The Power of Fan Funding

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By Tom Brislin

Fan Funding (a.k.a. crowdfunding) is quickly gaining popularity among musicians. The concept is simple: Instead of pitching your band, album, or song to a label, you present it to the public and ask them to pledge money in exchange for various incentives. Many musicians have successfully funded their projects this way, from young independents to established artists. I recently ran a campaign on the website Kickstarter.com to fund my first solo album, and exceeded my monetary goal by nearly double. Here’s what I learned along the way.

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1. Plan Smart.
Estimate the total cost of your project. Mine is a CD and digital release. I arrived at a modest initial goal of $6,000 to cover studio time and CD duplication—which I’ll keep manageable by as much D.I.Y. as I can muster. Once you have your total, it’s important to be realistic. If you estimate $50,000 but have 50 people on your mailing list, it’s unlikely they’ll all pledge $1,000 each. Conversely, if you set a goal of $1,000 but require $5,000 to make it happen, you’ll be out-of-pocket. The point is to stay out of debt, so choose wisely.

2. Choose Your Platform.
Unless you’re a web design ace, you’ll use an established crowdfunding platform such as Kickstarter.com, PledgeMusic.com, RocketHub.com, or IndieGoGo.com. These sites host your campaign and provide e-commerce for pledging, handling transactions, and interfacing between you and your audience, in exchange for a cut of the total amount you raise. The campaign runs for a fixed time of your choosing, and you must raise at least the initial goal amount in that time period. If you don’t, no money is collected and you aren’t required to deliver the incentives you offered. Th is “all or nothing” system can inspire dread—no one wants to fail in public—but it’s beneficial in that (A) it forces you to get out there and promote, and (B) it’s a call to action for your fans.

3. Offer Compelling Incentives.
Not unlike NPR during a fund drive, you choose what to offer in return for pledges of a certain amount. I offered rewards for pledges from $5 to $5,000, but saw the most action at the $25, $50, and $150 levels, so I recommend giving something tasty and exclusive at these levels. The incentives play a huge part in the campaign’s success, so think about what you do best, what your audience wants, and what it will cost to make it worthwhile for you both. My incentives included exclusive tracks, custom recordings of cover songs by request, and lessons over Skype. Make it a good value and a unique experience, and you’ll do well.

4. Stay Engaged. Stay Human.
I promoted my project on my social networks, by word of mouth, and at my live gigs. It’s important to send word frequently, but too much one-way announcing equals spam. I made sure to open the doors for two-way interaction nearly every time I posted something about my project. If you hit your goal, the work has only begun. Next month we’ll cover what to do from there.