Here Chris Robley describes four things that he would've done differently in the wake a crowdfunding campaign campaign which, although successful, could have been improved upon for an even better experience.
Guest post by Chris Robley of CD Baby's DIY Musician
Early in 2016 I released my first new album in five years.
It felt great to shake off the rust. And some good stuff came of it (besides the simple satisfaction of putting new music into the world): a nice review in No Depression, a video premiere on KCRW, a super-fun string of seven shows in Portland, Oregon with the band who helped me create the album, that sort of thing.
But everything about this release, especially the PledgeMusic and PR campaigns surrounding the album, reminded me that anything done well — and done mostly DIY — is bound to eat up twice as much time as you initially anticipated.
Last year, in the midst of my crowdfunding campaign, I wrote “A Musician’s Guide to PledgeMusic: building and running a campaign for my upcoming album.” For anyone who hasn’t run a crowdfunding campaign before, that article is a pretty thorough summary of the process, or at least my process with PledgeMusic.
But in hindsight, there’s a handful of things I would’ve done differently to make better use of my time during my PledgeMusic campaign. I’m not saying it’ll necessarily apply to you or your campaign, but maybe my perspective will be useful.
I also realize that some of these “lessons” have already been taught in a number of crowdfunding tutorials. Why didn’t I take them to heart before I started my campaign? I guess I was running the kind of campaign that came most naturally. Live and learn!
So here it is…
1. I wouldn’t spend as much time creating the campaign video
In the end I’d say that about 95% of the contributors to my PledgeMusic campaign were already fans, friends, or family. As long as my campaign video didn’t look like a catastrophe, many of them were probably going to contribute anyways.
I say this because, well, I spent a long time making my campaign video. My editing skills are limited, and I didn’t have the budget to hire someone to make the video for me. Thus, to get the thing to look decent and to capture the spirit of the project, it probably took me three times longer than it should have: collecting footage and gathering up photos from the session, shooting new stuff, getting two of the musicians on the album to do interviews, creating graphics, writing my “script,” figuring out how to use Final Cut Pro X, and then cutting it all together.
I’m proud of the video I made for the campaign, don’t get me wrong — but I seriously think I could’ve reached my goal almost as quickly if I’d just talked into my iPhone camera for 45 seconds and told people why I was excited about the new album.
So, is the video important? Yes. But it doesn’t need to be a blockbuster with a hundred cuts, a bunch of B roll, and multiple talking heads. If you can deliver the message convincingly with minimal distractions, go that route. Find a good room with good lighting, set up your camera, press record, talk to your fans, and save up your energy and time so you can avoid this next mistake…
2. I would make private Facebook messages my #1 priority from the start
If I remember correctly, I think it was about 15-20 days into my campaign when I realized that the most effective thing driving pledges was private messages to my friends on Facebook. NOT followers of my band page. Friends of my personal profile.
I’d spent the first couple weeks of the campaign worrying about big picture stuff: the launch, my website, the email newsletters, tweets and Instagram photos and Facebook posts, etc.
THEN I started to write to people individually. And they responded. I’d say at least 25% of the people I wrote to personally ended up contributing. (And an added bonus is you get to strike up conversations with people you haven’t talked to in a while.)
So what’s the problem? Well, it takes FOREVER. I have more than a thousand “friends” on Facebook and I didn’t want to spam them all with a copy-and-pasted message. So I tried to customize it, at least a little bit, to acknowledge the fact that I’m asking a real live human being for their support; and that meant that I could really only write to about 20 people a night, after you factor in my job, family, (infrequent) hygiene, and anything else I needed to do for the PledgeMusic campaign that day.
So here I am discovering this approach that REALLY worked for boosting contributions at the same time as I’m nearing my goal. By the time I reached my goal, I’d probably only written to a few hundred of my friends on Facebook at most. That’s less than a quarter of my FB friends.
It sounds crass to lump my social media friends into one big statistic, but basically, at the end of my campaign, 75% of the community that was 25+% responsive remained untapped. Unasked. In short: had I started writing people personally a whole lot sooner, I could’ve raised a whole lot more money.
Which leads me to another issue…
3. I should have set a higher initial goal OR had a clearer plan for continuing “the ask” with stretch goals
I’ll be honest. Despite all the advice of every “crowdfunding expert” out there, I didn’t feel comfortable reaching out to people individually to ask for additional support once I’d already achieved my goal. It felt… icky.
I know, I know. Shame! Shame!
I set a modest goal. Just enough to master and manufacture the album, plus pay a publicist for about 3 months of PR help.
I met that goal in less than 30 days, with 30 days remaining in my 60-day campaign.
After those 30 days, I still had 800+ FB friends that I’d yet to write, despite the fact that this method had proven to be the most effective way of driving pre-sales.
So I guess there’s two conclusions:
- I should’ve started with a higher goal, and had more ambitious plans: music video budget, tour support, a radio or streaming promotion campaign! (There’s no shortage of things to spend money on when releasing new music).
- Or, I should’ve built clear stretch-goals into the campaign from the start, and made a point of mentioning them all along the way. One stretch goal could’ve been, “Hey, if we can raise an extra $2000, we can press vinyl!” If I’d made a clearer point of mentioning stretch goals along the way, I’d probably have been able to overcome that self-conscious voice inside me that said, “You’ve reached your goal; don’t be greedy.”
4. I wouldn’t have offered as many exclusives
It was fun to come up with a ton of different offerings to meet every kind of “price point.” But honestly, most people contributed $100 or less. Some people contributed $500 or more. But I think I can count on two hands the number of people who contributed an amount between $100-500.
However, even if only two people end up ordering the thing you’re offering for $150, you still have to MAKE it and ship it to them! That potentially means design costs, manufacturing costs, postage, and — last but not least — time.
For sanity, budget, and time reasons, I think my next campaign will offer fewer exclusives, the bulk of which would be priced lower than $100. Keep in mind that fans who want to contribute more can always bundle multiple exclusives together.
Well, there they are: the four things I wish I’d done differently. Hopefully this perspective helps as you’re dreaming up your next crowdfunding campaign.
If you’d change anything about how you ran YOUR previous crowdfunding campaigns, let me know in the comments. I think it could be a helpful conversation.
Chris Robley is the Editor of CD Baby's DIY Musician Blog. He writes Beatlesque indie-pop songs that've been praised by No Depression, KCRW, The LA Times, & others. His poems have appeared in Poetry Magazine, Prairie Schooner, The Poetry Review, & more. He lives in Maine and likes peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, a little too much.