What’s in your pockets right now? If you’re a musician, we can hazard a guess. A bus pass. A bottletop. An Allen key. A handful of plectrums. And sixteen pence in shrapnel. Let’s face it: you’re broke. And without the cash to pay for gear, software, studio time and dancing girls, your era-defining album is doomed to languish as an unfulfilled pipe dream. But before you resort to bank robbery or the black market for human organs, have you considered crowdfunding? Here’s how it works. Let’s say you’ve got a visionary musical project that the world needs to hear, but lack the funds to bring it to fruition. By creating a profile page on a crowdfunding website, you can pitch direct to the public for investment. Recognising your stone-cold genius, they’ll flood money into your coffers, and the completed album will become an international smash.
At least, that’s the fantasy scenario, fuelled by success stories like US alt-rocker Amanda Palmer (who raised over £900k for her album Theatre Is Evil), or Boston folkie Ellis Paul (who drummed up £750k for 2010’s The Day After Everything Changed). Even big-hitters are getting in the action, with bands from Public Enemy to Megadeth bypassing the traditional industry.
Yet crowdfunding is far from a sure thing. With so many acts angling for investment, it’s easy to get lost in the herd, be dismissed as a greedy chancer, and miss your target worse than an England footballer. Here’s our quickfire ten-step guide to running a successful campaign.
#1. Do the maths
Before you rehearse your pitch, sit down with a calculator and crunch the numbers. You need to pin down the projected costs of producing your album – from equipment to personnel – and work out how much you need from the public to make it fly. But be warned: setting your target is a tightrope. If you underestimate, you might hit your figure but still won’t be able to finance the album. If you overestimate, you’ll fall short (most sites deem this a failed campaign, and no money changes hands). You’ll also need your diary to hand, to find a quiet month when you’re free to go at it hell for leather.
#2. Choose your crowdfunding website wisely
You’ve probably heard of big players like PledgeMusic and Kickstarter, but new crowdfunding websites are popping up all the time, so check out a few musician forums to gauge who’s got the edge. When setting your budget in Step #1, you also need to factor in the site’s cut. This typically ranges from 5% to 15%, but remember that you often get what you pay for: a site with a low commission might be clueless and unreliable, while one charging top dollar could be manned by industry experts who’ll keep your campaign on track.
#3. Do the groundwork
Nothing is more fatal to a campaign than launching prematurely, then flailing through a limp promotional drive. Before your profile page goes live, all your ducks need to be in a row. That means writing a sparky elevator pitch that tells browsing punters why this project needs to happen, taking engaging photos to mark you out from the sea of wannabes, and preparing a stack of updates and announcements tailored for all the social media sites. If you go off half-cocked, you’ll never recover the momentum.
#4. Film a shareable video
Kickstarter claims that 80% of its projects now have an accompanying video – and the ones that rely on words alone are more likely to tank. You don’t have to be Martin Scorsese and nobody cares about the production values (try an app like iMovie or a website like Rotor). The point is that your profile video needs to catch the imagination, spark a connection with would-be pledgers and get spread across social media. Ride a llama. Smear yourself in Marmite. Put your drummer in the stocks. Whatever you do, don’t just stand in the spare room, wearing your work experience suit and droning on about pie charts.
#5. Spread the word
Your music might combine Pharrell’s melodicism with the power of Dave Grohl, but nobody will discover it if your campaign is lurking in a dank corner of the web. Love it or hate it, shameless self-promotion is the key. A month before your campaign starts, put the feelers out to everyone in your phone who could conceivably help your cause. Once you launch, let fly on every online platform and blog your butt off.
#6. Don’t discount old-school media
Traditional media might not be in the rudest health, but specialist magazines, local newspapers and regional radio still have the clout to reach the masses. Pull together a good press pack with a zinging backstory, professional photos and a newsworthy angle – ‘Local musician promises to record album or die trying!’ – and you’ll soon have the newshounds sniffing around.
#7. Go hard and fast
Once you’re up and running, dedicate as much time to the campaign as you can without losing your job, partner or sense of personal hygiene. Punters have short attention spans, and you only have a tiny window to catch their imagination. It’s proven that campaigns lasting under 30 days do better, and besides, most crowdfunding sites set a limit of 90 days – then pull the plug.
#8. Sell yourself
A great way to get your campaign noticed – and drum up extra funds – is to dangle rare items and one-off experiences in strictly limited numbers. Selling signed T-shirts and setlists is a no-brainer, but again, try to think what will create a buzz, like a private guitar lesson, playing a gig in someone’s kitchen or letting a pledger sing backup vocals on a song. This sort of thing barely costs you anything, but it creates a sense of community and generates cash.
#9. Keep pledgers in the loop
If you’ve run a strong early campaign, your pledgers will be emotionally invested and will want to ride shotgun on your journey. Keep them in the loop with regular blog updates, photos and studio footage, either on your website or in a weekly mailshot. Whet their appetites by revealing details as you go: the sleeve art, the tracklisting, a free song. You could even ask them to vote on potential album titles. This is your fanbase, so treat them right.
#10. Don’t stop!
Just because you’ve hit your target, that doesn’t mean you have to put the brakes on. If the campaign still feels energised, keep riding the wave until you sense apathy set in. When blues legend Walter Trout suffered liver failure in 2014, friends appealed for help to pay his medical bills using the YouCaring website. Just four days later, he’d shot past the initial target of $125,000 – and topped out at $241,362. You’d be amazed how deep people dig when they believe in something…
By Henry Yates