Lessons Learned From Crowdfunding

By: Edna Landau

Dear Edna:

I am Associate Professor of Piano at a university music school in the U.S. and enjoy reading your blog very much. I also encourage my students to read it. For a number of years, I have been researching piano compositions written by female composers and I have now collected enough music to make a cd recording. I realize it is unlikely that a record company would release the cd and cover the expenses so I’ve been thinking of producing it myself. I know that others have undertaken such projects through crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and I am happy to go that route. However, I am wondering if there are things I should know up front to avoid making any mistakes and to maximize the effectiveness of my campaign. Any advice you can give me would be most appreciated. —- Stephanie B.

Dear Stephanie:

Thanks very much for writing to Ask Edna. Your project sounds perfect for a Kickstarter campaign. The good news is that Kickstarter’s website is extremely comprehensive and very helpful. All of the guidelines are carefully spelled out and considerable advice is offered about how to set your financial goal, the ideal length of time for your project, establishing rewards for different levels of giving, and more. It is important to remember that with Kickstarter, you must succeed in reaching your goal; otherwise, the dollars pledged will not be collected. However, you can contribute some of your own money if you come up a little short. You also cannot change your financial goal or the length of the campaign once it has begun. I have spoken to a number of people recently who mounted successful campaigns (all exceeded their goals) and they confirmed that they learned virtually everything they needed to know from carefully studying the Kickstarter website before launching their project. I did get some additional insights from them which you and others might find helpful.

Oboist Matt Dine organized a Kickstarter campaign to fund a recording project he had dreamed of for a long time: Me, Myself and Albinoni. The recording will feature him playing both parts of two of his favorite Albinoni concertos, written for two oboes. He limited the time frame of his $18,000 campaign to a month because that is the optimal time recommended by Kickstarter. He succeeded in raising $20,343. He told me that he was intensely involved with the campaign every day, to make it enticing to contribute, and advised that anyone contemplating this fundraising approach be prepared to make a proper time commitment. It is necessary to support the campaign with regular communication via e-mail, Facebook and possibly Twitter, to keep the momentum going. He tried to make his rewards as inventive as possible and also took advantage of his skills as a professional photographer to offer free photo sessions in the higher reward categories. He noted that Kickstarter strongly recommends posting a video but he hesitated until the last ten days because of the work involved and his concern about the quality meeting his own standards. When he did it, it creatively reflected the unique nature of his project (I encourage you to see for yourself how) and he raised $3000 in three or four days. He thinks that the video played a major role in reaching his goal before the deadline. He pointed out to me that a perfectly acceptable video can be made with an iPhone, if necessary, and that most people have friends who know how to edit if they don’t. When Matt exceeded his goal, he adjusted his plans so as to use an even better recording venue than planned. He strongly suggested that when setting up the campaign, think your project budget through very carefully. Remember that in addition to the 5% fee that Kickstarter takes, there will be an additional charge of at least 3% from Amazon.com for processing payments.  You will also have shipping costs when you send backers their rewards.

I also spoke with bassist Ranaan Meyer, who is a co-founder of Time for Three, and mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer who gave further input about their Kickstarter campaigns. Time for Three wanted to produce a music video with a strong positive message for young people. Their goal was $15,000 (they had additional funding from a private source) and they raised $18,410 in less than a month. They worked with a few consultants, including viral marketing and social networking expert Jaime Campbell Morton, to help them present their project effectively and to assist them in knowing how often to post and send messages via social media and drive traffic to their Kickstarter page. They also hired a videographer to assist in the making of the promotional video on the Kickstarter site. All of these investments paid off once their music video was produced. Their audiences increased by as much as 300 per show, they gained many new Facebook fans, and hits on the Time for Three – Stronger video on YouTube currently number over 93,000. Ranaan stressed the importance of sending out the rewards in a timely manner. He also made the point that the Kickstarter experience is not just about raising money and “see ‘ya later”, but about building a community that is dedicated to you and your projects. Susanne Mentzer, who successfully funded a recording of never before recorded songs by Pulitzer prizewinning composer and octogenarian Carlisle Floyd (who will supervise the sessions), also spoke of the importance of acknowledging and thanking your community. Since every donation showed up in her e-mail account and a spreadsheet on Amazon.com gave further detail about the donor and the amount, she made sure to thank at least the larger donors right away. She admitted to me that she found the prospect of creating the Kickstarter video a bit daunting and that if she were to do another campaign, she would solicit outside help and aim for a higher quality outcome. She reiterated the importance of constantly getting the word out through social media or, as she called it, “shaking the trees”.

I should mention that Kickstarter is not the only game in town. There are other crowdfunding sites such as RocketHub and Indiegogo. I have not personally investigated RocketHub but there would seem to be two advantages to Indiegogo. If you are not successful in reaching your financial goal, you can still collect the monies that were pledged; however, the fees you pay will be slightly higher than if you achieve your goal. In addition, it is possible for your backers to get a tax deduction if you have a charitable foundation with 501(c)3 status as the payee, or if you use a fiscal sponsor such as Fractured Atlas. (Fees for this will also be a bit higher.) I spoke to Paul Murphy, who is a member of the Artists’ Committee of The Declassified and who was integrally involved in their successful Indiegogo campaign to launch the music collective. They sought to raise $20,000 and raised $25,115 in six weeks. The monies were used to cover basic expenses such as a professional website, marketing materials, office space and accounting and legal fees, as well as costs related to events that took place in the launch week. The campaign led directly up to the launch week and was significantly helped by an article about The Declassified that appeared in The New York Times. The size of The Declassified (over 40 members) gave them a built-in network of family and friends that got them one-third of the way. They put a lot of thought into their video and making sure they had a point person to keep their written and video messages consistent and compelling. They focused on clearly and concisely expressing who they are, what they do, why they are excited about it and on inviting people to be a part of it. You might find their rewards interesting, inasmuch as it can be a challenge to offer benefits to donors when you don’t yet exist! When the campaign ended, and following their launch week, they sent out a newsletter to their network and Indiegogo campaign donors to thank them and share the exciting news that they were singled out by Indiegogo as a model campaign.

This may be far more information than you were seeking, but I hope this column offers useful tips to a broader community of musicians, as well as encouragement to pursue their dreams, based on the significant success of many others who have preceded them.

Musical America will be issuing a Special Report on Fundraising and Sponsorships on 2 April. The report is free and will be located in the Special Reports area of the web site.

© Edna Landau 2013

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