Lebanese independent band Mashrou' Leila are making music they hope will change the Arab music scene.
With their first 'crowdfunding' project -- where the band raises funds through the Internet - they may have already made a difference to how non-mainstream groups can survive financially, raising nearly $66,000 for their project since the beginning of July.
Since their formation in Beirut in 2008, the band has developed a loyal fan base with their two albums. For the release of their third album, they are relying directly on the support of their followers to fund the production and distribution of their work.
Band members say reaching their fans through a website helps them maintain their creative freedom.
“We didn't want to sign with a production company. Although it would make it a lot easier for us financially, we didn't want to give up on our freedom and rights in the music, composing, lyrics and all these things that usually happen when someone signs with a production company,” said lead vocalist Hamed Sinno.
The seven-member band say they spent almost two years writing songs for the album, and then recorded the music in Montreal, Canada. The lyrics cover a range of subjects -- from love and mourning to national politics and the 'Arab spring'.
“We, the group, are always inspired by the things happening in our lives and the lives of the people around us, the stories we see in the news and those we think are happening in society,” said vocalist Sinno.
Band member Firas Abu-Fakhr said there were a number of reasons why the musicians were so confident of doing well online.
“For sure, the lyrics that Hamed writes have a big part in people's communication with our music. For sure, the music we write too allows these lyrics to be transformed in a special way. I think the timing too -- when we started in 2008, 2009, sensibilities in the Arab world had started to be strong, and an online boom was happening in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan. This also helped us. How a band or an artist send their music has changed a lot in the past 10 years,” he said.
Despite their enthusiastic following, some fans appeared disappointed by some of the offerings on their crowdfunding website page.
For a contribution of $5, fans get a public 'thank you' on the band's website. Five thousand dollars can get you a private concert via Skype, and for $10,000, fans can enjoy a meal cooked by band members and transported to them, along with concert tickets and other offers.
But one fan wrote on the band's page that $50 to download the album before it is released was a “bit harsh.”
But the band have nearly met their target, almost raising the $66,000 they were seeking at the start of their campaign. With just two days to go -- the project expires on August 13 -- Mashrou' Leila have already collected over $64,000.
The band now hope their success will pave the way for other Arab music acts.
“Maybe this way, the crowdfunding will encourage other bands in the Arab world and make them do the same thing, use the same method. And this way, we can try to change the Arabic music scene. There are a lot of other music genres than what we hear now on the TV or radio. Maybe this way we can bring those other things a little more to the mainstream,” said violinist Haig Papazian.
With independent talent struggling to make it in the Middle East, Mashrou' Leila hope crowdfunding will offer non-mainstream bands the opportunity for success.