I didn’t think I’d be “that girl” asking for money to make my CD. Nevertheless, when I finally did jump into the crowdfunding pool, I realized quickly that I would either sink or swim.
We all have friends who have asked us for support online. Chances are good that you’ve been asked not just to fund artistic projects or inventions, but also to pay medical bills or fix broken cars. The market may seem to be reaching the saturation point, but it is still possible to find funding and even potential fans through a crowdfunding campaign.
This June, I ran a campaign for my performance/recording project, Sea Tangle: Songs from the North. It was my very first campaign, and I managed to get it 106% funded before the 30-day deadline.
Here’s what I learned in the process.
Pre-Campaign: Preparation is Key
My biggest takeaway from the experience is that the more work you do ahead of time, the less likely you are to be scrambling while that countdown clock is ticking.
Create a Budget
Most people assume that all you have to do is launch a crowdfunding page and the money will come rolling in. Unfortunately, there are tons of hidden costs to running a campaign, including fees, cost of rewards, shipping, marketing, and so much more.There are tons of hidden costs to running a crowdfunding campaign. Click To Tweet
The best advice I found on this subject was an article called “Understanding Crowdfunding,” written in 2014 by two Berklee School of Music students.
The article includes a downloadable spreadsheet you can use to calculate the cost of your own campaign; this tool has been an indispensible part of my campaign’s success.
Build a Community
There is a myth about crowdfunding that there are strangers with bags of money out there just looking for projects to fund. On the contrary, most of your funding will come from your friends, family, and fans.
Think about that for a minute: how you treat your friends, family, and fans will have a direct impact on whether or not they contribute to your project. This is why most people encourage regular engagement with your community, both online and offline.
Before you launch, go through your friends lists and address book. Group individuals into the following categories:
- Evangelists: people excited about the idea of your project and who will talk you up to their friends and family. They might not have very much money to spare, but if they are active on social media, they can help spread the word.
- Patrons: in order to encourage others to donate, you need to have several large donors willing to help at certain key points in the campaign: at the beginning (try to hit 30% funded before you share the campaign with the general public), in the middle (when the campaign inevitably begins to plateau), and at the end (if you are having trouble closing the last gap before the deadline). Patrons were essential to the success of my campaign.
Once you have identified the individuals that fit each (or both) of these profiles, contact them directly to tell them about your project.
Be direct, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. If they can’t help, don’t take it personally; just remember that you won’t get help unless you ask for it.
Post-Campaign: Lessons Learned
Now that I have a successful campaign under my belt, I can see a lot of things that went wrong and what I would do differently next time.
Here’s what worked — and what didn’t — so that you can skip some of the trial and error.
The Crowdfunding Video
The average “crowdfunding tips” article will tell you that how you present yourself on your campaign page directly affects your chances of getting funded. Without a concise, compelling story, anyone visiting your page will get bored and move on to the next thing.
For me, it was essential to include a video of me explaining the project and showing clips of some of the songs I planned to record.
Where I went wrong: I thought I could talk off-the-cuff about the project in front of the camera. Turns out I ramble a lot, and I spent many hours during the editing process writing a script and recording voiceovers just to make the video stay close to the widely-accepted three-minute limit.
What I would do over: I would distill my story into 10-second sound bites, memorize them, absorb the message heart and soul, and then get in front of the camera so that I could deliver each of those sound bites in several different takes. Talking off-the-cuff into the camera is a great way to connect with your audience, but if you are stammering or rambling, you surely won’t instill confidence in them!
This was the hardest part of the campaign setup for me. Other than offering early downloads or physical copies of the CD, I was at a loss for what rewards were good motivators.
Where I went wrong: I spent more time worrying about new and unique rewards and lost sight of the fact that the CD itself is reward enough. Most of my supporters didn’t even select a reward, opting instead to have 100% their money go directly to the project. And because my project is fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts organization, all the donations were tax-deductible.
What I would do over: The only rewards I would offer would be CDs, downloads, and branded water bottles. Only a few people took the concert tickets, and the YouTube videos I promised to make are turning out to be more complicated than I had intended. It seems to me that the rewards for an album should be similar to what you might offer at a merchandise table at a concert.
Navigating the Plateau
Once your campaign has launched, a graph of your donations will likely look like a giant U: an initial spike, then a gradual decline to a plateau in the middle, then a big push at the end. The most stressful part for me was the middle, when I began to doubt I was going to come even close to reaching my goal.
Where I went wrong: I obsessively checked my stats each day, and every time I received a donation, I would get a notification on my phone. The amount of each donation directly affected my mood, and I was scrambling to create posts to generate more interest.
What I would do over: If I had been more active with my pre-campaign planning, I would have been less worried about the outcome. I would create more than enough content ahead of time to post on my Facebook page daily. Also, I would turn off those phone notifications!
A Simple Thank You Goes a Long Way
The best use of my time throughout my campaign was writing thank you notes. I had boilerplate text that I used as a starting point, but I made time to ensure that every single note was customized.
I also thanked people publicly on Facebook and Twitter, tagging them when I was able, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. I was able to reconnect with old friends and even make new friends, thanks to my very active Evangelists.
Pimp Your Project
I hope my crowdfunding experience can help you as you plan your crowdfunding project.
Are you are currently crowdfunding a project? If so, let us know!
- Leave a comment below with a link to your donation page and one sentence describing your project.
- Share this blog post on social media.
And if you have learned any lessons, share those as well. Good luck!
Maren Montalbano is a professional mezzo-soprano who specializes in new music and early music. She is currently self-producing an album of works by all women composers with all women performers called Sea Tangle: Songs from the North. Listen to her sing at http://marenmontalbano.com/listen, or follow her on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook.