Toronto’s Celtic rock band Enter The Haggis has found itself at the center of a grassroots success story ever teetering on the brink of mainstream success. From playing Celtic festivals to headlining them, and from the festival circuit to selling out multiple nights in rock venues, ETH has blazed a path with heavy and almost constant touring. The band has made waves in the genre, landing high Billboard and iTunes World Music chart positions as well as major television appearances on shows like Live With Regis And Kelly, A&E Breakfast With the Arts and PBS’ popular program Out of Ireland.
They recently completed a hugely successful fan-funding campaign where they raised over $40,000 through their Bandzoogle website to fund their new album. In our interview with the band they explain why and how they did it, and tell us about a very cool opportunity they are offering their fan base. Enjoy!
Q: You guys recently decided to break free of the more traditional industry and raise money independently for your newest album, what was the inspiration to do that?
Well, honestly - companies like Bandzoogle and ArtistData offer so many incredible tools to artists today - tools that used to be out of the reach of indie acts. Throw in the level of fan engagement possible with social networks like Facebook and Twitter and suddenly it gets harder and harder to justify the chunk of your income a label demands, especially when it's hard to think of things a label will do that a motivated indie act can't do themselves! We're not on MTV, we're not on Clear Channel stations - why should we pay a label to get our album into a store in Wyoming if nobody there has ever heard of us? It's not like we'll see any significant income from the sale even if someone DOES decide to buy it blind.
Unfortunately, the one thing that labels can do for you (although all of our albums have been self-financed) is help pay for the recording of a record. We'd seen some creative campaigns by people like Josh Freese and Imogen Heap in which they enlisted the support of their fans to bankroll their albums, and with the tools at our disposal we realized that, with a little extra work, we could probably raise enough money from a pre-sale fundraiser to make a better record than we could afford on our own. We'd spent years developing a close and personal relationship with our fanbase, and we knew that they would jump at the chance to get in on the ground floor - especially if we made it worth their while!
Q: Why did you choose to run your fan-funding campaign through your own website rather than through a fan-funding service?
After poring over the various options we found, it was obvious that Bandzoogle's store was robust and flexible enough for us to just run it ourselves. I think there's something to be said for doing it all independently, too - your fans don't have that corporate level of separation from you that comes with a branded service like Kickstarter, and they really feel like they're supporting you directly (and they know nobody's taking a cut!). The only potential downside would be the fact that reputable companies like Kickstarter inspire confidence in an e-consumer - but since our BZ store runs through PayPal (the MOST trusted e-commerce solution) that wasn't an issue at all. And we got to keep more of the money.
Q: How did you get the word out about your campaign?
We used all the channels available to us - Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. We run our mailing list through Fanbridge (because we've got a pretty big list) so we sent lots of little reminder emails out with snippets of info and lots of behind-the-scenes videos. We replaced our homepage with a Bandzoogle "Intro page", with a giant and funny photo that linked straight to the fundraiser page. Obviously we talked it up on stage and after shows as well, and mentioned the campaign in any press that came our way. Remarkably, even with all the effort we put into it, I still come across devoted fans who somehow missed the whole thing - which shows you that you can NEVER assume that just putting a few status updates on Facebook and sending out a mass email will reach everyone whose attention you're trying to get!
Q: What were the incentives you offered to people to contribute to the campaign?
God, there were a ton of things. We took a page from Kickstarter and offered a few tiers of presale packages. For $20, you'd get a signed copy of the album sent to you. A few levels up, at $200, you'd get: TWO signed copies; a digital copy; five unreleased demos; a custom T-shirt; a custom USB key full of photos and unreleased videos and a personal "thank you" video; a postcard from the road; a phone call from the band; a handwritten lyric sheet; a special souvenir from the studio (which could be anything from a pair of drumsticks to the cutting board we made sandwiches on). Obviously this was a lot of work on our end (we had to put together SIXTY of these top-tier packages), but it was all worthwhile.
On top of that, we offered private lessons at shows, sold off some pieces of gear and offered fans the chance to get a matching tattoo with me (which I have to do this month, haha). For $500, we'd learn and record ANY SONG you chose, whether it was your own original or some wacky cover (we've had to learn Baba O'Reilly by The Who and Fitzcarraldo by The Frames). For $1000 you could come to the studio up in Canada (on your own dime, of course) and actually BE on the album - we had a guy come and play trumpet on two songs and a really nice couple from Michigan sang backups and added hand-claps, and both have joined us onstage at shows since!
The other thing we did (which I learned from Josh Freese's campaign) was offer a few absolutely ridiculous fundraiser packages. For a quarter of a million dollars, we'd fly you into space. For $12,000, our guitar player Trevor would drive his car to your house anywhere on the continent, do your laundry, cook you dinner and then hand you the keys to his Volkswagen Gulf and take a bus home. The value in offering a few altogether crazy packages is that it gets people talking - your fans will go to Facebook and say "Hey everyone, look what this crazy band is doing! LOL ROLFMAO OMG". Suddenly, you haven't just reached your fans - you've reached their friends and family as well.
Q: How much money did you raise in the end for your new album?
In the end, we brought in about $43,000. It was more than enough to make the record we wanted to make. We even made the always difficult decision to get the album re-mixed after mixing the whole damned thing, just because our fans afforded us the financial flexibility to get it right. I designed the album art and packaging, and we had enough left over to do a few fun things: custom die-cut windows in the traypak, foil stamping the album title on the cover, etc. Being able to go directly to our amazing fans and raise money WITHOUT having to pay out a huge chunk to a third party enabled us to focus on making the best product we possibly could without compromising due to budget constraints.
Q: You guys have a fun offering for your fans right now, which is a chance to tour Ireland with the band in 2012. Tell us more about that.
We'll be doing a tour of Ireland from April 11th-19th, and we're offering fans the chance to fly over with us and ride on tour buses all over Southern Ireland. They'll see all the sights, have time to wander in beautiful Irish cities like Dublin and Galway and see us play a few shows.
We've done this a few times before - a few years back we paired up with another band (The Elders, from Kansas City) and brought over 200 people with us! It was pretty intense. Five busloads of fans descending like locusts onto unsuspecting Irish coastal towns - I think we made the price of Guinness spike worldwide that month.
Best of all, instead of opening for a local act in a dingy back-alley club, we can call venues and say "Hey, we're a band from Canada, on tour for a week in Ireland and we'd like to book a headline slot at your 250 capacity club on a Friday night. Oh, and we're bringing a hundred hard-partying Americans and Canadians with us." This in turn makes it a million times easier to get press attention, and any locals who happen to come to your shows are greeted by a hundred hardcores singing along with every word, which boosts their perception of your band... It's an absolute win-win.
OK, we’re going to end this interview with a few hard-hitting questions:
Q: Have you ever in fact entered a haggis?
You can't see my face in those photos. It's entirely possible someone else has the same tattoos as me. My lawyer suggests I don't answer this question in any more detail.
Q: Irish or Scotch Whiskey?
Irish. When I first joined this band as an 18 year old, it seemed like every gig we played turned into a Scotch tasting, which eventually became a Scotch gulping. It'll be a few more years before I want to dive back into those barrels.
Q: Guinness or Murphy’s?
Hmm... once you've had Guinness at the brewery in Dublin, it's a little sentimental - but I do honestly really love Murphy's. Beamish is great, too - really it's hard to go wrong with a legitimate Irish stout. If you've never tried Guinness' Extra Stout or Foreign Extra Stout, give them a shot - they're very different but very good. And high in alcohol content.
Q: And finally, when wearing a kilt, underwear or commando style?
I don't get to wear a kilt anymore - I sold it in the fundraiser! I'm not even joking. Up here in Canada I think the climate dictates the necessity of undercarriage insulation though.. it gets a little drafty.
Hypebot contributor Dave Cool is the Community Manager for musician website and marketing platform Bandzoogle.