Cha-Ching! Crowdfunding Your Next Record

Given the state of the music industry, my band Bailiff is

Amanda Palmer raised more than a million dollars during her highly publicized Kickstarter campaign.

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Given the state of the music industry, my band Bailiff is doing pretty well. No, we haven’t quit our day jobs. We’re not even on a label. But we just spent two weeks recording our second album in a pro studio and we aren’t in debt. See, we asked our fans to pay for the record before we stepped foot inside the studio. And they said “yes.” This wouldn’t have been possible without Kickstarter.

Crowdfunding has the potential to democratize the business side of the music industry. Case in point: Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter campaign for her 2012 album Theatre is Evil raised more than $1.1 million. But while crowdfunding sites make it easier than ever to fund your next project, success isn’t guaranteed. According to Kickstarter’s published data, less than half of the projects launched on their website reach their funding goals. If you want to maximize the potential of your crowdfunding campaign, you’re going to have to do a lot of legwork.

State Your Mission First, decide what you’re trying to fund. Are you looking to cover the entire cost of production, from pre-pro to publicity? Or have you recorded most of the record yourself but really want to be able to pay Alan Moulder to mix it? Either approach has the potential to succeed, as long as your goals are well-defined and effectively communicated. My band launched its first Kickstarter campaign because we ran out of money before we got to mastering and reproduction; that’s exactly how we pitched it to fans, and the campaign raised 121% of its $4,000 goal.

Pick Your Path Once you know what you’re funding, you can start thinking about your project budget—both Kickstarter and the similar Indiegogo incur fees for their services—and determing which crowdfunding model will best suit your needs: keep-it-all or all-or-nothing. Kickstarter adheres to the latter model; the project creator only gets to keep the funds raised if the target fundraising goal is reached. If this concept is made clear to your potential project backers, it can act as an incentive, especially if you ask your fans to spread the word. The obvious downside is if you fall short of your goal—even by $1—you get bupkis.

Alternatively, Indiegogo offers a keep-it-all model, wherein the project creator keeps every cent raised whether or not the fundraising target is met. Falling short of the goal simply incurs a higher service fee rate (9% vs. 4%). While it may seem like a less risky strategy than all-or-nothing, the keep-it-all model has its own, less-obvious risk: If you come up short and aren’t able to cover the minimum costs of your project, you’ll still be expected to deliver promised rewards to your backers.

Do Research/Stay Realistic Once you know how much capital you want to raise, you need to figure out how much you think you actually can raise. Both Kickstarter and Indiegogo keep successful project pages live, providing case studies. Research them, and scale your fundraising expectations to your own network’s size. Don’t be afraid to reach out to successful bands to pick their brains. Study how successful projects crafted their message. Decide if their approach will resonate with your audience. Feel free to steal other projects’ funder reward ideas whole-cloth or let them inspire your own.

Get Your Promotional Ducks in a Row Defining your campaign and drafting your message are just the first steps in your fundraising journey. Once the campaign launches, get the word out: Craft a press release, email newsletters, and social media posts before you hit the Go button. Compile a list of magazines and blogs you hope will give your project a shout-out.

Once fans pledge to your campaign, they are invested in your success, so don’t hesitate to recruit your backers to help spread the word. My band’s fans were more than happy to share our Kickstarter campaign, whether or not they made a pledge; we offered an exclusive track to anyone who shared on their Facebook page or Twitter feed.

Your launch itself has its own inherent newsworthiness, and you’re bound to get an initial rush of pledges from the campaign’s outset. Keeping the funds coming during the weeks that follow is harder. Come up with clever ways of reminding your audience about the campaign without becoming annoying or redundant. Halfway through our campaign, we released a short montage of (entertainingly embarrassing) rehearsal footage we’d shot on our iPhones. It gave fans something else to share, while bringing attention to the Kickstarter campaign.

Stay on Your Toes Regardless of how well you plan your campaign, there’s no way to predict how it will go. You’ll need to track your funding progress and react accordingly. With Kickstarter’s built-in web analytics tools, we were able to determine that Facebook was the source for most of our funding. In our final campaign week, we shifted from passive posts to more direct messaging and saw an exponential increase in pledges.

I won’t speculate as to whether crowdfunding is the “future of music,” but it’s easy to see how the crowdfunding model gives bands access to greater creative autonomy. I know we’d all rather be making music than raising money. At least services like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are making the business of music-making a little easier.

Owen O’Malley is a writer, musician, and freelance audio handyman living in Chicago.