This guest column comes from Roxanne de Bastion, an artist and songwriter; board member of the Featured Artists Coalition; and founder of the From Me to You (FM2U) conference for independent musicians:
“You’d be surprised by who’s willing to support your music.”
These were the words of my singer songwriter friend E.W. Harris back in 2010 (insert a thick US Southern drawl for a more accurate quote). He had just financed his new album via a crowdfunding campaign, a concept still alien to me at the time.
Fast forward six years and here in the UK, PledgeMusic has almost become synonymous with crowdfunding, much like a hoover for vacuum cleaners. While I wanted to offer a pre-order to my fanbase with some added extras in order to help cover manufacturing costs for my new album, I was still unsure as to what value a third party platform was actually adding.
So, after much deliberation and a little bit of research, I decided to build a crowdfunding page within my own website. I set up a shop using PayPal, creating items specific to the campaign (I wanted to keep it simple – a signed CD, signed vinyl, test pressings and the option to book me for a living room show), added a little explanatory blurb to the page and, with a little help from a web developer friend (everyone should have one!), created a little status bar to show how much we’d raised.
I reached my target (£3,000) in just over a week and ended up raising nearly £4,000 prior to the release of my album, which covered the manufacturing costs for the CDs, vinyl (plus postage and packaging to ship all the pre-orders) as well as a music video.
I was over the proverbial moon. For those of you who are wondering whether to use a third-party-platform or whether to set up a pre-order from your own website, here are a few things I learnt.
You need an existing fanbase in order to crowdfund
Ok, so we’re starting with the obvious. However, I still feel that crowdfunding is all too often presented as the new solution to independent and emerging artists. There is no substitute to being out in the real world, playing shows and connecting with people along the way.
In my experience, it’s mostly those kind faces who enjoyed your tiny shows that will pre-order an album and want to support you further. Had I not spent the last three years touring and averaging two shows a week, I don’t think I would have succeeded in raising any money.
‘Followers’ are not ‘fans’ and ‘likes’ don’t equate a pre-order
I really did consider using a third-party-platform, but was put off by the lack of …well, maths! Speaking to campaign managers, I felt they were too quick to tell me that I’d have no issue reaching my target. When I asked for a little more information (i.e. how do you know that?), I was quoted the number of likes on my Facebook page and followers on Twitter.
I suppose I was just expecting something a little more scientific: We all know that social media stats say preciously little about how many tickets you can sell to a show and how many people will actually buy your music.
Ultimately, you and your team will be the best judge of how much money you’ll be able to raise from your fanbase. You may only have a couple hundred likes on Facebook, but they all might be incredibly engaged with what you’re doing and, let’s not beat around the money bush, they might all be super wealthy.
On the flip side, you can have millions of likes, half of whom are robots while the other half are mildly interested kids with no pocket money to spare.
Stats work out to be roughly the same as those quoted by third party-platforms
At last year’s FM2U conference, Joe Morrison from PledgeMusic kindly gave us some insight into the platforms. He told us that the average pledge is about £30. Interestingly, I found the same to be true from my little crowdfunding page. In fact, the average amount spent was exactly £30.
According to an article from 2010, the average amount of backers in a successful campaign on Kickstarter amount to about 108. I had about 140 backers during the campaign. It seems these stats are not unique to third-party platforms, it’s just what happens when you ask fans to pre-order music.
It’s all about community
An interesting thing happened during my campaign. I had a little message pop up on Facebook a couple days in from someone who’d already pre-ordered a CD, saying “I’d like to give a little more than what you’ve charged for the CD. Have you thought about adding a ‘donate’ option?”
I hadn’t… but I promptly did after it was suggested… and then the donations started rolling in. I was truly touched by how many people were willing to donate extra on top of pre-ordering a CD or vinyl.
I was amazed at people’s generosity, be it an extra £15 from someone who’s not been able to make it to my live shows lately (the donation came with a little message saying “hope this makes up for it!”) or a whopping £75 all the way from San Francisco.
Six years later, E.W. Harris’ words floated back into my mind. He was right, I really was surprised to learn about the people who support my music. As I shared updates on my campaign on social media sites, backers started chatting with each other (and with me of course!), creating a beautiful little community around the album campaign.
I’m sure the same is true for campaigns on crowdfunding platforms, but seeing this happen all on its own was really gratifying.
Prepare to make friends with Post Office staff
Yes, writing thank you notes and packaging up CDs and vinyl takes time. However, it’s totally doable (unless you have thousands of backers, in which case you might well want to enlist some help!). Setting up a little warehouse in my flat was oddly satisfying, and packaging up vinyls was actually one of my favourite parts. I recommend:
1) Buying envelopes from the pound shop.
2) Creating a spreadsheet with all the backers’ info and cross off the ones you’ve packaged / sent out (so rock’n’roll!)
3) Buying ‘fragile’ tape if you’re shipping vinyl.
Prepare to be hated by everyone behind you in the queue at the Post Office. The staff on the other hand, will love you. I now know everyone in my local Post Office by their first name…
Some crowdfunding platforms offer to do all this for you for a percentage of your earnings, which of course can be a huge weight off your shoulders if the thought of a couple of Post Office runs sounds like your worst nightmare. I’m just here to reassure you that it’s actually pretty easy and, in my opinion, wasn’t worth parting with money for.
Decide whether a third-party platform’s value justifies their percentage
Percentages and fees vary across crowdfunding platforms and range from 4% with a successful Indiegogo campaign, to a whopping 18% with PledgeMusic (who do have more of a hands-on management approach in comparison to other platforms to justify the cost).
As long as you’re not completely disorganised and don’t break into a cold sweat at the thought of licking an envelope, there’s really nothing stopping you from running a campaign without using a third-party-platform. It gives you the freedom to shape the campaign however you want and allows you to manage your workload.
In my experience, your fans and supporters will not be put off by dealing with you directly – quite the contrary. Tools such as PayPal offer security for the buyers and sellers and are easy to use. The three backers that wrote to me directly to say they don’t want to use PayPal, but would like to pre-order ended up paying me directly via BACS.
To paraphrase another US artist, Amanda Palmer, you really can make an art out of asking your community for help. By getting rid of yet another middle-man and by setting up a crowdfunding campaign directly from your website, you can create something that compliments your art and won’t feel counter-intuitive or like a struggle.
Just do what feels write to you. After all, you are the CEO of your music business, or chief starship monkey on your music planet… whatever you want to call it.
You can still buy the CD or vinyl of Roxanne’s ‘Heirlooms & Hearsay’ album from her website, as well as from iTunes, Amazon, or listen to it on streaming services