Crowdfunding Your Music Projects

Recently one of the bands I manage, Belles Will Ring, successfully crowdfunded $6705. We wanted to print their incredible record, Crystal Theatre, on vinyl. These days printing vinyl isn’t a very profitable proposition and it’s getting harder and harder to talk record labels in to paying for it. And who can blame them? A little birdie told me that in Australia, Radiohead’s In Rainbows only sold 1000 copies on vinyl. I hope that’s not true but the person who told me was in a position to know. So if Radiohead has trouble moving LPs, what hope does a tiny indie band have?

Belles Will Ring were in a particularly odd position and we were facing a few obstacles:

  • Crystal Theatre had already been out for 6 months on CD and digital. Presumably most of their die hard fans had already purchased a copy in another format.
  • Belles are coming to the end of their record cycle and without a heap of touring to support record sales, we couldn’t realistically expect to shift many units (industry talk for albums).
  • Belles don’t actually have a huge fan base. They’re loyal, but not particularly big in numbers. This could been seen as astrength as well as a weakness – smaller communities provide the advantage of being easy to speak directly with so you are able to make your communications more sincere, you can react fairly quickly to individuals and the group of people themselves actually feel more connected with one another than they would if they were a part of, say, Coldplay’s community.
  • It’s nearly Christmas and, generally, folks have less disposable income this time of year (which is why indie bands don’t release records around Christmas).
The options in front of us were few and we ended up deciding to try and crowdfund the money. There are a few different services like Kickstarter and FundaGeek (only for tech industry) but we found the most appropriate service, and one of the few that works in Australia, was Pozible. I later found out about a service in Australia specifically for musicians called StartMusic.

I did a heap of research and combined with some of the lessons I learnt, I feel like I might be somewhat of an expert now on crowdfunding. And so, provided you’re using one of the services I listed above, I present an offering of knowledge from my brain to the interwebs.

Perfect Your Pitch

Pitching your project is the most important part of the whole process. You’ll do it over and over again in different ways but through all the different reasons you give for wanting to do it, you’ve got to have one central idea that will inform all the others. What are you doing and why are you doing it? You might want to consider the following:
  • Start with one sentence. Be ready to explain exactly what you’re doing and why you are doing it in one sentence. Think of it as a Tweet.
  • After you have the one sentence, expand it in to an elevator pitch. This time you have a Facebook update or maybe a Google + update. Take your one sentence then drill down in three different arguments for your case and then deliver your closing statement.
  • And finally, get all eloquent and exercise some poetic license. You’re an artist (or you’re working with one) so you should be able to express yourself. You’ll give this pitch on your blog, your emails to family and friends and also your youtube video.
Keep Your Timeframe Short
Unless you have a specific reason to do so, I would keep all projects under 4 weeks. I think 3 weeks is the ideal but 4 would be OK. There are a number of reasons for this:
  • Firstly, you don’t want to bore people. When you launch your project is fresh and exciting and you want to keep it that way. If you drag it out too long your audience will lose interest.
  • You only have so many things you can say about the project. You need to keep communicating with your supporters (both converted and those yet to contribute) and I guarantee you there aren’t enough things to say about it to fill out 2 months. If you have a short project timeline, you can keep things exciting and informative without losing supporters along the way.
  • Most of your supporters will jump on board right at the beginning or at the 11th hour, no matter how long your project goes for.
Give Your Audience Some Incentives
This is a necessity but it pays to put some serious thought in to it. Ask yourself “who are the people most likely to contribute and what would provide the most rewarding experience for them?”. Some easy but personal options include:
  • Put the contributors name in the liner notes! Or acknowledge them publicly in some way
  • Personal performances. This is a high up one and you would want to make sure you only give one or two away
  • Demos and unreleased tracks. Only give them to a few people so you can say that no one else will have heard them.

Anything you can think of that a) won’t cost you any money and b) will provide a unique experience for the contributor.

Community Build Those Mo Fos!

Finally I think it’s really important to remember that crowdfunding isn’t just a way for you to get some cash, it’s an excellent opportunity to build a community around yourself and to strengthen your existing relationships with fans. You’re involving your people in the process and by doing that you are giving them a sense of ownership over the project. This will help deepen their engagement and will reward them for doing so. Imagine if you make each person really feel like they made a difference? How easy do you think it is going to be next time you want to crowdfund a project? And think of the knock on effects you’ll get if you nurture your fans? I bet you get more people at your next show.

It’s getting harder and harder to make a buck in the music industry. It’s been in decline for years now and even the optimists would have to admit that there has been a cultural shift in the way people consume music, how they value it and what currency they are willing to exchange for it. Paradoxically there are more bands than ever making better music and playing more shows, all of which means the audiences are there and still willing to part with their cash. My feeling is that they are just confused about who they are giving their money to. The fact that Belles Will Ring were able to successfully ask their audience for cash to print some records just goes to show that fans have the dollars and are willing to spend it on art but only if they can actually see the artist benefiting from it (which might also explain why the live sector has become the most important stream of income for artists). All this says a lot about the relationship between artist and fan and I feel a renewed sense of hope!

Head of Community at Blackbird Ventures, Festival Director of Sydney Craft Beer Week, ex-artist Manager at Umbrella. Family man, dedicated home brewer. Sydney sider. All 'round rad dude. I blog sometimes but it has never really become a habit, however I'm all over the Internet and you can find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook (only if you're a mate).

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Head of Community at Blackbird Ventures. Festival Director of Sydney Craft Beer Week. Homebrewer. Family man. Former Artist Manager / Founder at (The Rubens, Cloud Control, Urthboy, Winterbourne and more).

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