GoFundMe is an unsurprisingly controversial site. There is a lot to both love and hate about the service – it brings out some really good ideas and allows you to support excellent causes, but also gives credence to some terrifyingly shitty ones. For every good person using it for a legitimate reason there’s a dozen who are really just money grubbers. Suffice to say, there are good, bad, and ugly ways to use your GoFundMe account – and while I certainly don’t recommend using one outside of the direst situations, you need to be aware what implications a GoFundMe could potentially have not just for your band, but also the brand of your band.
For the uninitiated, the fundamental difference between GoFundMe and a Kickstarter is that GoFundMe asks for money without offering benefits. Now this is fine in theory – I’ve seen it used to raise money for cancer treatment and to help people out of financial catastrophes. Of course, we’ve also all seen people who used GoFundMe because they just felt like they could do with a few hundred extra bucks or wanted to fuel their various addictions. The good the bad and the ugly of GoFundMe beyond the music world is readily apparent, but in music things get a lot blurrier, largely because, well – if you haven’t noticed, none of us really have any money in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong – there are some very appropriate uses of a GoFundMe. Most notably I think is when your van breaks down. In a situation like that there is often no recourse other than GoFundMe to compensate for the hard situation you find yourself in. Of course – a lot of other bands just suck it up, or encourage people to buy t shirts, which is also admirable. In many of these cases though, people want to just throw money at the problem and the GoFundMe is launched by a fan or because of fan request. The point being – emergencies like that aren’t the real problem with using a GoFundMe for your band – and if things stayed this way then it would be fine – bands could help each other out when they were in dire straits and that would be the end of the matter. Of course, the people in band are human, and humans screw up. A lot. More than you would think really.
The lines get blurry when people launch GoFundMe’s to fund tours or other traditionally pricey band projects. I’ve seen this happen a couple of times now and I’m starting to get a little pissed about it. Why? Because if you and your bandmates can’t go out, get jobs and save money in order to make three grand between you so that you can afford to go on tour then maybe you shouldn’t be doing this. You don’t need to be self funded, and you really shouldn’t try to be. For a very long time music is going o take a lot out of your pocket and you can’t just rely on fans to come up with that for you because you don’t like working a construction job. It’s great if your fans want to hook you up but in those cases a Kickstarter where one of the perks is guest list passes and a chance to hang with the band might be more appropriate.
That’s not the only time that getting a GoFundMe makes your band look silly and unprofessional. Another common mistep I see is asking for money for recording. Here’s another place where a Kickstarter would make a lot more sense. It’s easy to justify this in your head, “Well the fans are just going to torrent it anyway” or the ever popular “Well it’s not like the label is funding it, why can’t we go back to that older model?” Guess what. This is the model we have, and yeah it sucks. It’s really brutal sometimes and really hard to cope with from a financial perspective. We are all suffering and hemorrhaging money pretty much all of the time. But guess what. We need to get used to it. We have no choice anymore. This entire industry is a pain for everyone involved, so if you’re not ready to put yourself on the line then you might as well leave the hall.
The point being – GoFundMe is a blessing and a curse. It can set your band firmly in poser territory or it can pull you back from the brink of disaster and give you a chance to save a sorry situation. Now – as a general rule, I would recommend against GoFundMe. What you have to ask yourself before launching one is, “Is this accomplishing something that a Kickstarter can not?” In most cases the answer is no. In the rare case that it does (You’re stranded on the road, gear has been stolen, some act of God has made you lose your merch or made it impossible for you to record otherwise) then perhaps it is worth doing. The only other time you can really justify it is when there is a popular demand. As for now though – you simply need to sit back, and realize that your band will probably never need a GoFundMe, and that is almost certainly for the better.