Crowdfunding helps non-starters and re-livers ride again

Crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter have become extraordinary participatory financing mechanisms to bankroll brand new products and output that might otherwise not have seen light of day.

It is great for culture to have these innovative new artefacts join the fray. But crowdfunding is not just for newcomers — blasts from the past can also get a second life by leveraging the same kinds of direct-funding mechanisms. That’s something I realised while observing two new crowdfunding projects this week:

  • X Factor UK reject Janet Devlin is using PledgeMusic to finance the release of her upcoming debut album. In a music industry that has become risk-averse, The X Factor TV show, like crowdfunding networks, is itself a prolonged exercise in testing the viability of a potential act before signing. Devlin was voted out during the 2011 season’s eighth episode. That should have put paid to her pop music aspirations. But those ambitions are now allowed to live on by a crowdfunding initiative that refuses to let go of the fans the young singer nevertheless amassed during the show.
  • Revered computer game developer David Braben is using Kickstarter to try funding development of a re-make for his lauded 1980s space exploration classic Elite. The title wowed the first generation of video gamers with its wide-open space-scape and wireframe crafts in 1984, when it occupied just 22k of memory. Now Braben says: “Elite: Dangerous is the game I have wanted Frontier to make for a very long time. We have had a couple of false starts on this over the years. We have been preparing; laying the technology and design foundations for when the time is right. And that time is now.”

In each case, crowdfunding sites are allowing creators to reboot failed ambitions. As they do so, are they trying to subvert a kind of cultural natural selection that has already given them ample opportunity to make it big? To desperately relive a future that they were not destined to see?

Not necessarily. In this world, you take what opportunities are available. Devlin may have been offered a record contract within minutes of her exit from the TV show, and her PledgeMusic effort may seem curiously professional already, with a tour already seemingly planned — but she appears to be approaching her recording genuinely independently.

Elite: Dangerous would not be the first “blast from the past” to be remade for games lovers. Such titles as Duke Nukem have recently been re-released for spangly 3D console engines, while Super Mario’s ever-advancing franchise is routinely remade by a new take on its classical save-the-princess narrative.

Indeed, we appear to live in a time of pronounced cultural revivalism. Hi-def remakes appear on our cinema screen at a rate of knots, boy-bands reform after acrimonious splits — all designed to extract money, a second time, from audiences who, back in the day, could spend only pocket money but who, now in their 30s or 40s, are the prime targets for buying high-priced arena gig tickets and 3D multiplex seats.

Until now, these revivalist cultural experiences have been the preserve of the same kinds of big-media culture producers and puppeteers who financed their blockbusters a generation ago.

But now, just like the brand-new innovative outputs that can be funding by the likes of Kickstarter, out-of-favour practitioners who never quite made it or whose glory days are long gone can also start anew. Not only does the new rub shoulders with the old, in our long-tail age – it is also mingling with the renewed, in what is simultaneously a virgin start and a curious afterlife for content.