When I launched my first crowdfunding campaign, I had only seven Spotify followers, fewer than 200 people on my mailing list, and no prior experience fundraising. Though I had three albums and years of touring under my belt, through twists of life, it’d been ages since I had actively promoted my music career. I had effectively “quit” music.
However, because of the campaign and the community that emerged to support it, I raised over $26,000 for my project. Also, I was able to re-introduce myself to the world as a singer/songwriter. In fact, I recently released my fourth album, my first in over ten years: A Thousand Tiny Torches.
A Million Questions
I want to tell you everything I learned about how to create, launch, and successfully run a crowdfunding campaign. This is because when I ran mine, I had a million technical and strategic questions:
- What platform do I use?
- It depends.
- How many reward levels should I have?
- What’s the optimal length for a campaign?
- A month.
- How long should the video be?
- Under three minutes.
- When’s the best time to launch?
- Not on a holiday, weekend, or when rent is due.
- What’s the likelihood of success?
- Very good, but only if you reach 30-40% of your goal within the first 48 hours.
Before my crowdfunding campaign, I researched as if my soul depended on its success. In a way, the victory was larger than the $26k it raised. That’s because, alongside the album it enabled me to make, the campaign led me to understand the fundamental philosophies necessary to a music career.
Why Do You Do It?
Before trudging down the crowdfunding path, you must know why you are doing it. Your central value is the story to which people will respond. In preparing for a campaign, you’ll spend four to ten weeks building content and communicating about your project with nearly every person you know. The hope here is that your story—embedded with your values—will speak to hearts and inspire generosity. Knowing your mission is key to all your efforts.
Maybe it’s that you want to feel connected to others. Perhaps you want to use your platform in support of a cause. It could be you’re committed to self-expression and believe that by modeling it, you’ll empower others. Possibly you want to give voice to the voiceless, alleviate anxiety, or write songs that carry on a cultural tradition.
No One Else is Coming
A friend once joked, “The good news? No one else is coming. The bad news? No one else is coming.”
To my ears, that summarizes everything inspiring, distressing, and true about being an independent artist. The good news is there’s no prefabricated groove we can fall into. We each must carve out our careers. The bad news is there’s no prefabricated groove that we can fall into. That means we each must carve out our careers.
The possibilities are inspiring. The responsibilities can overwhelm. But realizing the dual sides of this reality is, ultimately, empowering.
They Care About Your Story
The crowd that comes together for your campaign will do so because they relate to the why behind the what of your project. Most won’t care about your engineering team or who’s in your band. They care about your story:
- Why do you need to make this project now?
- What happened that led to it?
- How does it fit into your bigger creative or professional vision?
Statistically, most crowdfunding campaigns fail. The ones that succeed typically do so only by a small margin. For every step in designing my campaign, I struggled with, and humbly bowed to, “The good news… the bad news” advice.
This is because I have seen, and even supported, many campaigns that failed due to magical thinking. A solid crowdfunding strategy cannot lean on the fairy tale hope of a last-minute savior to pledge the remainder needed to reach a funding goal.
Promote, Promote, Repeat
Advertising folks know that people do not even consider taking an action until they have seen a message at least seven times. With that in mind, I built what seemed a terrifyingly aggressive communication plan. The plan included social media, personal phone calls, emails, in-person conversations, and a mailing list strategy.
Also, I booked an intimate concert at a friend’s home within the first few days of the campaign, with a cover charge that supported the campaign and laptops to take pledges that night. I reached 50% funding on the second day of the official campaign. By the end of the first week, I was fully funded.
How Bad Do You Want It?
Though we humans say we want life to be easy, we constantly push ourselves outside of our comfortable worlds into adventure, invention, and discoveries. Inevitably, we encounter obstacles along the way. Often, the greater the obstacle, the greater the sense of accomplishment.
You might take a spiritual outlook on this and see every obstacle as a question posed by the universe: How bad do you want this accomplishment?
It is an empowering realization to know if you do, or do not, want it bad enough to overcome the obstacle. Challenges will get harder the further you go. If you realize that you want it very badly, then you will rise to the challenges placed before you. When things get tough, you will remain steady, clear, and committed to your vision.
Becoming the Catalyst
It is humbling and beautiful to be the catalyst for a community’s collective support and to receive their generosity. Knowing why you make music gets to the essence of what you are asking your community to support. While crowdfunding and so many other aspects of being a musician are tough, this industry is uniquely suited for independent thinkers and visionaries. Allow obstacles to help give you direction: How bad do you want it?
There is no judgment about the answers you find, only clarity for yourself.
What is at the heart of why you make music?