UK-based musician Laura Kidd writes, produces and records music as She Makes War, with three albums under her belt so far. She’s crowdfunding her fourth using PledgeMusic: here’s her take on the experience as an artist.
“In the time since I crowdfunded my second album ‘Little Battles’ in 2011, using sites like PledgeMusic to raise money for recording and releasing records has become part of the musical landscape.
This shift in culture from “why are musicians begging me for money?” to “I have no problem pre-ordering Robbie Williams’ new album on Pledge Music” was aided in no small part by Amanda Palmers’s $1.2m Kickstarter in 2012 but all this is, of course, happening long after Marillion paved the way for all of us when they raised $60,000 upfront from fans so they could tour the US in 1997.
You can’t crowdfund without a crowd, and despite steadily growing social media follows and adding to my treasured email list at gigs, I didn’t realise I had one until the generous pledges started coming in for ‘Little Battles’.
It was an incredible feeling, knowing that hundreds of people were reading, watching and listening to my backstage updates and having a chat with me in the comments. There was no question that I’d do the same again for my next record ‘Direction Of Travel’.
I was first inspired to try crowdfunding after hearing stories from my friends Hope And Social, who launched the UK’s first fan funded record label for their previous incarnation Four Day Hombre in 2006, rooting for Kim Boekbinder who has run several wildly successful Kickstarter campaigns including her genius pre-sold tour, and by the stark realisation that I couldn’t afford to make the record I wanted to make without financial help.
I’d managed to record and mix my first album ‘Disarm’ in 17 days, using up my £2500 savings and making back the CD manufacturing costs on the first day of the Bandcamp pre-order I launched, so I knew there were generous music fans out there who might like to help, and thankfully I was right.
Fast forward to Thursday 25th January, and I’m seven days from the end of my third PledgeMusic campaign to finance my fourth album. I’ve conveniently forgotten/blocked out the feelings I was having at this stage of my last Pledge campaign, and am approaching the final few days with a heady mix of optimism and fear. It’s true – if I don’t hit the target I get £0. And as with the rest of my life, there really is no Plan B. The future of this album is in the hands of my audience.
Why? Because making high quality albums, even in these playing field levelled times of DIY digital recording, is expensive. Really expensive…nice-second-hand-car up to deposit-for-a-house expensive – and as a solo artist it’s down to me to pay for all of it.
I don’t know any independent musician who doesn’t rely on the income from their merch sales to pay or part-pay for their living expenses, and I don’t know anyone who has between £5-£15K hanging about in their bank account.
Yes, we could all make albums ourselves on Logic (and that’s how I write and demo my music without the need to pay for anyone else’s time) but I have no real desire to become a brilliant engineer or mixer, and I want my albums to sound as massive and incredible and wonderful and magical as they possibly can. I’ve always wanted to produce material of the quality you’d expect to be released by a respectable indie label, whether or not I ended up with the backing of one (and I’d love the backing of one).
While musicians are expected to do a lot of things for free/promo opportunities, recording studios, engineers, mixers, CD/vinyl/cassette printing companies and the Royal Mail all understand that exposure is something mountain climbers die from and charge accordingly. Every aspect of making music costs money, so in order to release music of the quality I want, I have to find the money somewhere.
I’m so grateful for every listen, like and follow, for everyone who comes out to see me play or tunes into an online gig. There are millions of other things they could all be doing, and the fact they choose to spend some of their time with me and my music is staggering, really. This project has always grown very organically, which means when I put something new out and orders come in I recognise about 80% of the names. Now *that* is a lovely feeling.
I’m ambitious, though, and have always wanted the very best for my songs. I want to make them sound the best they can and give them the best start in life, sending them off into the world to have their own weird and wonderful adventures, some of which inevitably end up including me.
Making music is magical, from the rush of creating something brand new to seeing people singing the words back to you in a city or country you’re not even from. Songs are passports to adventure.
Magic aside, for an album to stand a chance of being heard by more people, money has to be spent. Even after recording is done (the greatest cost, think £5,000 to £20,000 to infinity depending on engineer/producer/studio/band), to have a crack at radio the songs need to be mastered (£1,200+, + VAT), and burned professionally to CDs and posted individually to DJs (£500ish, but I send them out myself thereby saving around £1,000 to £2,000 per month of the campaign spent on a radio plugger).
A video needs to be made (£500 to infinity) and online ads bought to ensure that even existing fans see it (£500 per single). People want to see what you look like too (photography – £150 to £500) and you need lovely artwork for your music (£100 to infinity).
After all that, a chunk of the Pledge target is already earmarked to produce the exclusives – the vinyl, CDs, cassettes, lyric books and so on (£5,000+) – so it’s all a bit of a juggling act. I haven’t even factored PR into all this, because I’m trying to remain vaguely optimistic.
I’m not an artist who will be satisfied by chucking the record I poured my heart, soul and savings into just up on Soundcloud or shrugging my shoulders and saying “oh well, people can listen to it for free on Spotify”. But it’s not about money, it’s about commitment – the music I make means so much to me that it drives everything else in my life.
I work freelance *so* I can make the music and I tour *so* I can take the songs around the world with me. I recorded these particular songs because I want to share them with people and commit to them for a period of time…until I cheat on them with the next album, of course.
On top of the usual doubts, fears and self loathing that come as part and parcel of being an artist, asking people for money is tough. I’m fully aware that in the grand scheme of peoples’ lives, my album factors low underneath more pressing concerns like eating and maintaining a roof over one’s head.
And, as people get more used to the idea of all the music in the world being “free” (thanks Spotify), getting to educate people on how music is made and how much it costs to be made and released properly isn’t exactly the reason I got into this music caper, though I do make it my mission to demystify this stuff for people who are interested.
There will always be casual listeners who will only ever stream, people who can’t justify the cost of buying music because they have other real-life priorities and those who can’t connect to the idea that paying artists means more art can be made but, as I only realised when I started releasing my own music, there are also loads of people who actively want to help and feel proud to be part of our creative endeavours. There have always been patrons of the arts – crowdfunding platforms give us the mechanism to hang out with them all in one place.
I’m well aware that asking people for money to pursue my dream when they are dealing with their own personal financial issues is a *big* ask, so when I blogged about launching the crowdfunder last November and James commented, explaining how times are hard and “austerity is literally killing people here up North”, I was very pleased he’d made that point, and I stand by my response:
“James, you’re so right – I’m very aware that times are tough for people and that makes it very hard to ask them to spare their pennies for what, in the grand scheme of life, is just another album. That’s why I’m super appreciative of those that do, and completely understanding of those who can’t. Eventually the album will of course be available to stream and what have you, and I’m cool with that because I don’t think there should be barriers to people being able to access art and music and storytelling and all the good stuff, but what makes it possible for those things to be made is early support from those who can afford to pay. I just feel thankful that people want to listen, and I’ll make damn sure everyone is able to when the time is right.”
The Pledge is very much the start of my album campaign rather than an end in itself. If successful, it will give me the rare opportunity to recoup 100% of the costs of making and manufacturing the record months before it’s even released, with some money left over for videos, radio promos and press. How many bands get to be in this incredible position?
We hear so many stories, even now, about bands not making enough money to live on. I watched the L7 documentary recently and learned that at the height of their fame each member of the band was taking home just $500 a month, and they never saw a penny from album sales. Of course, that was on a major label in the hedonistic 90s, but it’s not an isolated tale.
Having a label fund my music and help market it is a nice dream, but I’d rather chase this reality, where the album is completely fan powered, and I’m in a strong position to send it to labels and see if they want to buddy up and help take things to the next level. I don’t need their money to make the music, and that feels great because my creative freedom is completely intact.
Plan A is always to forge ahead, releasing music and videos and touring, maintaining my connection with my wonderfully supportive audience. If someone comes along and can assist with a Plan B that’s great, but I won’t be hanging around waiting – I have the next album to write!
This project has been too big for me to handle on my own for some time now, so it’s always a balancing act between ambition, money and time. I have to (and want to) keep costs low and creativity high, taking pride in creating an audiovisual world that people will appreciate.
Fan support is essential to this record coming out and not completely fucking my personal finances, but somehow it doesn’t feel like a gamble.
This article was originally posted on the She Makes War blog. And the happy ending to this story is that since then, the crowdfunding campaign hit its target: in fact, the project is now at 110% of its goal, with the album coming out later this year.