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Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding: a new source of support for artistic projects

By Beth Hamon

In 2002, I wrote letters to everyone I knew asking them to support my efforts to record my first album of mostly-original Jewish folk music. This was before Facebook, Myspace and ReverbNation existed, which meant I wrote those letters and mailed them out by hand, to over a hundred people.  Through my letter-writing efforts, plus two shows I played to raise additional funds, I raised just enough money to do a very bare-bones project, recorded live at my synagogue. The artwork, layout, photography and most of the printing were donated by people who loved my music but could not afford to kick in much money to help. It was truly a grass-roots effort.

Beth Hamon

Beth Hamon

A decade later, I am in the process of raising funds again, to record a second album of all-original Jewish folk and roots music. This time around, the internet has become an absolutely necessary tool.  In addition to creating an online presence where I can share my music and information about myself, I can now use a crowdfunding platform online to fundraise more quickly and efficiently than I could accomplish back in 2002. What follows is a list of the most popular crowdfunding platforms, how they work, and some tips for utilizing one to raise funds for your next creative project.

What is Crowdfunding?

Put simply, it’s a way to ask for money online in order to fund creative projects. You ask your fans to pre-purchase your album. Their contributions help to fund the actual recording of the project. When you’re done you deliver the pre-paid CDs to your fans, either through the mail or at a CD release party (or both). If you’re also offering the album as a download, you can give those who’ve pre-purchased the code for their free download when it’s ready.

How does it work?

At its heart, you’re simply asking folks to give you money to fund the creation of a project, like a film, visual art installation, or recording. Funds are donated electronically, either through a donor’s credit/debit card or through an online money exchange like Paypal.  In most cases, the funding is either “fixed”, which means that you only receive funds if you make your entire stated goal; or “flexible”, which means that even if you don’t meet your stated goal you get to keep whatever you’ve raised. In either case, the crowdfunding site will take a percentage of proceeds raised as their cut for providing you with the platform.

Important note:  If you raise more than $600, the IRS will also take their cut, because they consider it taxable income just like a paycheck. 

Anyone can ask for money. What can I do to make folks WANT to help?

Ideally, you offer them something in return. More ideally, you offer them something special, something otherwise unattainable through a regular CD purchase after the release date. Something special can be anything from stickers or buttons to a commemorative flash-drive containing the album plus a few extra songs, to a live concert or workshop at a sponsoring synagogue or community center. Some artists give their biggest contributors the chance to sing backup or have co-producer credit on the album. It’s really up to you.

One key thing to remember is to Know Your Demographic. If your demographic is teenagers or young college students, they will probably respond better to things like stickers, buttons, t-shirts and the like. If your demographic is older adults, those bells and whistles probably won’t mean as much and you’ll need to come up with something more, um, age-appropriate. In my case, I’m simply offering folks a chance to pre-purchase the album as a base contributing level. My larger premiums include workshops or Shabbatons for synagogues or community groups; lessons on my instrument (in this case, guitar, and for local donors only); and free entry to the album release party next winter. You could offer a special printing of all the leadsheets from your album, autographed and printed on heavy stock. Or a House concert at the home of a large donor.

It’s really up to you; the thing is to make sure your perks reflect the nature and character of your creative project and your demographic.

How do I figure out how much money I need for my project?

Make a list of all aspects of production. This will include recording, paying backup musicians and a producer if applicable, mastering, artwork and layout, printing, duplication or replication of CDs; and any other costs associated with the actual making of the product (the recording itself).

Then make a separate list of other expenses, including the percentage that you will have to pay to the crowdfunding site and to the IRS (because unless you’re doing absolutely everything yourself AND you own a studio, it will cost far more than $600 to make a full-length recording); the cost of shipping perks to supporters (including not only postage but packaging materials!); and the cost of making the perks themselves (because most t-shirt places don’t make this stuff for free, and someone has to pay for it).

Ultimately, you will find that expenses include far more than simply studio time.

At that point you will need to sit down and decide how much you’re willing to ask your supporters to help kick in. Are your perks worth the added expense – the portion you are willing to shoulder yourself? These are complicated and often difficult questions to consider, so make the time to get clear on the answers. You want to make sure you represent your truest self in both your music and your business dealings from the start. In the end, I decided that I was not comfortable asking my supporters to shoulder any of the costs of material perks not directly related to the CD itself; and so my most basic “buy-in” level was simply to pre-purchase the recording.

What kinds of platforms are out there? How do I know which one is right for my project?

This is a really good question. There are now literally a couple of dozen ways to raise money online using crowdfunding, and not all of these are applicable for musicians. I’ve selected three that are most commonly accessed by Jewish performing artists, listed below:

Kickstarter  (http://www.kickstarter.com/): This is perhaps the largest crowdfunding platform and the most established. Kickstarter offers pretty clear instructions on how to set up your campaign, and gives you links to current and completed campaigns you can take tips from in designing yours. Money is handled through Amazon (credit or debit card only), which some people find objectionable because running everything through Amazon adds another layer of what some may feel is complexity. Kickstarter projects do not work with Paypal.

Indiegogo  (http://www.indiegogo.com/): Another crowdfunding platform catering to almost any project you can imagine. Indiegogo offers some of the simplest, clearest instructions for setup and excellent technical support (most questions receive a response within 12 hours or less). Indiegogo will work with your bank, accepting credit/debit card payments which are then transferred directly to your bank account; but they also accept Paypal, a money transfer service whose popularity among the wired generation is growing rapidly.

Jewcer (http://jewcer.com/): as its name suggests, Jewcer is a platform exclusively for Jewish projects. It operates similarly to Kickstarter and Indiegogo. I did not utilize this platform because I felt that (a) I was not enough of a known quantity in the Jewish music world for this platform to generate much support; (b) I don’t live in a city with a large Jewish population; and (c) my music has an appeal that transcends Jewish boundaries. If you choose to use this platform it would be wise to find others who have used it and ask how it worked for them.

In all cases, do your homework; research the platform and make sure it will meet your needs! Ask questions and make sure you’re comfortable with the responses before you click on the dotted line.

How long should my campaign run?

This depends on how much money you need to raise, how many supporters you think you can inspire and how much time you have to manage a campaign. The most successful campaigns tend to last less than 45 days.

Once I’ve set up my campaign, how do I make sure the money will actually roll in?

Crowdfunding requires regular care and feeding to be successful. This means regular and fairly constant communication with supporters and with those who are following your progress but who have not yet signed onto the project. Before your campaign goes live, make sure you inform your family and friends about it and ask them to be among the first and earliest contributors. Projects that start strong out of the gate are often the most successful, so getting those closest to you to commit before you launch is important.

Communicate online using social media. Crowdfunding platforms are all connected with social media (Facebook, ReverbNation, Myspace, Bandcamp, Twitter, etc.) so you can post an update and then link it to all of your social media. All of the platforms listed in this article offer instructions on how to utilize social media to enlarge your reach and generate more buzz.

As soon as you receive word of a contribution, drop everything and immediately send that person a thank you email or tweet. Don’t put this step off or you may forget it. Remember to say thank you early and often.

When you’ve gotten four to seven contributors, post a group thank you note on Facebook (and to save time, let’s skip the arguments and just say that you really SHOULD be on Facebook if you’re running a crowdfunding campaign. Like it or not, that’s where many Jewish musicians — and their fans — are these days). Combine it with a progress report and of course, a link to your campaign. Invite everyone who reads this to spread the word; word-of-mouth is still the best way to raise awareness of a project.

Utilize the update program provided by the platform as well. This will generate emails to everyone who has already contributed and you can encourage them to help you spread the word. By contributing they’ve become part of your campaign team, so put them to work by updating them regularly and often.

What happens if my campaign stalls?

First, don’t panic. Campaigns DO stall after the initial buzz has died down.

Secondly, ask yourself what else you can do to generate buzz. Ask your friends and family to help generate buzz by word-of-mouth references; it is totally okay to ask for help, and in fact if you give the impression that a whole team is working on your behalf it makes for a better impression than letting your fans think you’re typing away in a basement all alone.

Finally, create events during the campaign for local supporters; a house party, a coffeehouse show, whatever you can think up to make sure the “live” aspect doesn’t get totally lost during the online electronic campaign.

Above all, stay positive! If the campaign stalls and/or doesn’t meet its goal, don’t whine! Be gracious and thank your supporters either way. If you raise a smaller amount than hoped for and decided in advance that you would keep it (something to be clear about at the start, remember), perhaps use the funds to make a four-song demo as a way to get your music out there. Maybe the demo will catch someone’s attention – someone in a position to help you make something bigger happen next time. You never know.

Crowdfunding is a new way to raise money for creative projects without requiring you to know how to write grants or have connections with the well-heeled. However, it will still require you to manage your resources wisely and carefully, and with the utmost transparency. Good luck!

 

GTM member Beth Hamon is a singer-songwriter, songleader and cantorial soloist in Portland, Oregon. She is preparing to record her second collection of all-original Jewish Music, “Ten Miles”, later this year. For more info about Beth and her music, go to:

Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/pages/Beth-Hamon-Music/184286701676659

ReverbNation — http://www.reverbnation.com/bethhamon