Thanks to the internet, independent musicians are in a better situation than ever before. Websites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Soundcloud, Bandcamp and iTunes have so empowered artist-to-fan connections that sharing one’s music with the world has never been easier to master, from an artistic point of view.
The latest – and potentially among the most powerful – in a long line of online resources is crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is a way for artists to secure initial funding for their projects (via their fans, with the promise of a range of incentives) without having to take out a loan, apply for a heavily contested government grant or approach a not-for-profit. It’s leveled the playing field.
“That’s why it’s become so popular,” confirms Rick Chen, co-founder and director of the first, and largest, Australian crowdfunding site, Pozible. “Basically, there’s a need in the whole sector, the whole market, for this to happen.”
Crowdfunding has indeed become a very popular idea. In the past couple of years it has boomed, with Pozible a prime example. Since its inception in 2010, the site has helped raise over $11m (a million dollars in May 2013 alone), hosting upward of 3500 projects with an overall success rate of 58%. It’s helped aspiring and established filmmakers, musicians, writers and event organisers to realise their dreams. Little wonder it’s a boom industry.
“I think [that’s also to do with] high-profile artists who have run campaigns recently,” muses Kate Roseler from Perfectly Write Media Management, who in March worked with Toni Childs to help her raise over $100,000 for an upcoming world tour. “Amanda Palmer, Wolfmother, Clare Bowditch … I think those names have made a difference to people’s awareness of [crowdfunding] and its viability, its realness.”
The way crowdfunding works is quite simple. The project creator submits an idea to a site like Pozible, which vets all incoming ideas, and once it’s given the green light, the project is made public so that people can pledge money. If the project reaches its financial goal in the allotted time, all pledges are processed and the project is deemed successful.
If a project on Pozible or US crowdfunding pioneer Kickstarter doesn’t meet its target in the time allowed, no funds are processed and the project is deemed unsuccessful. However, some crowdfunding sites, like ArtistShare, RocketHub and PledgeMusic, let the project creator keep whatever funds have been raised, whether or not the target has been met.
In order to entice fans to pledge, project creators offer ‘rewards’ based on the amount pledged. For example, Melbourne nine-piece Saskwatch recently succeeded in hitting their $20,000 target to pay for the band’s flights and accommodation after they were invited to play festivals in England and Spain. Their ‘rewards’ varied – for a dollar, the band would give you a shout-out from their Twitter and Facebook account. For $50, the band would create a mixtape for you, with a theme of your choice. At the top end, for a $5000 pledge you’d receive, framed, the pink dress that lead singer Nkechi Anele has worn at many of the band’s gigs.
“It was harder to think of incentives in our case, because a lot of musicians use their funding to create an album, and market the incentive like you’re pre-ordering the final product,” says Anele. “We were asking for something completely different, so our approach was to have ‘thank you prizes’ more than incentives.”
“Valuing each item was hard,” she goes on. “I must admit there were some items that we based on their sentimental value, like my dress and the print of our album artwork.”
It’s not just bands who are using sites like Pozible to fund their latest music-related venture. Pure Pop Records, based in Melbourne suburb St. Kilda, has initiated a couple of crowdfunding campaigns to raise money to soundproof its backyard live-music space after gigs there were severely restricted due to noise complaints. Its ‘Buy a Brick’ campaign has been wildly successful, showing that you don’t have to have a new record or a big tour to make this venture work.
Red Rattler, a not-for-profit performance space in Sydney, have done something similar. It was able to raise five grand over its target of $40,000 to buy out a portion of the venue itself after two of the space’s co-founders exited to pursue new challenges. The statistic is made all the more impressive given that the venue is run entirely by volunteers. It’s a red-letter example of how effective crowdfunding can be when a project means so much to so many.
Despite the fact that crowdfunding has only been around in its current guise since the turn of the millennium, it has steadily evolved into a viable, long-term funding solution. And where it’s at now is arguably just the beginning. Chen foresees collaboration between crowdfunding models and more traditional sectors, with government funding agencies one day incorporating crowdfunding into their existing grant-application process.
Whatever its future, crowdfunding is literally making dreams come true on a daily basis, right here and now.
By Samuel J. Fell