Lessons Learned From Three Successful Kickstarter Music Campaigns

Julia-nunes-albumCrowdfunding has been around long enough now to begin to recognize patterns of successful campaigns. Different music campaigns reveal different aspects but, if one compares notes, certain principles seem to emerge.

When comparing the lessons learned by successful Kickstarter campaigns for hip hop group Progress Report, indie web star Julia Nunes and unsigned rock band The Lighthouse and the Whaler, certain success factors seem to hold true across the board.

Progress Report: Establishing an Independent Music Business

Hubert Sawyers III, manager of Progress Report, helped raise over $5000 to complete their debut album and support their marketing efforts. Sawyers suggests approaching crowdfunding as a “micro-funding campaign for your independent music business.”

With that in mind he says you should have the following in hand before launching a campaign:

  • “A vision / executive summary”
  • “A general / high-level business plan connected to the first bullet”
  • “A sizable network of people that actually like you or what you do”
  • “An actual project – completed and ready to distribute”

By planning your campaign as the establishment of an indie music business, you are pushed to understand your overall goals and how your initial project for which you’re seeking funding will help establish your foundation to meet those goals.

Julia Nunes: Establish a Large Following

Alandis Brassel examined Julia Nunes’ wildly successful campaign to take music that she was working on in the studio and complete an album that she described as an “extension of my youtube videos.” Her goal was to complete the project and then use additional funds towards marketing so, though she did not have a completed project in hand, she did have a huge following and was clearly attempting to take her career to the next level.

Brassel made three observations:

  • “Having a large following when you start your project helps. Spend time building a true following and the promotion will fall into place.”
  • “Fans will pay for the rewards of EXCLUSIVITY and PERSONALIZATION.”
  • “Authenticity and genuine connections always win. Always. Knowing what your followers like about you and your music is key.”

The Lighthouse and the Whaler: Less Than 2% of Your Fans Will Donate

Nunes’ campaign also illustrates two points made by Caren Kelleher, manager of The Lighthouse and the Whaler, related to their successful Kickstarter campaign.

Kelleher maintains that:

  • “Fans often want influence, not swag.”
  • “You need big donors.”
  • “Most fans won’t donate, no matter how hard you try.”

The first point was based on a “sample of thirty recently-successful music projects on Kickstarter.” It would be nice to see more about that sample and how the information was generated but it’s something to consider when developing rewards packages. Though that claim isn’t clearly illustrated by Nunes’ campaign, certainly having influence could be described as a form of exclusivity and personalization.

But the second is certainly evident in the visible pledges for Nunes that had a small but significant number of backers going for the highest pledges.

Kelleher revealed that “just 1.3% of The Lighthouse and the Whaler’s online fans contributed to our Kickstarter campaign” as the basis for her third point that most fan’s won’t donate. Given that 1685 individuals pledged for Nunes and yet she was described as having 172,440 YouTube channel subscribers at the time, she received support from less than 1% of her YouTube subscribers.

Taken as a whole, these insights suggest the following:

  • Make your crowdfunding campaign part of a larger plan to further your career and communicate that larger vision.
  • Develop a sizable fanbase before launching your campaign with the assumption that only 1 to 2 per cent will donate.
  • Tailor your pledge rewards to the needs of both small and large funders.

More: A Guide To Crowdfunding Music Using Mike Masnick’s CwF + RtB = $$$ Formula

Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch) maintains a business writing hub at Flux Research and blogs at Crowdfunding For Musicians. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. I’ve been very interested in what works on Kickstarter. It does appear that you can only count on a small percentage of your Facebook or YouTube fans to donate.
    If you want to bring in new people, you’ll probably have to create a campaign that has rewards so cool that lots of people want those even if they have no interest in you or your project. And a project and/or rewards so cool that it gets lots of press coverage.
    Items in the design category seem to do well if people especially want those. If you have a product idea, people will preorder to get one at what is often a discount from the proposed retail price once it becomes available.
    On the other hand, most musicians tend to offer on Kickstarter the same products they would offer anyway, and often at a higher price than they would sell otherwise. I’m not sure if that’s the best way to go about it.

  2. It’s a really strange thing… I tried Kickstarter for the first time last year to try and generate some revenue to record my newest album. I made a video for the Kickstarter page, offered lots of different levels of rewards for donations (some exclusive to just that campaign), emailed and messaged everyone I had contacts to…. and I didn’t even come close to the goal I set (which was very, very low mind you). Very disappointing. I figured at least friends and family would have kicked in just a little, but no go. I think what people need to run successful Kickstarter campaigns is to not only have as large as a fan base as possible, but to have as large as a hardcore/true fan base as possible. These have to be people who see what you do as something special and think of you completely unique. Otherwise, you’re just hoping to get support from people who can’t really be bothered to help you reach a goal only you want to reach.

  3. I hear what you’re saying, John. I haven’t done a Kickstarter campaign but I’ve done some projects in the past where I expected a bunch of support from bloggers I’d helped out or response from local people in my community and it just wasn’t there.
    That’s a pretty hard reality check.
    I think becoming so important to people that they support you because it’s good for them rather than being about doing something good for you is the place to be. But how do you become that important?
    This is where people often chime in with what I think is a dumb thing to say, “make good music.”
    I think that’s useless advice because most musicians think they are making good music and have people telling them that.
    Making great music that people care about so much that they have to have it in their lives is more the trick but that’s a big trick.
    One thing I learned in San Francisco about show biz is that every drag queen has a following just like every big artist has a bunch of yes men and women.
    Maybe a failed Kickstarter campaign means it’s time for a gut check about whether or not what you’re doing really matters to people. Sometimes that’s what it takes to start doing your best work and that might mean that the people saying nice things now have to be ignored.

  4. I haven’t given any money to any Kickstarter campaigns. But on the other hand, I’ve given money directly to musicians to help record albums and to cover other expenses they might have. And I have done pro bono work for some of them, and for others I try to connect them with info that might be of use to them.
    So I feel I’ve done my part. At the same time, I feel bad that I’m not donating to their current projects. I don’t want to remind them, “Hey, I’ve helped already” but that’s kind of the position I find myself in.
    And when people say, “If you can’t give money, at least tell everyone about our project,” that doesn’t work for me either. I have hundreds of musician friends and I don’t want to have to choose between promoting them all and promoting just a few of them. So currently I don’t promote any of them. I’m thinking of creating a Facebook document to list all my friends’ Kickstarter projects in one place as a way to show my support without bombarding my network with promotional messages. (It’s the same each time there is a contest and there are a whole group of my friends in it. I can’t promote one over the others even if I end up voting for one over the rest.)
    Kickstarter is kind of like how I feel about environmental causes. In theory I support them all, but I can’t give to them all. I finally decided that I’d pick one environmental organization to support and that would be it.
    In the end, what it means is that I will help a few artists in a big way and for everyone else, I’ll try to create a better music community for them. Beyond that I can’t do much because my resources only stretch so far.

  5. One piece of advice I will give musicians. If the only time you connect with your fans/supports is when you want something from them, don’t be surprised if they don’t respond when you ask them to support your Kickstarter project. Far too often musicians don’t participate in conversations. It’s all one way. They only post online to promote themselves. I have friends who do this. I don’t try to point out to them that is one reason why out of 5000 Facebook friends they might have just a handful chipping in for the next project.

  6. I did a Kickstarter campaign, and didn’t have a fan base – the entire campaign was to start a new band. I’ve seen some local kickstarters be really successful, and some really flop, and the only thing I can think of is 1. quality of music is important, but 2. number of friends (non fans) and supportive family members really makes the grade for the little people. And the video. I did a lot of research on highly successful kickstarters, and noticed that the ones that succeeded either had a really good video or a really good idea. Mine was based on an idea and it was successful, which I am very thankful for. I made a really cute video with my dog as our mascot. Also be realistic about how much money you can raise. You have to be honest with yourself first and foremost, and do everything on the cheap. I do think it’s best to raise money in advance for your album so you don’t have to go into debt and so you can use your music as a promotional tool rather than trying to turn it into a revenue stream.

  7. Yes, I think having a great video and/or great idea is very important for several reasons:
    (1) It attracts people who have never heard of you before, but are now won over with your clever pitch.
    (2) If your idea/video is cool, Kickstarter will likely feature you, thereby helping you to get in front of people who don’t know you.
    (3) A clever idea/video is more buzzworthy. Bloggers and journalists will write about you if your Kickstarter campaign is storyworthy.

  8. Clyde,
    I agree that you might have to rethink your career music goals. There are so many bands out there that if you’re just like another band down the street it will be harder for you to make your way in the business. Also, I see bands who are half-in and half-out of the music business. If they’re not dedicated to making this a long-term career why spend the time and money to make a CD. Fans will pick up on that and not be inclined to want to help fund a CD campaign.
    The other thought is that someone may be asking for funding too soon. They may need to work on developing awareness and building a fan base before working on a new CD.

  9. I think a big key is planning, as the article mentions. You are asking for peoples money, and you need to instill confidence that their hard earned money is going to good use.
    Our kickstarter is doing well in its first 3 days. I can’t say for sure if we’ll reach our goal, but its looking pretty good so far – http://kck.st/YKsvOD

  10. hmm, well im not famous. i dont really know if i have a fanbase but ive been on scene a lot of years. i have a lot of my own cash to promote myself so i will try this kickstarter project and promote it like any other song or video i do. I have gathered 10s of thousands of listeners on my own dime and im sure most of them wont spend any money but these are the hard lessons of marketing any good business man has to learn to progress sometimes painfully so… Im not even sure if i will launch this after what ive read but the lessons learned from trying to promote this might be useful to me in future. I also have ideal to pass out crap load of flyers to try and promote this in the bay area. Also a lesson in ground level marketing. Well see how it

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