Crowdfunding is emerging as a way for artists to get their projects to the public
When crowdfunding, it's best to have established yourself in your field first
Take advantage of video and other tools to tell your story well
If the funding doesn't go well, be prepared to make it happen anyway.
Editor’s Note: Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz are the sarcastic brains behind humor blog and book “Stuff Hipsters Hate.” Got a question about etiquette in the digital world? Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It sounds like one of those weird, grainy late-night infomercials: “Get money for your projects NOW for FREE! There are people out there just WAITING to put REAL MONEY in your hands! Don’t wait, apply TODAY!”
All that’s missing is a leering old dude – clutching a pile of gold bars and wearing a suit made of money – pointing aggressively at the camera while you watch glassy-eyed from your couch, shoving pork rinds or whatever the hell you people consume into your greasy maw. We’re talking, of course, about crowdfunding – a trend that’s certifiably sweeping the nation.
For those whose eyes are too glazed with the aforementioned grease to see all the wonder that’s unfolding online, crowdfunding is a phenomenon whereby folks take to the Web, pitch projects and collect cash from interested parties to execute those projects.
Arguably the most buzzy among crowdfunding services is Kickstarter – the site launched in 2009, and since then more than $200 million has been pledged to projects launched on the platform. (Not all that money was collected, though. When folks create a project, they set a fundraising goal and they only get the cash pledged if they reach or exceed that goal). Still, there are a ton of other fundraising options out there – IndieGoGo, PledgeMusic and Flattr to name a few.
Lately, we’ve been struck by a few high profile acts’ use of crowdfunding – namely ex-Dresden Doll Amanda Palmer and the recently reunited Ben Folds Five. Palmer has so far raised close to $700,000 to fund production of an album by her new band, The Grand Theft Orchestra.
Meanwhile, Folds has turned to PledgeMusic to fund the band’s first album in 13 years. We don’t know how much they’ve raised, since PledgeMusic doesn’t list monetary amounts, but we do know the band has far exceeded its goal. Yup, both of these bands have been highly successful crowdfunders, and both – naturally – could teach us all a lot about asking for cash in a classy way.
We can already hear the protestations: “Wait, are you asking me to model myself on famous people? Really? That’s idiotic. They have HUGE fan bases to help them out. It’s not like I have 700,000 people clamoring to see my claymation Edgar Allen Poe film with a modern-day twist: ‘The Brad Pitt and the Sean Penn-dulum.’”
Well, you’re right – they do have thousands of fans, otherwise known as people who like them. If they have that many people who like them willing to give them money, don’t you think they’re doing something right? Got you there.
We recently chatted with both bands about their crowdfunding campaigns and took away five key lessons from what they had to say. Read on for more on how to ask for money without making everyone hate you.
(1) Don’t bother your friends and family
We know, we know, Mommy has deep pockets and Daddy is a pushover – and your friends… well, let’s just say your first born is spoken for.
Still, that doesn’t make it OK to knock out a crowdfunding campaign and barrage your friends and family – and only your friends and family – with requests for dough. Sure, you can let them all know what you’re up to (and they likely will contribute), but you’re going to have to widen your net here a little if you want to teach yourself to fish, or whatever.
“I think it’s important to have at least a bit of a fan base before you try to Kickstart,” Palmer says. “You need to be speaking to someone on the other end of the phone before you ask for help, if you know what I mean.”
Before you take to Kickstarter or one of its brethren, start getting your work out there in other ways. If you’re raising money for your novel (Griffons are totally going to be the next vampires, you can feel it!), start a blog with samples of your writing and begin networking online with other writers.
If you’re a band and you need cash for your Midwestern tour (Hello, cornfields!), play a couple of warehouse shows and drop a few singles.
If you’re looking to go big with those scary faceless dolls you’ve been fashioning from potato sacks and twine and slowly puncturing with pins whilst laughing maniacally – well, then, maybe you’d better ask your caregiver to up your meds.
(2) Use your words…and video editing skills
At this juncture, we’re just going to direct you to this clip from the very hilarious Portlandia. When using a tool like Kickstarter, you have the opportunity to explain to the fullest – with video, text and whatever visuals you need – just how vital your “World’s Largest My Little Pony” is to the betterment of the Bronie art scene.
Use all of these tools, and use them well. As Palmer says, “Your video is your personal pitch. It needs to be short and informative. People want to know WHAT you’re using their money for.”
So cut out all the mindless babble and just admit that you want to create said pony to ride in the comfort of your own living room. Someone will totally fund that, right?
(3) To quote that terrible Haley Joel Osment movie, “Pay it forward”
We really hate ourselves right now, but that’s basically the only way to say it. When you ask other people for money and they oblige, you should probably keep the good karma flowing by sharing the wealth.
PledgeMusic lets users give a portion of their pledges to charity, which is why Ben Folds chose that service in the first place. He’s planning to donate a chunk of his fan-provided cash to music therapy and education. Folds is also primed to help out the fans who support his campaign by pumping their projects via the band’s social networks.
“When we step up front like this, we’re taking on the responsibility of getting talent out there,” Folds says. “Because every time a band like me or Amanda does these things, it’s a kick in the ass to the traditional record-selling machinery … . So it’s just now up to us – the bands that are stepping up and doing it in this way – we have a responsibility to reach out a hand and do something for the talent below.”
So, basically, when you get rich and famous after opening your drunk food restaurant, Tipsy’s – “You buy it, we fry it” (TM our friend Leah) – don’t forget the little people.
(4) Give investors their money’s worth
Most crowdfunding sites let you reward donors with products and services in exchange for donating different amounts of money. Make those gifts count – no one wants a coupon for one of your “famous moist hand massages.” Remember, you’re courting future customers and fans here.
If you take a look at Ben Folds Five’s campaign, the whole deal is more of a pre-order situation than a wild, pleading call for cash – a pledge of $10 gets you the digital album (pretty standard for an album), $15 gets you a CD, and bigger pledges score you signed records and discs. Not a mention of “the free 3-D glasses I stole when I went to go see Titanic” anywhere.
(5) Be prepared to do it anyway
If Palmer and Folds had somehow failed to reach their monetary goals, do you think they would have thrown up their hands and said, “Eh, forget this new band. I’m gonna take a nap,” or, “What’s 13 more years?” Nope. You’re asking for cash because you supposedly are passionate about doing something. If you fail, find a way not to.