• Reece Bithrey

Marillion & The Rise Of Internet Crowdfunding


(Picture Credit - Loudersound)

Twenty two years ago, the worldwide industry of internet crowdfunding was first conceived. You'd think it was done by one of the great technological pioneers - the Sir Tim Berners Lees and the Steve Jobs of this world, but if you dig a little deeper, you'll find that the extremely popular funding mechanism was founded by five blokes in a band from Aylesbury and some extremely loyal fans. Indeed, it was prog-rock pioneers Marillion who invented this phenomenon.


The year was 1997 and the band were, as keyboardist Mark Kelly said, 'caught a little short' during his TEDxBedford talk a few years ago. On the forum 'Freaks' (named after a Fish-era B-Side), the band would regularly get inundated with requests for an American tour. Of course, with a band whose only major hits were twelve years ago, the regular income of money had dried up from royalties. In addition, they had just been let go from EMI Records, who they'd been signed to since the release of their debut single, Market Square Heroes, in 1982. 1997 saw the release of the This Strange Engine and the sharp decline in mainstream success; the two singles released from the album, Eighty Days and A Man Of A Thousand Faces, did not break into the UK Top 40 - this was the first time this has occurred in the band's history.


Despite these commercial issues, the fanbase remained loyal and the band's following turned into one of a cult. Mark Kelly was quoted as saying that it would cost in the region of $60,000 to run a US tour and a small group of fans thought it right to set up a 'US Tour Fund' for the band. People thought they were mad and that it wouldn't work. Admittedly, it was unheard of for the time, but that didn't stop the forum trying. The group of around one thousand fans on the mailing list raised one-third of the money in a few weeks and notified Kelly who then told the rest of the band. Within six months, the full total was raised and thanks to media attention in the US papers and people buying tickets to see the band stateside, a small profit was netted on the '97 tour. This was then invested into selling soundboard recordings of the individual gigs on CDs that now sell for hundreds of pounds on auction sites such as eBay. Again, another precedent set by Marillion that has continued for pretty much all concerts over the last fifteen years or so, being made available for download through the band's official store - Racket Records.


Around three years later, at the turn of the millennium, the band wished to try the same with an entirely new album. This was in a desperate attempt to break the monotony associated with a record contract and to have the ability to do things in their own time. Lead singer Steve Hogarth was quoted as saying "...how would you guys feel about buying a record we haven't made yet – because if you did we'd be really grateful...". The band asked its 30,000-strong mailing list if they would be interested in purchasing a special edition album that came with bonus tracks for a small pledge - around 6000 or so positive replies were received

in the space of a couple of days and ultimately, 12,674 copies were preordered. The campaign's final product was the 2001 album Anoraknophobia - an album I define as their best of the last twenty-five years. With the special edition came the album on CD, a 'bonus CD' with added rarities and demos and a large booklet that had the names of all the backers printed inside. This made the album more personal in the eyes of the band and was felt amongst the fanbase, so much so that most of their recent offerings have been crowdfunded, including their latest one, 2016's FEAR (Fuck Everyone And Run).


Since 2001 certainly, the principle of internet crowdfunding has grown exponentially and with the rise of sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, people from all ages and backgrounds can get their ideas noticed and their voices heard. Some projects on these sites fly high, such as the Pebble brand of smartwatches, whose two versions raised a combined $23 million. However, some projects come crashing down after their high-flying start. In particular, android games console Ouya received 904% of its original backing goal with around $8.6 million in funds; it reached the full total within eight hours. Within the first day of the project being available to fund, it apparently attracted a new backer every 5.59 seconds. However, once the Ouya launched in 2013, the media criticised it heavily, stating the issues being that its selection of games was sub-par and even then, the gaming experience was much better and more worthwhile on a standard Android phone. The firm ultimately fell to the hands of gaming peripherals giant Razer, who bought the Ouya software assets and discontinued the console after just two years of shelf life.


In conclusion, the rise of crowdfunding has been meteoric, especially over the last decade or so, but there comes a small dosage of scepticism with its power as people may hold back on donations if they can't see the finished products straight away. The same issue comes with online shopping too as people may hold out and pay for something in a retail outlet so they can try the product before they buy it. Therefore, in practice, crowdfunding is an absolutely brilliant idea and whilst people may have issues with the intangible aspects of the products, all the sites act as a fantastic platform for unique ideas and voices.

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