The Musicians Guide to Fan-Funding [RE-BLOG]

starving artist

Jon is the co-founder of MicControl, a music blogging network based on a music social networking platform. Jon can be found on Twitter (@MicControl) and Facebook.

Emerging musicians are in an eternal struggle against two evils: funding projects and growing a fanbase. In the past, musicians have funded their own albums, and have used it as leverage to gain more fans. But artists on a fixed income may run into issues funding their own projects, which can have harmful effects on the quality of the final product.

Of course, the next option is to release a demo or EP and work on building a fan base, meanwhile shopping around for a record deal with a major or indie label. The benefit here of course is that all of the financing of the album is accounted for, but lets face it, this is not the easiest thing to pull off. Labels typically won’t even look at you until you’ve crossed the 10,000-units-sold mark, and unfortunately that is becoming an increasingly difficult task to accomplish:

“…in 2008 there were 1500 releases that sold over 10,000 album units. Out of that there were only 227 of them that were artists that had broken 10,000 for the first time. So in the whole year only 227 of the artists were artists that had broken what we call the “obscurity line.” When you sell 10,000 albums, you’re no longer an obscure artist; people know about you. You may not be a star yet, but you’re in the game. That gets you out of the glut and into the game. We looked at the 227 and identified that only 14 of them were artists doing it on their own and all the rest were on majors and indies; a little more than half were on indies.” – Tom Silverman, Founder, Tommy Boy Records

And more often then not, you as the artist are stripped of some if not all creative control, resulting in an album that may work for the fans, but doesn’t work for you.

The only option left, is to find someone else to fund your project. Why not the fans? With digital distribution and social networking on the rise, fans have more music at their finger tips than ever before. Therefore artists are trying all sorts of unique ways to engage their fans, empower their fans and create their own community of fans surrounding the music. What better way to engage and empower the fans than fan-funding your next project?

What is Fan-Funding?

Fan-funding (or crowdfunding) is the simple concept of empowering the fans to raise money for you to fund your project. Typically this is done through an incentive system, in which the artist will set a monetary goal, and has a set amount of time to reach said goal. There are then different levels of rewards that vary based on the amount a fan contributes towards the project.

Not only does fan-funding give you the opportunity to fund a project where you maintain 100% of the creative control and ownership, but it can create a new level of excitement and personal connection between the fans, you and your music. Fan-funding can give you, the artist, the opportunity to share the journey of ‘the road to the completed project’ with all of your fans. And from a marketing standpoint, it gives you the means to create a more powerful, emotionally charged marketing campaign than ever before.

All fan-funding campaigns must contain 3 very important elements, which together have been labeled “The Crowdfunding Manifesto” by RocketHub co-founder, Brian Meece:

  1. The Project
  2. The Network
  3. The Rewards

According to Meece, all three “pillars” must be equally yet uniquely important in order for a campaign to be successful.

Past fan-funding projects have included raising money to produce full length albums, music videos, books, documentaries, and even touring and producing merchandise. The point is that if you have a network of fans, friends and family and have a project that you are dedicated about, no matter how big or small, you can use fan-funding to make that happen.

Reward Your Fans!

One of the three ‘pillars’ of fan-funding is the reward. An important part of the fan-funding process is the reward given to the fans who are willing to contribute money, which is not only an incentive for the fans to give the money, but is also a token of appreciation from the artist. However, fan-funding platforms such as the ones listed below, leave it up to you to establish creative rewards. In simple terms, the more valuable the rewards are to your fans, the more likely it will be that you achieve your goal.

Rewards vary based on how much money the fan is willing to contribute, so your rewards should also vary in greatness. While it is understandable for the smaller contributions to be met with a simple reward, such as receiving a signed copy of the album and/ or a T-shirt, you will find more success if you come up with some extremely creative and enticing reward opportunities. Here are a few reward ideas that may help you jump start your campaign and bring you one step closer to achieving your goals:

  • For artists whose music is more focused on the lyrical content than the musical composition, offer hand-written and signed lyrics for a contribution of $50 or more.
  • Are you also an artist? Offer an original piece of your own artwork (i.e. a painting, photograph or drawing) for anyone who contributes $100 or more. This is a great way to give people a constant reminder of your journey, and FYI – the cost of creating a piece of art can be fairly cheap, so the money they just gave you won’t have to go right back into the reward.
  • Any artist with an enviable level of talent, whether it be through songwriting, musicianship or even singing can give a music lesson to any fan who contributes $100 or more.
  • For artists who have been around for quite a while and have a few previous albums, give contributors of $200 a USB stick with all of your albums (including the new one), which also grants them free access to any of your shows.
  • Put on a killer live show and are about to go on tour to support the new album? Give your die hard fans who contribute $500 the opportunity to hang out before and after a show, and write the set-list for that show!
  • For any fan loyal enough to contribute $1000, they get to spend a day in the studio with the artist during the recording process for the album and receive an executive producer credit on the album. Not to mention all of the goodies from each level of contribution up to the $1000 mark.
  • Any fan who contributes $2000 has got to have a personal/ emotional connection with the music that is so strong, they HAVE to ensure that this project becomes a reality. Why not act upon that connection and offer a private concert in their home or even at a special event like a birthday or a wedding.

Tips For An Effective Fan-Funding Campaign

  • A well-told, engaging story. The first step to getting people to believe in your campaign is a great story. No one wants to contribute money to someone who posts ‘well… I failed at everything else in my life, so I figured, why not try music? Please give me money so I can make music :-)’
  • Create a campaign video! Now that you’ve got the engaging story to explain your passion and why this project is so important, you MUST create a video and upload it to Youtube and Vimeo. When you encourage your fans and contributors to share your story and help spread the word, you have to give them an easy way to make sharing possible. Youtube and Vimeo videos are easily sharable through Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Blogs, Email and any other possible place you can think to get the word out.

  • Don’t flat out ask for money, rather sell fans on the potential benefits of being apart of the journey.
  • Update Often! Fans who have willingly contributed to your campaign, especially the ones who have contributed a lot of money, are looking to be apart of something special – a journey. You owe it to your contributors to update them often!
  • Make the rewards for the smaller contributions ($5 – $100) very compelling. While you may be lucky enough to have fans who contribute more than that, the majority of the contributions will be for smaller increments of money. Make the $5 contribution reward appealing and you will have more contributors!
  • Don’t forget about your brand! This goes along with your story, your journey and even your rewards. Rewards are only beneficial if the fans want what you are offering, so make sure that if your fans want signed gear, you give it to them and not a generic photograph. Vice vera, if you are personable and quite likable, don’t just offer signed albums when the fans clearly want to meet you in person!

Available Services

Kickstarter

kickstarter-logo

A safe and reliable service, Kickstarter has created an all-or-nothing pledging system that requires artists to achieve their goal before any money changes hands. In other words, if you don’t meet your goal, all pledges are cancelled. Kickstarter has cited three main reasons why this is so important:

fan funding model

On Kickstarter, all projects must be submitted in proposal form and approved by the Kickstarter team.

Fee: 5% of total funds pledged to all SUCCESSFUL campaigns

Successful Campaigns: Five Times August teamed up with Kickstarter in the early stages of the company, and successfully raised $20,546 (he had a goal of $20,000) in just 31 days!

kickstarter-campaign

Click here for more information about the Kickstarter campaign process.

Pledgemusic

logo-pledgemusic

Similar to Kickstarter, Pledgemusic uses an all-or-nothing pledging system, and all projects must be approved before they go live. However there are a few main differences:

  • Artists can opt-in to giving a portion of their revenue to a charity of their choice.
  • Unlike Kickstarter, the service’s sole purpose is to fan-fund music related projects. The benefits of this is that Pledge Music has existing relationships with third-party music services (i.e. if you want your music on online stores such as iTunes, Pledge has strategic partners to not only help you make that happen, but get you a better price in the process).
  • Pledge Music recently released a data capture widget that is free for all artists. This widget allows artists to collect email addresses, Facebook Fans and Twitter Followers in exchange for a track.

Fee: 15% of total funds pledged to all SUCCESSFUL campaigns

Successful Campaigns: Demark-based acoustic folk artist Tina Dico set a goal of €30,000 to be reached in 30 days. Tina had also established in the guidelines of her campaign that 15% of all funds earned after hitting her target would go to Amnesty International. Tina smashed this target by raising TWICE as much as her intended goal (over €60,000 in just 30 days!). Of course, that also means that Amnesty International recieved a contribution from Tina of €4,500!

pledgemusic-campaign

Click here for more information about the Pledge Music campaign process.

RocketHub

rockethub logo

Labeled as a “grassroots crowdfunding platform,” RocketHub is similar to Kickstarter and Pledgemusic in that it is a well-established, all-or-nothing fundraising platform. Also similar to Kickstarter, Rocket Hub is open to more than just musicians, citing that their services are open to anyone who is a ‘creative’ (i.e. Musicians, Filmmakers, Authors, Painters, Photographers, Scientists, Social Experimenters, Actors, Comedians, Chefs, Designers, Developers, Inventors, Programmers, Architects, Journalists, Startup Founders, etc.).

However, unlike either of the previous services, RocketHub is a completely open-platform, meaning that anyone can create a fan-funding campaign and there is no screening process before the project goes live.

Fee: 8% of total funds pledged to all SUCCESSFUL campaigns

Successful Campaigns: NYC-based musician Alfonso Velez had recorded his album, but after some financial hardships, ran out of money before he could make all of the last, and crucial steps to properly releaseing an album. Alfonso set up a campaign with a compelling story, a target of $6,500 and a goal to “master the record, manufacture 1,000 CD’s, 100 Vinyl copies, 340 Digital download cards, 150 T-shirts and grab a publicist and tour support to get this record performed live in your town.” Using RocketHub, Alfonso was able to surpass his target of $6,500 by raising $7,730!

rockethub-campaign

Click here for more information about the RocketHub campaign process.

Other fan-funding services you may want to check out:

With this information, you should have all of the basics needed to start your own fan-funding campaign. Remember that in today’s world of music, fans are no longer content with simply purchasing music. Through social networking and blogging, fans have established a new desire to connect with you, the artist, on a more personal level. Whether or not you decide to let the fans into your personal life is completely up to you, but if you are an emerging artist looking for a solution to the fan and funding evils of the industry, why not consider a fan-funding campaign? If executed properly, a fan-funding campaign can be your marketing, networking and creative outlet all in one.


What is your take on fan-funding? Leave some feedback in the form of a comment below. Good or bad, any suggestions or concerns are greatly appreciated by the community at large.

  • http://twitter.com/MicControl Jon Ostrow

    Thanks Chris for sharing my article! The more research I do on fan-funding, the more I think this will be the next BIG evolutionary movement in the realm of DIY musicians. I’ve been in touch with Benji Rogers, founder of Pledge Music and am looking to put an interview series on the subject together, so look out for that! Thanks again.

  • http://tightmixblog.com Chris B.

    Anytime dude. Here’s another one I just came across – http://www.bandstocks.com/

  • Christian

    I’m glad you reposted. Let me know if you agree: It will be interesting to see what artists and what demographics have the most success with fan-funding. The rewards an artist chooses to offer his or her fans are clearly of great importance to the success of their project and catering to your fan base is essential. In addition to the list of suggested rewards you’ve posted here, I would like to add a thought for today’s under-funded musician: get creative with rewards that don’t cost you any money! Digital products never become scarce, so any music or video that you can offer exclusively to pledgers can potentially be given away a million times at no cost to you. Skyping with fans, whether chatting or performing exclusively for them, is free. Digital artwork is free. The internet is a free tool of endless capability for the creative, driven artist.

    Christian Blunda, Music Director
    YAWMA
    http://www.yawma.net

  • http://tightmixblog.com Chris B.

    Nice ideas here, Christian