Once you've got your music ready to go, the costs of making a record may quickly cause you to turn to crowdfunding, but doing so successfully is no easy task, and will necessitate massive amounts of persistence and hard work.
Guest post by Leah Waldo of Berklee College of Music
So you’ve got some killer tunes, you’ve been practicing and perfecting the arrangements, and now you’re ready to record. You start doing a little research—looking into studio time, guest musicians for special parts, even producers—and you quickly realize that making a record is expensive! You’ll need help if you’re going to pull this off, so you turn to crowdfunding.
Crowdfunding is great for direct-to-fan artists and many have run extremely successful campaigns that have helped launched their careers. But be warned: Running a successful campaign is a lot of work and requires dedication, persistence, and a healthy dose of charm.
I’ve run a few crowdfunded campaigns for my band Elisa Smith & The Tiny Little Lies. Our first campaign was wildly unsuccessful. Even though we didn’t meet our goal, I learned a lot about how NOT to run a campaign. The following ten tips won’t guarantee a successful campaign, but they will certainly help you get closer to your goals:
- Grow Your Email List and Social Media Followers
Most of the work that you will put into your campaign will occur before it even launches. When we launched our first campaign, we had a measly email list of roughly 20 people and only about 150 across all of our social media platforms. No wonder why we weren’t successful! The broader your fan base, the more people who have an interest in seeing you succeed and the more people you can reach out to for support.
More often than not, someone will be more likely to join your email list if there is an incentive like a free downloadable track, video, or poster. You can even do a contest—we held a contest for a free house show for everyone who signed up to our email list in a certain time frame. One of the most surefire ways to obtain emails is to have a pen, paper, and clipboard at your merch table during gigs. Clearly label the clipboard as an email list because there might be fans who are too shy to talk to you (possibly because they don’t have money to buy anything from you right then and there) but who still want to stay informed about what you’re doing.
- Set a Realistic Goal
Setting a realistic goal for your project is definitely a determining factor as to whether or not your campaign will be successful. One way to set a realistic goal is to look at how many social media followers you have. If you don’t have a large number of followers, you may want to consider a smaller goal.
Which brings me to my next point: To EP or not to EP? In addition to setting a realistic financial goal, you also want to think about setting a realistic project goal. An EP is a great option for burgeoning artists. Think about it this way:
Let’s say x equals quality and y equals the amount of songs you’d like to record. That means that x/y is the level of quality you will be able to afford for each song. If you want a polished, professional sounding recording, it may be smarter for you to record fewer songs. If you are going for a more lo-fi, DIY style recording, then this may not matter as much. For Hitch A Ride, we want a polished, high quality recording, so we’re opting to record a five-to-six song EP instead of a full-length album. That way, we can focus on a fewer songs, ultimately resulting in a higher level of quality for each one.
- Identify Potential Donors Outside of Your Email List and Social Media Followers
Family and friends are great sources of support, but it shouldn’t stop there. Remember that babysitter you had when you were a kid? Classmates? Co-workers? Former teachers? Social media groups you belong to? This is where the charm comes in.
You’d be surprised how far a heartfelt, sincere, and charming email or phone call can go. Do not be afraid to ask people for support. If you have a positive relationship with someone, they will want to see you succeed. I have sent probably more than 150 personalized emails and messages for a single campaign. It is a lot of work, but it definitely pays off. You cannot assume that simply posting an announcement on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat will get you to your goal. You have to ask people personally.
- Make a Compelling Video That Tells your Story
The majority of successful campaigns have videos. Your video should tell your story—who you are, what your goals are, and why you want your fans to be involved. Let your personality (and charm!) shine through.
In general, keep your video under three minutes and “make the ask” within the first minute of the video. It is also a good idea to make an abridged version for social media channels like Instagram and Twitter. Last but not least, be sure to include the link to your campaign as text in your video. That way, when you post the video on YouTube or social media, people will know where to go and support your campaign.
- Don’t Sell Yourself Short
Don’t underprice your record, merch, and other goodies that your supporters will receive. When you’re deciding how much to charge, it can be helpful to look at other campaigns for a reference point.
While $20 may seem like a lot of money for a signed six-song EP (and it is), you need to remember that your fans want to support you and see you succeed. They will also be gaining access to all of the exclusive content you’ll be producing along the way (we’ll get into this in tip no. 8), so don’t be afraid to charge more than you might initially think.
- Don’t Give Too Many Options
Have you ever heard of the Paradox of Choice? The Paradox of Choice is a concept developed Barry Schwartz that essentially states an overabundance of choices leads to psychological paralysis and dissatisfaction. You can watch his TedTalk about the Paradox of Choice here. Providing many options for your fans to choose from may seem like a good idea, but ultimately, having too many options can overwhelm them. In general, it’s best to have no more than ten choices of varying price points for your fans—start small and work your way up to the big-ticket items like house shows and executive producer credits.
You also may want to consider limiting the amount available for some items. This concept is called scarcity and will in turn drive demand. For example, if there are only ten signed copies of your record on vinyl, more people will be interested in purchasing that item because it is scarce, and therefore special.
- Make Your Fans Feel Like They Are on the Journey with You
Crowdfunding is about bringing your fans along on your journey—the more they feel a part of something, the more they will be willing to support it financially. They want to feel like they have a personal connection, and in some cases, will pay for the opportunity to connect with you in person. Many successful campaigns offer music lessons from someone in the band (ours offered guitar lessons and songwriting lessons), backstage passes, and even opportunities to be in music videos or perform on the recordings themselves.
You also want to make sure you use language in your video, copy, and updates that elicits a feeling of inclusion instead of simply asking for money. Ask your fans to “come on the journey with you” and “be a part” of your project, which leads us to the next tip…
- Keep in Touch
How can someone feel like they are a part of something big if they never hear from you? One of the reasons why your fans will contribute to your campaign is to gain access to exclusive content—videos, bootleg tracks, posters, etc.— so it is important that you keep those that contribute to your campaign in the loop. Keeping your fans up to date will keep them engaged as fans and may even prompt them to take a more active role in the campaign by posting announcements in their own social feeds.
- Be Grateful
Say thank you! Your fans are your biggest asset and you want to treat them with kindness. Let them know that you care about them. A thank you can go a long way towards building loyalty. Depending on the size of your campaign, it may be impossible for you to send personalized thank you notes to all of your supporters but you may want to consider sending out a thank you email at the very least.
When it comes time to fulfill your orders for signed records, merch, and anything else you may have offered, include a handwritten thank you note and that fan will be hooked.
Fans beget fans. The happier and more connected your fans feel, the more likely they will be to their friends about your music
- If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try and Try Again
I mentioned earlier that the first campaign I ran was a mess. We didn’t even get to 25 percent of our goal after two months! That is because I did the complete opposite of everything I have shared with you in this post. Thankfully, we can learn from our mistakes.
If you run (or have run) a campaign that was not successfully funded, that doesn’t mean that you can’t try again! That being said, don’t just jump right into another campaign. Take some time to figure out what went wrong. Maybe you had too many reward options. Maybe they were priced too high or too low. Maybe your goal was too high. Either way, you more than likely need to spend at least a few months building your fan base up before you attempt another campaign.
Now go get ‘em, tiger! Good luck!
Leah Waldo is the Curriculum Manager for massive open online courses at Berklee Online. She is a Berklee College of Music alumna and received her Master’s in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Leah is also a songwriter and front woman of Elisa Smith & The Tiny Little Lies. She finds her musical inspiration from country greats like Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Tanya Tucker, and through her songwriting, she tells the stories of strong women across the country.