basic pre-order option or these higher perks, there is absolutely no lock-in contract for this endeavour, and there’s also no continual payments to be made after the first one. Let me make this clear: Voyager’s approach is not that of the monthly Patreon subscription employed by both US metal band, Allegaeon and Australia’s own Ne Obliviscaris, both of which have had their own positives and negatives. I bring both of these two cases up in conversation with the Estrin and he offers his two cents on the Patreon topic and namely that of their Australian peers.
“There are two major criticisms to be had with that band [Ne Obliviscaris], but one issue with NeO had nothing to do with their actual Patreon”, states Estrin. “But that Patreon is an interesting topic. If people want to pay money to support a band doing music full time, that’s fine – no one is forcing you to do it. Besides, if you don’t get the critical mass with your Patreon or your crowd funding because your music is shit, then you won’t make a living off it anyway. I do often wonder why the Patreon idea is so heavily criticised…”
Well, I think I may just have the answer.
Patreon only seems to garner strong criticism when a big group of people or in this case, a full band, employs it. But when it’s just one person, it’s a whole other story.
See, US game critic, Jim Sterling, uses Patreon to cover his work ever since he went independent in 2014 and he currently rakes in around 11K per month, courtesy of his massive fanbase. Week in, week out, Sterling delivers to his vast audience his terrific weekly YouTube series, the Jimquisition, and two other great gaming-related podcasts – the Podquisition and one of my own personal favourite podcasts, the Spin-Off Doctors. Then there are his written reviews, his features, his editorials, and his many other videos that he uploads via YouTube.
The dude pumps out a lot of content each week, is what I’m trying to say!
Sterling also breaks down his Patreon, covering the what, the where, and the why (which you can read here) and being meticulous about the implementation of funds and your work makes potential supporters that much more comfortable parting with their hard earned dosh. Through being an independent writer and critic himself, Sterling is also up front about everything, including an immense and stupendous lawsuit that was levelled against him last year via a very salty game “developer”, Digital Homicide (which thankfully came to an end just last week with Sterling exiting the victor.)
However, he also has the advantage of his work being published digitally. Which makes it instantly accessible, to both his (just shy of 5,000) Patreon supporters and his regular viewers/readers.
Now, that last part is not something that bands cannot consistently deliver each and every month, save for Skype sessions, “VIP access”, and the occasional awkward phone call between a fan and a band, as bands do have to tour. Further differences and the problems arise when it’s not just one individual receiving the money, but many. If you don’t communicate and fully disclose everything about your crowdfunding and its use, you’re also only welcoming more trouble. Plus, it becomes tricky when a band needs to physically tour to support their new work to (hopefully) make profits, support their latest release and appease their supporters in one particular area. Because the people crowd funding you won’t always be from the same country or state.
So let’s say that I support a band via Patreon for $100 per month. That’s $1,200 a year. If I’m paying a band directly that much coin, I’m gonna want them to tour in my state or my country at least once a year. Rewards such as having occasional Skype session or the occasional release of a new single or demo can be cool and all, but it just isn’t enough. Well, not for me, at least. Besides, it’s quite difficult for your band to tour every single country that has Patreon supporters in it each year, especially if you only have barely 100 supports in just one place. (*Insert come to Brazil’ tagline here*.)
And let’s face it, your band isn’t releasing an album or even a new single every month either. Well, unless you’re Omar bloody Rodriguez-Lopez, that is!
I present this case to Estrin, and his response is that it is absolutely imperative on how you market your band, your music, any crowdfunding that you may do and the business models that you employ. He also critiques the entitlement that many bands believe they are deserving of.
“Man, it’s a funny model, isn’t it? It also comes down to the supposed right that if you’re an artist, should you be living off your own art? The answer to that is an overwhelming ‘no’. We’ve seen in the 80’s that was all perceived as the norm, but that’s not the norm! If I make a shit sculpture and no one buys it, do I have an entitlement to a minimum wage because I invested so much of my time in art? I mean, it’d be awesome if I did, but that’s just not how it works. There is a value in music and people should buy music. But artists should also be very appreciative of people supporting them and also be smart in their marketing too.”
He continues. “We’re a moderately successful band in the international scene from where we’ve come from. But there was never any expectations that we would get a minimum wage and just be able to solely live off the music. That is, of course, the dream but it should not be the expectation.”
After all, for every artist that has “made it”, there were a thousand others that didn’t. For the perceptions of those outside or on the outer rim of the industry – the regular old punters or “civilians” – that every touring band lives an esteemed high life like Bon Jovi or some other artist from the 1980’s is a very dangerous mindset. As Estrin points out, “There is something to be said about the public’s image of bands.”
“Many would like to think that you’re rich like a big TV celebrity, but they’re maybe disappointed when they find out that you’re struggling artists, and does that negatively affect the band’s image? This is something I’ve been struggling with lately; do I maintain that rock star image or do I give them the truth and show them all the cards? I think that the latter is the better way to go. I was listening to a podcast that Stevic from Twelve Foot Ninja did recently, and it was so bare about what they do and what they make.”
In a 2016 interview that I conducted with Violent Soho’s guitarist, James Tidswell, I asked him about his thoughts on the then newly announced Ne Oblivscaris Patreon and he said that everything about a band is essentially already crowdfunded. You can read the full quote from Tidswell below for context on where my interview Estrin goes next. (Obviously, keeping in mind that Violent Soho is one of the biggest fucking bands going in Australia right now.)
“I prefer the original approach, which it is technically still crowd funded, just not in advance [laughs]. I think it’s pretty fucking cheeky though. Like, is there a guarantee? For instance, how long will the band go on for? How many times will they tour, and where and how many times will they come through my city? And to what quality level will the released music be? To me, that takes out any aspect of drive. I’ve been in the same band in 13 years, I’ve had three jobs to be able to do it and I quit jobs because I needed to tour. I didn’t need a guarantee from anyone, because playing to anyone and anywhere was the greatest night of my life. Now I’m not saying I’m against crowd-funding, but that’s taking it to the extreme. I know people who have sold their houses to go on tour.” – James Tidswell, Violent Soho.
I raised the Violent Soho guitarists thoughts to Estrin during our phone call, and he says that that’s a fine statement to make for any band that tours a lot and plays lots of shows… but not so for the artists and studio musicians out there who aren’t in touring bands.
“Absolutely, the crowds do come to your shows and pay you money”, states the singer. “How much money you make is a different story, as we’re from Perth, Western Australia and flying anywhere is really expensive. That statement just doesn’t cover all bases. And what’s to say that you aren’t providing new infrastructure for someone to buy music from you? They could go to the shop to buy it, or they can buy it from your Pledge Music page and get more insight, get more access to the band – I don’t see the problem with that. If you take that Violent Soho statement, you can take that people are already paying you, but why not also create a new way for people to purchase your music. Why is that a bad thing? I don’t see the point of that statement, to be honest.”
The Voyager vocalist continues on this train of thought, saying, “In metal, there are an amazing amount of internet artists who don’t necessarily tour, so they don’t have that income stream. And that’s presupposing that every band that tours make money – I can tell you that that’s not often the case. So why would you deprive these people who are releasing amazing albums the opportunity for their fans trying to contribute to their work?
As we both agree on, it all comes down to the fact that no one has to do it. “If you do pre-order the album – great – and if you don’t, then that’s cool too. There’ll be no criticism from us, and no one is putting their finger in your wallet” says Estrin.
If you’re privy to helping out bands, then select the methods that support them to a greater extent. For instance, with Voyager, grab their music through their Bandcamp rather than buying it on iTunes or simply streaming it on Spotify or Apple Music.
Shit, just choose Bandcamp in general – it’s easily the best platform out there right now with better options for audio format and ‘pay-what-you-wish’ options too. Plus, Bandcamp sales now count towards the ARIA charts too…something that Pledge Music sales also count towards.
Smart move, Voyager, smart move – gotta be in it to win it.
This also means for you to not just repeatedly stream the band’s music off YouTube or rip it completely. Estrin mentions that ‘V‘ was actually uploaded in full without their consent and it currently has over 420,000 views. “That’s amazing for our music reach, but of course, we didn’t get a cent from that so someone is probably making some money off that video”, he says, sounding nowhere near as annoyed as one might think.
Look, a fans personal and emotional love for a band and their songs is a great thing; it’s a wonderful connection between the two parties. But it is the listener’s financial love that helps sustain the band even further.
In this instance with Voyager, this Pledge Music crowdfund is a one-time payment for you as both a fan as well as a consumer; right to the band with not the usual middlemen in the way. This isn’t the band asking for a handout to help fund their next holiday or their next world tour (even though some may see those two as being synonymous.)
No, you’re directly funding the final creation processes of ‘Ghost Mile’ and helping it over the finish line to send it out into the world with a bang.
Of course, you don’t have to do pre-order it from the onset, for you could simply purchase the record upon its release in a few months time and, Estrin and the rest of Voyager will still love you for it.
‘Ghost Mile’ is set to drop on May 12th. Pre-order the new album here. Check out Voyager’s new single, ‘Ascension’, and the dates for their upcoming Australian tour below.
Thursday 11th May – Adelaide – FOWLER’S LIVE
Friday 12th May – Melbourne – EVELYN HOTEL
Saturday 13th May – Brisbane – THE ZOO
Friday 19th May – Perth – AMPLIFIER BAR
Saturday 20th May – Canberra – THE BASEMENT
Sunday 21st May – Sydney – OXFORD ART FACTORY
All tickets on sale Friday 10th March via the band’s website.