The Musician's Progress

Artists look to Web to gain support

JOE BOONE | Special to The Daily News

Musician Valerie June performs her blend of “organic moonshine roots music” to passersby outside Folk Alliance International’s South Main Street office during Friday’s Art Trolley Tour.
Photo: Lance Murphey

Valerie June’s grandfather gave her a guitar for her 15th birthday. Since then she has worked tirelessly to make a living following her passion.

In the face of an industry in collapse – where musicians and filmmakers face challenges financing production just as large media face hard times – June has turned to an online fundraising platform called Kickstarter to raise money for a full-length album.

“I get by with a little help from my friends,” said June.

She is not alone. Independent financing of film has been the norm since the late 1980s. The stereotype of the director maxing out a stack of credit cards to finish a film is a staple of indie culture.

But musicians typically have not exploited such measures. Film is still relatively expensive, requiring lights and sound crews. Music, since the advent of the computer, has adjusted its aesthetic to accommodate “bedroom” producers using computers and synthesized instruments.

But June has bigger ideas.

“I just want to work with musicians who are amazing,” she said. “I want to have an organist and an upright bass. The time is passing and I’m seeing just how hard it is to be an island. Why not take the leap and ask for help?”

June’s sound eschews the synth-driven norms of self-produced music, opting for a folksy feel that harks back to her childhood in Humboldt, Tenn.

She has had some great exposure, primarily through her involvement in “$5 Cover,” an MTV series about musicians in Memphis. It was produced and shot locally by Craig Brewer and aired in 2009.

June, who also has recorded with Old Crow Medicine Show, a Nashville-based old-time string band, is a relentless live performer and takes her work more seriously than most. But these are hard times for music on all levels.

The music industry is without a business model. The old model was itself inefficient. Major labels signed perhaps 100 bands only to see profits on a small percentage of those signed acts. But with a lock on distribution and in the days of mass media, those profits were enormous.

Digital file sharing broke the label cartel’s stranglehold. Without durable sales, the industry has become even pickier about who gets to play. Labels that once had single-project budgets of $200,000 or more now expect artists to foot the bill.

June and other musicians aren’t alone in their efforts to use new Web technologies to determine demand before moving to the next level.

MTV recently produced “Savage County,” a horror series that was shot in Memphis. The project was meant to be serialized on the Web over about nine episodes. But it took on a life of its own and is being considered for the cable schedule.

To gauge popularity, MTV has turned to the Web. MTV stipulated that “Savage County” would need 100,000 “demands” via its website in order to be aired. The show currently has 74,000 demands.

The decision to air the show would have direct economic benefits for the local music scene. The soundtrack was produced locally by Jason Freeman at Music + Arts studio.

“It’s a great score and showcases both Jason Freeman’s and re-mix engineer Kevin Houston’s natural talent for film work,” said studio owner Ward Archer. “It will also boost Music + Arts studio growing reputation as a leading Memphis post production house for film.”

(Demand “Savage County” at

As for June, she is using Kickstarter, a website that takes financial pledges from fans. If the stated budget is not reached, then fans are not billed. June has set a target of $15,000 and a deadline of Oct. 12.

“At first I was not comfortable asking people for money,” said June, who then changed her mind. “Since I launched this, I’ve had labels call me up and say, ‘I remember you from the Old Crow thing.’ I think, ‘OK, now y’all are seeing.’”

June said she has received most of her response through Facebook, where she has a 4,000-plus fan base.

As of Wednesday morning, 59 backers had contributed $3,180. People who make pledges receive one of many tokens of June’s thanks depending on the level of support, including a house concert, a custom painting and even her signature red boots. Visit the site at