Key master Ben Knight on the singles game and crowdfunding and Patreon
By Victoria Wasylak
“Do people even like bands anymore?” Ben Knight asks, reclining in his chair in front of a poster of Johnny Cash flipping the bird – specifically where he requested to sit for this interview. Knight’s hair is slicked back in a similar fashion to Cash, and he’s dressed in all black, making him and Cash look like brothers (except Knight flashes a smile).
“I think if you have a VEVO logo next to your music video, everybody will love you,” Knight’s guitar player Nicho las Castucci chimes in. The two bandmates break out into laughter.
Knight may be a bluesy rock and roller, but at 22, his eye is on the changing ways of the modern music industry. Since winning The Last Band Standing in Massachusetts last year (he was chosen out of 500 entries and ultimately 24 competitors playing five sets each), the young entertainer from Billerica has been tearing up the local music scene with his keyboard, blues band, and brassy horn section – all of which take a beating onstage as the spirit of rock and roll exercises Knight and makes him shimmy in ways that could rival the Blues Brothers.
After gaining recognition over the last two years, Knight is ready to revolutionize his recording by releasing singles instead of albums via Patreon, a platform that allows people to support the artists they love by becoming paid sponsors.
“Albums don’t matter, really at all,” he said. “I’m viewing it as a singles market, and I just want to release a song every few weeks for the next forever.”
Launched by musician Jack Conte in 2013, Patreon represents a move from Kickstarter’s model of one- off crowdfunding to a system of recurring revenues.
“It’s a subscriber-based website, and people can sign up to pledge us $1 or $2 every time we release a piece of content,” he said. Because of Patreon’s ability for fans to pledge as artists go, artists can use the site as a tool to create a fan base, instead of using Kickstarter to raise money for one particular album, and have the hype end once the donation goal is met.
“Patreon is more of an ongoing thing that will build over time,” Knight added. “The art that I make is expensive to make, so it takes people and fans and money to do that.”
Knight’s latest pursuit of the singles market included recording two new songs in Syracuse this March with his band and he plans to release one song, “Baby Blues Eyes” in May, and the other, “Over It” in June.
“We walked out of the studio with two songs, but they were like totally done, totally mixed,” he said. “I guess the stuff I recorded before was a little bit more rock and roll, a little bit angrier, and these are more pop-based, and a little happier.”
Knight is also thinking about music videos, and anything else that will keep the touring machine rolling.
“If I could, I would release a music video every single month,” he said. “But that’s really hard to do. And expensive.”
“We’re in the middle of trying to figure out what’s the relevance of albums nowadays,” Castucci said. “If touring gets you the most recognition, then an album might not be the best idea, but a YouTube video might – a YouTube video gets a little more buzz.”
Even though releasing a song and video a month “for the next forever” sounds a bit tiresome, Knight isn’t so concerned.
“It’s all there is in the whole world,” Knight said. “Between recording and playing shows, that’s all I do, I don’t have another job or anything.”
Knight cut his teeth on busking and performing in Boston two summers ago, and has since been making money from cover gigs at bars and nightclubs, which he uses to fund his solo project. With help from supporters online, Knight hopes to cut down on cover gigs, and book more shows that allow him to play his original music.
“Check back in a few years, see how we’re doing,” he said. “Either we’ll be homeless, or dead, or,” he beams, “very rich and successful.”
Learn more about Ben Knight here.