Steve Grand sets example for Hong Kong crowdfunding site Music Bee

Gay American country singer launched album with help from Kickstarter subscribers and got it into the Billboard charts within a week

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 April, 2015, 9:47am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 April, 2015, 9:47am

Even before the digitalisation of music, major record labels in Hong Kong weren’t exactly a risk-taking bunch. Now that the internet and faster streaming services have all but put CD sales on life support, what are young musicians who don’t fit the pop star mould to do?

Music Bee, the recently established crowdfunding platform for local indie acts, offers one avenue for raising financing – and awareness – of new sounds. Struggling musicians can also draw inspiration from American singer Steve Grand, whose newly released album, All American Boy, made the Billboard charts via the crowdfunding route.

Grand is about as big an anomaly as one would find in the US recording industry. Not only is his genre of music – country – not exactly the most popular, the 25-year-old is openly gay.

The singer-songwriter first rose to fame after releasing his self-produced title track on YouTube in 2013. Its infectious hook, sunny charms and bold message – about a man falling in love with another man – quickly went viral, garnering a million views in the first week alone. That brought plenty of media coverage, but no record contract. So Grand took to US crowdfunding site Kickstarter to get fans to support production of his album. Over 4,900 people “backed” Grand, raising US$327,000.

Released on March 23, All American Boy sold 10,000 copies in its first week, which placed the album at number 47 on the Billboard 200 chart, and number 3 overall on Billboard’s Independent Albums chart.

Of course, Kickstarter is a much bigger platform than Music Bee, and the US has a far bigger audience for independent/alternative music than Hong Kong. But Grand’s success story is no doubt what the creators of Music Bee – songerwriters Chet Lam Yat-fung, Vicky Fung Wing-ki and Victor Tse Kwok-wai – hope to emulate.

Although just about every aspiring musician dreams of releasing an album, the fact is CD sales are no longer a real source of income for musicians. Even Grand’s All American Boy, for all its success, sold what would have been considered a minuscule number in the '90s.

That’s why Jay Z, Beyonce, and some of music’s biggest stars are trying to convince fans to sign up for their overpriced music streaming service Tidal.

Today, an album is more a marketing tool for musicians, an advertisement for fans to come see live shows.  So in Hong Kong, where CD sales are even more dire, the Music Bee service is as much about promoting a singer’s brand as funding the production of a CD.