How to Crowdfund Your Next Album
Remember what it took to record an album right before crowdfunding really kicked off in the late ‘00s? If you didn’t want to cut corners, scrimp on album art or sneak into studios after hours with your cousin who was an audio recording intern, raising the funds to record an album meant working three jobs, begging from disapproving parents or, if you were lucky enough to get approved, taking out a loan. When ArtistShare launched in 2003, a whole slew of the sites we’re now familiar with—including Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Pledgemusic–followed soon after. Whereas some people once worried launching a crowdfunding campaign was akin to begging, at this point in the game, crowdfunding an album is just good business. After all, a campaign gives you increased exposure and interaction with your fanbase, helps you raise the money to do your recording right, and gives fans the chance to feel like they’re working with you to do something great.
Once you decide to crowdfund your album, you no longer have to worry about living off of ramen and caffeine pills to save money, but this doesn’t mean you get to just kick up your feet and watch the money roll in. Launching a successful crowdfunding campaign is as much work as putting together your new album—if not more. Do your research and lay out a plan. Each crowdfunding site has its pros and cons, so it’s vital to pick the site which works best for your goals. You’ll need to get estimates on how much the entire album release process will cost—from mixing and mastering to hiring an artist for the cover design. Only then can you set your campaign goal. Ensure it’s a realistic one by gauging your audience size. How many fans do you have who attend concerts regularly and buy your merch? Set a campaign goal high enough to cover your necessary album costs, but not so high it’ll be impossible to achieve. For example, you don’t want to set a goal for $20,000 when you only have a thousand fans. Dream big, but be reasonable.
Next, determine the contribution levels (and related “thank you” gifts) to set. Your campaign should be affordable for everyone. On Kickstarter, $25 is the most popular award level, followed by $50, with $10 awards coming in third. Yet $100 pledges consistently makeup the largest set of contributions. When setting these levels, add a “thank you” gift that makes sense for the amount being donated. Don’t offer something that will cost more time or money to produce than what the donor is giving.
Even after all this work, it’s only the beginning! Before the campaign launches, think up an appropriate campaign name, preferably a memorable, succinct one so people don’t have to guess what is the campaign is about. Now it’s time to start producing content. Plan to promote your crowdfunding campaign regularly and across several social media channels with lots of funny, charming, intriguing and attention-getting content to get your point across. Many musicians underestimate how much time and energy this will take, so think of it like this: for the duration of your campaign, creating content is basically going to be your second part-time job.
Building Fan Interest
Plan to schedule regular posts about your campaign across your band’s and/or your own personal Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages. You might think you’re being annoying by posting about your campaign every day, but it’s not true. You never know when your high school buddy who’s never online will decide to log in to Facebook and see your campaign post for the first time, or when your sister will cash her paycheck and be reminded of her desire to contribute to your campaign by a well-timed post. Sometimes it takes people several times to see a campaign mention before it clicks in their head and they decide to read up on it. Be sure to always include the link to your campaign site every single time you post about it. Make it easy for your fans, friends and family to click and give.
“I shot for $7K and hit $12K in 30 days… I was blown away and so appreciative of all the support.”
The content you make to promote the campaign should be fresh, entertaining, and share-worthy. You can launch mini-contests for fans, where they’ll be in the running for some small prize for retweeting a post or commenting on a status asking for fan feedback. You can also post photos, videos or new demo versions of tracks to give them the feeling they’re in the studio with you, watching your progress as it happens. This will not only give them the sense they’re a part of your recording process, but it will convince them they want to be, and they’re going to be part of a successful team. People donate because it feels good. Keep the good feeling going strong by posting regularly.
Once you’ve gotten their interest and they’ve clicked on your campaign page, what should they see? First of all, you need to shoot a simple, straightforward video stating exactly what you intend to do with the money. Shoot with a good camera with high sound quality. Use a video script. Your video should prove you’re a professional, and if they contribute to your campaign, they’ll see professional results. If you’re completely clueless about creating videos, consider reaching out to a Camera Operator or Film Editor to help you create a well-made finished copy. (Film schools or ultra low budget indie creators may be willing to help you for an affordable price — or even for free, if they’re looking to build a reel.) You need to set pledge amounts and offer enticing awards. Create unique awards only pledgers can get as a result of showing their support. Yes, receiving a copy of your new EP before it hits stores is a solid award offering, but if you want to differentiate your campaign and convince people to donate to your campaign over all the others, offer something special. Do you or does someone else in your band have a non-musical talent? Offer your bassist’s screen printed t-shirts or your drummer’s original hand drawn portraits as an award.
Keeping the Momentum Going
Be aware of the timing of your launch. According to Kickstarter, most successful campaigns begin and end within thirty days. Make the date of your official campaign launch special by teasing it on your social media channels in the days leading up to it. The majority of campaigns receive up to half their funding within the first week, before hitting second and third week lulls and finishing strong in the final days. During these slower times, you can keep the momentum going by offering special incentives. Some musicians write personalized songs or shoot short videos for the contributors who donate during this time. Put a limit on these awards, though, or else it’s going to become apparent you’re putting in more than you’re getting in return. Set a certain pledge amount for these incentives, and inform your fans of the deadline to claim these rewards. For example, you could offer a customized rap song about each person who pledges $300 in the next forty-eight hours. Make these grand gestures to your fans, while reaching out to all your friends, family, and acquaintances personally. This isn’t the time to be modest and shy, although, of course, being pushy or rude isn’t necessary either. You’d be surprised how excited people will be to help.
“You are trying to raise money for your personal passion – put some extra time in to be real with people and if you are genuine, they will support you.”
This all seems like a lot of work, right? There’s a definite risk involved in using a campaign platform like Kickstarter, where creators don’t see any of the funds they raised if they don’t meet their goal. But this doesn’t mean independent musicians without massive rock star sized fanbases can’t succeed. In fact, artist Brett Randell, a Singer/Songwriter from Austin/NY/Denver, managed to raise $12,000 in 30 days. We reached out to Brett to see what the experience was really like.
How did you devise a Kickstarter campaign strategy?
“I’m a huge fan of researching absurd amounts with any endeavor to make sure you understand it from all angles (business + creative). Whether it’s booking a tour, learning how to write a novel, starting a business, buying the right microphone, shopping for travel backpacks, etc. – the more info you have, the better chance of success. So, for almost two years I read every single blog post and article about Kickstarter campaigns. This actually lead me to a phenomenal resource called LaunchAndRelease.com which is a blog/business started by two musicians who analyzed 300+ music Kickstarter websites and found out what worked and what didn’t. I analyzed their website for a year, read every blog, called them up and talked to them, took and studied their complete course, and finally… I was ready to launch.”
How did you market the Kickstarter campaign to your fans/supporters?
“In my opinion, three of the most important parts of a Kickstarter campaign are 1) setting realistic goals and mapping out the costs 2) getting your solid story down in video form and 3) analyzing your fanbase/network. Once you select the right goal, get your story down pat and package it in an effective and enticing video, THEN you can use your mailing list, Facebook, in-person talking, and social media to promote. The MOST important thing (as with everything in life) is reaching out personally – friends, family, fans – shoot them a message/call/text, be sincere, and write it on the spot – don’t copy and paste. You are trying to raise money for your personal passion – put some extra time in to be real with people and if you are genuine, they will support you.”
How did you decide which incentives to offer contributors?
“After studying like 40 other campaigns, and also studying Launch and Release’s course (they have a great session on what Kickstarter awards to do and which are most effective) I found out what works best – of course the standard digital downloads, the physical CD, t-shirt/poster packages, and then the more high-priced, fun, creative ones like writing people an original song, sending printed/matted copies of lyric sheets, doing house concerts, etc.”
Is there anything you would have done differently with your campaign?
“I was actually very happy with how my campaign turned out. I shot for $7K and hit $12K in 30 days. Of course, you can always shoot for higher so you can invest in more parts of your project (music videos, promotion, radio, PR, an extra song, etc. etc.) – but I was pretty happy with how it all turned out. I was blown away and so appreciative of all the support.”
What advice do you have for independent musicians who want to use Kickstarter to fund an album/music video/tour/etc.?
“Do it!! It’s an unbelievable resource for musicians and creatives of all types, and more importantly, a great way to connect and re-connect with your friends, family, and fans. I think the most valuable part of a Kickstarter campaign is the resulting album creation mentality and process. Unlike my previous CDs, now I don’t have to freak out about how I’m going to pay, cut corners for time in the studio, try to get stuff for super cheap, not be able to go back and re-record or overdub because of low funds, etc. etc. Once I raised my ideal amount, it completely relieved the stress and pressure of funding the album, so now I can just focus on making the best music I possibly can and take the time I need. Study up and do one!”
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