After nearly 15 lean years, Perth progressive metallers Voyager got fed up with the music industry. “It’s more like a deep-seated mistrust, actually,” founding vocalist Danny Estrin says. It was reason enough for Voyager to sidestep the labels completely and open a Kickstarter, letting fans decide if their aptly titled fifth album, V, ought to be made.
“We’ve seen it gradually get worse for artists,” says Estrin. “No-one ever expects to make a living out of heavy music. It’s hard to make ends meet sometimes. That’s why we decided on this approach.”
The crowdfunding campaign was never a sure thing, though. Kickstarter is littered with examples gone horribly wrong. To ensure success, Voyager treaded conservatively.
“We went for a target of $10,000,” Estrin says. “We’ve got a pretty good fan base all around the world. We met our target within three days, and exceeded it by almost 200 per cent. Lots of pledges came from overseas. It’s a pretty encouraging start to what I hope is a music industry revolution.”
A bold statement – yet crowdfunding is indeed proving viable for bands already chewed up and spat out by labels that don’t have their best interests in mind.
“It’s easy to get ripped off by a label!” laughs Estrin. “I think the Kickstarter model worked for us, and it’s worked for other established bands too. It’s important that you have some sort of a fan base already. Otherwise you’re just gonna get a few dollars from Mum and Dad and your friends. We’ve had a track record of releasing four previous albums. Fans knew what they were gonna get. They already had some seal of quality. It makes them more inclined to make their pledges.”
Estrin avoids the word ‘donation’ when he’s discussing crowdfunding, and feels you should too. “It’s not a donation,” he says. “You’re getting something in return. You’re getting an album, a picture of the band or a vinyl record, or a recorded message. It’s like an investment. You become part of the process.”
The five members of Voyager enjoy a cult following, both in Australia and abroad, that’s allowed them tours in the US and Europe. To date, they’ve not made a cent off said appearances, usually ending up in the red.
“It’s just a very expensive hobby,” Estrin jokes. “But it’s only ever going to be sustainable if you can tour 300 days a year. If you see a band doing a regular tour, they’re doing OK. They can’t afford mortgages or anything like that, but that’s why they do it out of love.”
Estrin insists he’s not “crying poor”, rather standing up and showing fans that even the higher-profile bands aren’t necessarily well off.
“Just because we’ve toured the US and Europe and released four albums doesn’t mean we’re rolling around in money. I really want people to understand where their dollars are going. I think people have a right to know how much the artist is getting. If they buy a song on iTunes, for example – how much of that is actually going back to the people who made it?”
Seeing the album’s creation uproot a long-entrenched paradigm, Estrin lent his soaring vocals a political charge. The lyrics consciously depart from the typical prog metal fodder of cosmos and mysticism.
“One of the album’s themes is looking at the world with a sense of wonder,” Estrin explains. “There’s songs about the state of our current government and voter apathy. I try not to be political, but I just can’t help it. The way you live your life reflects in the way you play your music.”