YOU WANT to record an album, go on tour, create new merchandise. The problem is,
you don’t have the cash on hand to make any of these things a reality. How can you
raise the money to help fund your next musical project?
Fortunately, as we explained in our October 2013 article, “Starting a Music Business
for $0,” you might not need very much money, because you can get worldwide music
distribution, merchandise, promotion, and licensing for free. But beyond being smart
about expenses, and driving income through music sales, licensing, shows, and
merchandise, there are many other opportunities to fund your music.
This article introduces you to four music-funding streams that you can tap before
you even start your project: sponsorships, patronage, crowd funding, and grants.
A Word About Sponsors Although many
musicians think that getting sponsored is only
possible for well-known or established acts, the
truth is, sponsorships actually are within reach
of nearly every musician. Every business out
there—from corporate behemoths to your local
mom-and-pop shop—is looking for the same
thing: opportunities to grow their business and
get exposure to new customers. As a musician,
your fan base, public appearances, shows, blog,
and online presence can provide advertising and
marketing opportunities for their businesses. All
you need to do is work out an arrangement that
benefits both sides.
Getting sponsored can be as simple as
asking Jake’s Pizza Palace to pay you $200 to
put their logo on the banner that’s behind the
stage. But some musicians take it a bit further,
and seek out specialty brands that match their
music or style. For example, Frankendread
is a steel-drum artist whose shows are laid-back
with a beach-party vibe. He worked with
a Caribbean-style beachwear company that
complemented his music perfectly. He wore
their clothes at shows, and it was natural for
him to plug the brand from the stage.
In exchange for company sponsorship, you
need to offer the business something in return,
in the form of access to your audience and/or
your skills as a musician. You can help promote
and market the business’ product or services
through a variety of ways, such as giving
them advertising opportunities to reach your
audience: online sponsorship announcements
on your web site, social media, or videos; ad
placements on your site; co-branding shows or
events; product placements in live shows and
videos; or even endorsements.
When you’re approaching a business to talk
about getting sponsored, you’ll need to share
information about the size of the audience you
can help them reach, so be prepared to talk
numbers. You can support your case by sharing
the size of your average draw or your mailing
list. Other statistics that can help include the
number of social media followers you have;
your Eventful Demand number (eventful.com),
which proves how many fans attend your
shows; and the number of views you get on
your YouTube channel. When you’re talking to
a potential sponsor, be sure to mention other
businesses that have already sponsored and
signed on with you.
Music for Money Sometimes businesses
will be interested in using your music or having
you create content for them in exchange for
funding. You can offer them original music that
you already recorded, or you might suggest
that you write new music that they can use in
their marketing campaigns, on their website,
or in promotional videos. You’d be surprised
how often businesses need licensed music; so
many marketing assets and videos are needed
today. If you have a studio, another option
could be to barter studio time that they might
need to make their own radio/video spots or
commercials; small businesses rarely have
the budget to pay for time in a professional
Plus, keep in mind that sponsorships
don’t have to involve just money. You can
also ask for giveaways or discounts for fans,
cross-promotion through a company’s press
contacts, advertising or marketing, and even
free services or products. Just remember to
be creative when working out these deals.
You never know what you can get until you
ask! Note that if the deal you make involves a
significant amount of money, you may want
to ask an attorney to review any agreements
before you sign them.
If you’re not sure where to look for a
sponsorship that suits your music, there
are a number of services that can help
to connect you to potential sponsors
worldwide. For example, some of the
opportunities listed on SonicBids (sonicbids.com) involve big name brands. These
companies are looking for ways to reach
a target demographic that your fans may
already fit. Some active brands like RedBull
are actually particularly musician-friendly,
and will be predisposed to create events and
opportunities for musicians to work with
Patrons of the Arts In an article called
“1,000 True Fans” on his website The Technium,
Kevin Kelley suggests that if a musician can get
1,000 fans to spend $100 a year, that musician
will earn an annual gross income of $100,000:
a very good living. This idea seems plausible
mathematically; the problem is, it’s hard to get
$100 out of a fan if all you’re selling is an album,
a t-shirt, and a few tickets to a show. Plus, even if
your fan buys everything that you put out in one
year, in year two, you’d need to put out another
album, new t-shirts, and put on more shows, and
hope that the same fan will spend another $100.
It all adds up to very flawed business model.
|Patreon.com lets fans fund their favorite artists generally, up to a chosen limit. This
form of patronage is not attached to a specific project.
However, one way to get a stable income
out of your fans is through their patronage.
Historically, artists were often supported
by royalty, wealthy individuals, or large
organizations. Today, there’s an app for that.
Modern patronage comes in at least
two different forms. Services like Patreon
(patreon.com) give your fans a way to set a
dollar amount they will pay you each time
you release something like a video or a new
song. They can even set a monthly maximum
so that they can stay within their budgets.
For example, the band Pomplamoose releases
popular videos on a regular basis; they make
a few thousand dollars from their patrons
for each video they release. To encourage
patronage, the service also allows musicians
to give their patrons exclusive content.
Another model of patronage works on a
subscription basis. Services like Patronism
(patronism.com) allow patrons to pay you in
regular monthly installments that they set.
In return, the service allows artists to offer
exclusive access to unreleased material, live
recordings, backstage videos, blogs, and more.
Of course, the simplest way to ask fans
for financial support is to have a virtual “tip
jar” on your website. All you need is a Paypal
link. Paypal will take a cut, but any money
a fan donates above this amount will be all
Perhaps the best feature of the patronage
model is that you can get funding from it while
continuing to make revenue from other income
streams, including music sales, merchandise,
licensing, video advertising, and more.
The In Crowd Crowd funding services let
artists ask the public to help fund a particular
project or product. You set an overall target
dollar amount that you’re trying to raise by a
specified date, and offer rewards for different
levels of pledges. As funders pledge, the
service collects the money (minus fees) and
provides a platform for you to communicate
and market your project and campaign to your
Crowd funding accomplishes two things.
First, it allows you to pre-sell your albums,
merchandise, or concert tickets to fans so you
get their money up front. This reduces the risk
of putting out a product without knowing how
much money you can recoup. Second, crowd
funding offers the opportunity to involve
larger backers, especially if you offer enticing
rewards to get them to pledge more than they
would pay for a regular album, event, or show.
Crowd funding takes time and effort; it’s
not something you want to jump into without
a plan. In fact, more than 44 percent of music
campaigns on Kickstarter (kickstarter.com) fail.
Musicians who succeed at crowd funding are
the ones who plan their campaign, choose the
right rewards, time the campaign right, and,
perhaps most importantly, put together great
marketing that sells the project. There are five
elements to running a successful crowd funding
|One of several crowd-funding sites that let fans help artists meet project-based goals,
Pledgemusic.com has been the choice of name artists like Rufus Wainright and OK Go as
well as newer bands.
1. Choose an appealing project. People want to
fund projects that are intriguing and compelling
2. Set realistic but adequate funding goals. Be
sure to set a target funding goal that is achievable
but will allow you to fund your project. Keep in
mind that crowd funding services take a cut, so
you’ll need to build in an amount to cover those
fees. However, if your goal is too ambitious, you
may run the risk of your campaign failing; people
might not pledge if they get the impression that
the project won’t get made.
3. Select the appropriate crowd-funding
service. There are many services that you can
use to raise money. These include: Kickstarter,
IndieGoGo (indiegogo.com), PledgeMusic
(artisteconnect.com), Oocto (oocto.com), Sell-A-Band (sellaband.com), and Feed the Muse
(feedthemuse.com). Each one has different
terms and conditions, features, fees, and
funding models. For example, Kickstarter
campaigns that don’t reach their target don’t
give you any of the funds you might have
raised, while IndieGogo allows partial funding.
Do plenty of research to find out which one is
best for you.
4. Plan your rewards. It’s essential to offer
rewards that will ensure a successful campaign.
This topic will be explored further in a future
Electronic Musician article; we’ll explain the best
ways to structure incentives to maximize pledges
but keep your costs down.
5. Execute your campaign. Successful
campaigns are not only well planned, but they’re
also sequenced and timed effectively to get the
most money out of the backers. This is another
big topic that we’ll cover in a future Electronic
In addition to the five elements above, take
time to check out successfully funded campaigns
on crowd-funding services to get ideas for your
own campaigns. Look deeper than the crowd-funding
page and explore the artist’s online
and social media activity to learn how they
promoted and marketed their project.
Get a Grant When most people think of getting
a grant to support their art, they think of applying
to governmental agencies. But the government
is only one source of grant money. Private
companies, trusts, charities, nonprofits, and even
individuals offer money to musicians too.
One way to increase the odds that you’ll get
grant funding is to apply for those whose mission
statements and goals align with your project and
music. You’ll need to research what opportunities
are out there. For a list of agencies that provide
grants for music and the arts, see the National
Assembly of State Arts Agencies (nasaa-arts.org).
Also check out the Savvy Musician’s funding page
(savvymusician.com) for other public and private
organizations and nonprofits that offer grant
Grant associations establish criteria that you
must meet and rules that you must follow in order to qualify. Applying for grants requires
a lot of paperwork, too, so be sure to follow all
of the submission instructions carefully and
meet submission deadlines. And if you are
awarded a grant, make sure you follow all of
the reporting requirements afterwards. Grant
associations will often want an accounting of
how the project went and how their money
Keep in mind that most grants make a
distinction between nonprofit and for-profit
business. Most musicians are for-profit and
lack the necessary 501(c)(3) tax status that
that is required to be eligible for many grants.
One way around this is to be sponsored by
a non-profit. Services like Fractured Atlas
(fracturedatlas.org) specialize in this.
Finally, keep in mind that there are a lot
of options out there when it comes to grant
funding. Some are very simple and within
reach. For example, check out the Awesome
Foundation (awesomefoundation.org). This
organization gives away $1,000 to any project
they determine is “awesome”—no strings
attached! There are Awesome Foundation
groups in major cities all over the world,
and they meet regularly to review projects
and award money. So, ask yourself: Is your
Next time you record an album, decide
to go on tour, or create a new line of
merchandise, remember that there’s money
out there waiting for you; you just need to
claim it. Sometimes, the only difference
between musicians with money and ones
without is that the ones with money took the
trouble to ask.
Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan are
authors of The Indie Band Survival Guide
(St. Martin’s Griffin), now in its second