"There is no music industry in Israel,” an experienced PR executive and observer of the local music market said recently. ”There used to be, but not anymore." The old industry, in which all-powerful record companies signed carefully chosen artists and produced a limited number of albums each year, is indeed dead. In the new reality, there are hardly any record companies, hardly any selection and, most importantly, hardly any money. And when there's no money, there's no industry.
What does survive of the local music industry is the quest for new models – a new model for financing albums, a new model for music distribution, a new model that will enable musicians to earn something from their work. The much yearned-for comprehensive model, which would unite all these other models and be capable of sustaining a new industry, is not yet visible on the horizon. But, meanwhile, smaller initiatives are popping up and infusing a little money and a lot of hope into the non-industry.
Most notable among these initiatives is Headstart, an online fundraising platform for artists from different fields. Founded in January 2012 by Yossi Meiri, Ma'ayan Meltzer and Yonatan Gal, Headstart very quickly became a key player on the Israeli music scene. Many musicians, some known and some unknown, began using it to help raise funds for new albums that could not be financed in any other way. On Headstart, the artists do not ask for charity; they're seeking investors, who get a return on their investment. For example, an investor might pay NIS 50 up front and receive a copy of the album when it's available; or NIS 100 and receive an album and a ticket to a concert; or NIS 1,000 and have the artist give a concert in your home.
Elliot, Yehu Yaron, Avi Adaki and "The Back Yard" (Yankeleh Rothblit, Tomer Yosef, Itamar Ziegler and Gadi Ronen) are just a few of the artists who have each raised tens of thousands of shekels with Headstart, and artist like Roni Alter and Danny Ben-Israel (who is about to record a follow-up to his legendary Hantarish 3/4 album) are now in the midst of their fundraising efforts. The top fundraiser so far is Shiraz Ariel, who raised more than NIS 400,000 on Headstart to produce the annual memorial concert for her father, Meir Ariel.
The sums raised so far on Headstart are not large in industry terms. NIS 750,000 was raised in 2012 and about a million shekels in the first half of 2013. The model also has its critics, who say that the artists’ dependence on the audience could hurt the creative process. But even if Headstart is so far only making small waves, that momentum is crucial. It instills hope, without which there can be no art. And one day, together with other likeminded initiatives, the Headstart team might keep afloat the sinking ship that is the Israeli music industry.