As an independent artist in the online community, it’s hard not to notice all the active and successful crowdfunding campaigns happening all over the social networks. In fact, I was quite taken with a podcast interview with Benji Rogers, the founder of PledgeMusic. I felt that he was personally imploring me to indulge my fans who wanted desperately to have a hand in furthering my music career and be appreciated for it. I was so jazzed that I overlooked a fundamental problem.
I was very new in my chosen genre of kids/family music and had a mailing list of barely over 100 at the time but was doing well on Twitter, seeking out and connecting (somewhat) with relevant followers among the parenting blogger community. So I contacted PledgeMusic and had some phone calls and e-mail exchanges with a project manager who mutually figured out with me that we could try a very small campaign and be meticulous about making videos and updates to share with social network in order to entice some participation among potential fans.
As the campaign wore on and I was only being supported by relatives and a handful of fellow artists, I had learned an important lesson: in order for your fans to desperately want to have a hand in your career, you must have fans first!
I was mistaken in my hunch that if I ran an attractive and positive campaign, I’d pick up new fans along the way via social media and the PledgeMusic community. The most important thing I learned is that you must have a sizeable core of passionate fans before you begin a campaign. This leads me to share my experience with you about how you might prepare a year ahead of starting a fan funding campaign.
Building the foundation for your future crowdfunding campaign
If your goal is to be able to successfully crowdfund, which means being able to produce professional albums or other project while building great relationships with a growing fanbase, I’ve come to conclude it takes at least a year of mimicking a crowdfunding (a.k.a. “direct-to-fan”) style campaign without money being a barrier.
Simply put, start doing things the great crowdfunders do, only without levels of money for perks or overall dollar-amount goals being involved.
1. Create great perks like Skype concerts or lyric sheets, but not as premiums for pay; you don’t have those kinds of fans yet! Instead, offer them as giveaways using Rafflecopter or a similar service. People will value something that they won similarly to how they value something they paid for. Something they simply got without either paying or emotionally investing in (like a contest) will be a throw-away.
Also by creating these perks while you’re not yet crowdfunding, you’ll perfect that aspect of your craft for when you do start to crowdfund. You’ll need to put great efforts into promoting your giveaway. If no one knows you’re doing a giveaway, how can you expect anyone to participate? Collect the e-mail addresses of all giveaway participants. You’ll learn to follow-up and send prizes out in a timely and presentable manner for the lucky winners. When crowdfunding, you’ll have to deliver perks to every contributor.
2. Give your mailing list subscribers special digital perks on an ongoing basis. Think about offering video messages, demos of your songs, and pictures. You could even do free Google Hangout (or similar) concerts just for your subscribers. Don’t treat them like a cash cow. Treat them like people you’re grateful to have in your life. Your subscribers have the potential to help carry your career forward. Communicate regularly (perhaps monthly). If you try weekly, see if people are opening your messages, clicking links or unsubscribing; you may want to cut back if their behavior suggests that you’re flooding their inbox.
3. As your fanbase grows and you feel you’re almost ready, test the crowdfunding waters and do some good at the same time! Do an online fundraiser for a cause you believe in where your music is a reward for donations. Throw yourself fully into the charitable fundraiser as you’ll need to when you’re running a crowdfunding campaign for your project. Only do this if you’re passionate about the cause; if you’re doing it as self-promotion with little regard for the cause, your audience will see through you. If your charitable fundraising efforts are gaining traction for the cause, this may bode well for you planning a crowdfunding campaign. What’s great about PledgeMusic is that a percentage of every direct-to-fan campaign goes to the charity of the artist’s choice.
4. Support the campaigns of fellow artists you like and respect. Not only will you build up some goodwill; you’ll also get to see their campaign updates and how they deliver their perks to you. They may also offer you their own best practices as to what worked for them if you’re genuine with your fellow artists and not telegraphing that you only contributed in order to get a return contribution. Remember the real reason for contributing to a crowdfunding campaign: because you want the thing they’re creating to exist in the world in a fully realized way made possible by the funding.
Remember, your campaign will only delight your fans if you have fans to delight in the first place! Be super good to the fans you have and make the constant daily effort to engage new potential fans.
Have you ever launched a crowdfunding campaign before you were ready? Did you run a successful one after that? I’d love to hear your story. Let me know in the comments below.
About the author: Jason Didner is the founder of the kids/family-oriented rock band Jungle Gym Jam (http://junglegymjam.com). His debut CD, “Everyone’s Invited!” is a CD Baby Editor’s Pick and has been in the retailer’s Top Twenty kids/family albums for over a month, peaking at #2 in the genre as of this writing.
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[Chess image from Shutterstock.]