Photo courtesy of Steve Bell/Signpost Music.

New record celebrates career and community for Steve Bell

WINNIPEG, MB—When asked what he thinks of his latest album, Winnipeg musician Steve Bell responds, “It’s fantastic.” But while Bell, 53, hasn’t been shy to speak to the quality of his work, in this case it was how the project came together that has been so encouraging.

For his latest record, an ambitious four-disc set called Pilgrimage, Bell turned to the popular crowd-funding platform Kickstarter, wherein artists turn to their fans directly for financial support of upcoming projects, something that Bell says has been especially helpful given the less-certain climate of the music industry today.

“Up to five or six years ago, if you wanted to do an album, you could justify taking out a loan—you’re going to get the money on the other side. That’s changed,” he says. “We now know that music has been brought back down…where there’s going to be no money on the other side.”

Giving himself a time frame of 40 days, Bell reached out to fans for a total of $20,000—a goal that was met in two weeks. The campaign concluded on June 14 after raising more than $56,000.

Pilgrimage commemorates the 25th anniversary of Bell’s first solo record, Comfort My People. Disc one will contain an album of entirely new material, whereas discs two and three respectively feature stripped-down re-recordings of fan-chosen favourites, as well as reprised covers from some of Bell’s musical peers.

“A tribute album is great because it allows people to see that one version of a song is not definitive. I think that’s a really important thing.”

Bell describes the project’s fourth disc as a collection of instrumental remixes of several songs spanning his career, an inclusion originally conceived by long-time manager/producer Dave Zeglinski.

For Bell, the timing for Pilgrimage seemed an appropriate commemoration of a celebrated musical career, something he still finds surreal.

“Twenty-five years is fun for me—I’m just surprised I’m still here,” he says with a laugh.

Bell hopes the crowdfunding model is something that sticks around the music industry for a long time, and hopes aspiring musicians will recognize the potential in re-thinking what it means to be “successful” as an artist.

“Artists have to see themselves as public servants,” he says. “And I think when they do, [their] community will reward them. I just think that’s true.”

Even so, Bell is quick to emphasize the importance of hard work. At press time, the project had raised about $30,000, something that sparked a debate with one of Bell's younger musical peers.

“A young artist said [to me], ‘you’re lucky. You just put out an e-mail and raised $30,000.’ I said, ‘No, I put out 30 years and raised $30,000. This doesn’t just happen.’

“People don’t realize that I spend most of my time in small-town Saskatchewan playing to 150 people. But they just see the big concerts.”

When asked whether he feels a greater sense of connection to fans, given that it was through their dollars that the project was made possible, Bell responds in the affirmative. But he also points out the added incentive to produce something people will enjoy.

“I think in general what we’re seeing, as music goes back to a patron model rather than a commercial model it really means that artists can’t be anywhere near as narcissistic anymore,” he says, “because no one is going to give me money to project my own ‘unique angst’ and ‘personal genius.’

“People are going to give to the arts now when they think that that art is going to produce a social good,” he adds.

And for Bell, Pilgrimage really is something inspired by community.

“There’s something about [that] personal ‘Thank you’ that makes you realize, ‘This Steve Bell project is a community project. It’s not mine.’ Steve Bell is not me.

“I’m the Steve Bell everybody sees, [but] Steve Bell is a ‘we’ thing.”

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About the author

Rob Horsley is the former Managing Editor of ChristianWeek.