Crowdsourcing. All you have to do is utter the word around creative people and you’ll watch a room quickly divide into proponents and naysayers.
Critics love to point at examples like Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s Brammo logo project, in which hundreds of designers slaved for a mere $1000. Some designers will tell you that it devalues their thinking; all you have to do is search for the #nospec tag on Twitter to see hundreds of comments opposed to crowdsourcing and specifically to the Brammo contest. (It goes without saying that Bogusky got far more than a thousand bucks worth of buzz out of the competition.)
Another hotbed for discussion of the crowdsourcing movement has been Edward Boches’ blog, where you’ll find more than a few of my comments on the subject as well.
But let’s put aside the debate over crowdsourcing as a source of cheap labor. Let me offer you a better example. One that I think is more pure, more joyful — and in my opinion more promising, as a place where the crowdsourcing movement can lead.
One of my favorite musicians in the world is a singer songwriter out of Austin, Texas named Darden Smith. Check him out. To me, the songs he writes feel like Austin: smart, simple, contemporary, yet firmly rooted in the Texas tradition.
But as much as he enjoys recording CDs and touring the US and UK, Darden gets his greatest joy these days out of something else. It’s a program he created in 2003, called Be An Artist. Professional musicians go into the schools, work with the kids, and before the end of the day, the kids have written a song together. And to hear Darden tell it, sometimes they’re pretty darn good.
But what’s important isn’t the song that results. (Although if you want to check out a few of the songs from Darden Smith’s Be An Artist project, click here.) Is a class full of 2nd graders going to write a better song than a perennial Grammy-winning songwriter team? Um, not every time. And probably, not as often.
But that isn’t the point.
To quote Darden: “Everyone is an artist at something. Everyone is creative. Art surrounds us, from the clothes we wear, the car we ride in, to the music we listen to and the buildings we live in. There’s no escaping it! The Big Three: attention, intention, & the love of doing something. If you have those ingredients, you’re making art.”
Smith isn’t crowdsourcing songs in search of a chartbusting hit. He writes pretty damn fine songs already, thank you.
His motivation lies not in the song that results that afternoon, but in what they’re really creating: a generation of kids more interested in the arts, and more confident in themselves as creative people.
It’s all about the engagement.