Whether producing new songs, shooting a video or financing a tour: those who make music – and want to make a living from it – are increasingly turning to crowdfunding to make it happen. Platforms including Kickstarter, Startnext, Indiegogo and Patreon now allow musicians to have their projects funded by fans. Not sure how to go about it? This article contains handy hints and tips for your next campaign.
Recorded music sales are in decline
Thanks to widespread upheaval in the music industry, the last decade has been tricky for record companies and even trickier for career musicians. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) reports that revenue from sales of recorded music in Germany fell from € 2.3 billion in 1997 to € 577 million in 2019, prompting many labels to reconsider their level of investment in new talent. Not surprisingly, alternative forms of financing for art and culture are becoming increasingly popular.
Crowdfunding for music
Platforms such as Kickstarter, Startnext and Indiegogo allow users to request voluntary contributions from fans and followers to support a specific project. In return, these backers receive material or non-material ‘rewards’ from the project owners. As well as funding countless start-ups and innovative new products, crowdfunding has enabled many musical projects to see the light of day.
Between its launch in 2009 and November 2020, Kickstarter had collected almost 5.5 billion dollars from fans. While a quarter of this was for games projects, bands like De La Soul and TLC also used it to pre-finance their album productions. At German competitor Startnext, where backers have contributed some 115 million euros to date, musical projects are the most popular category. More than 1,000 campaigns have been successfully concluded, with bands like Hundreds, musicians like Peter Licht and organisations like the Bavarian Philharmonic Orchestra or the Auerworld Festival raising funds for their events or recordings.
Kickstarter, Startnext & co. can be useful – but they offer no guarantee of success
The rise of crowdfunding shows how quickly conditions in the cultural sector have changed. It also highlights new opportunities for creators and consumers of music as a result of technological progress. The fact remains, however, that music is much less profitable a career than it was 25 years ago. Moreover, although crowdfunding for musical projects is becoming more popular, many projects are still not successful in securing the funding they need.
On Kickstarter, the success rate across all projects is 38 percent. Campaigns that do not reach their funding goal leave empty-handed. Startnext, meanwhile, reports that 73% of all music campaigns on the platform are successful – i.e. that they reach at least their predefined minimum funding level.
14 tips for financing music with crowdfunding
It’s only natural that musicians wonder how they might benefit from crowdfunding – and what challenges they might face along the way. To answer these questions, I’ve put together 14 tips to help secure the success of your own music-related crowdfunding campaign:
- Think of the launch of your crowdfunding campaign like the release of a new album. In addition to a memorable title, you need a well thought-out ‘corporate design’ that allows the campaign to be recognised easily. Adapt the look of your website and all social media channels accordingly. Consider having new band photos taken so that fans have something new to consume during the campaign. Finally, don’t forget to plan exactly what content you want to publish on the crowdfunding platform (and when) so that your project retains momentum and attracts as many potential backers as possible. The best way to do this is to create a regular content plan.
- This brings us to the next important point: the rewards. Your main goal here is to offer only things that your fans really want or can use. When, as often happens, a crowdfunding campaign fails reach to its goal, unappealing rewards are most often to blame. As such, my tip is to consider your rewards with care and allow adequate lead time for planning: a minimum of six weeks, preferably two months. This will pay off. How many rewards should you offer? What makes most sense? In my experience, a choice of 10-12 unique, high-quality ‘goodies’ for fans is more than sufficient. In addition, don’t forget to devise one or two more extravagant rewards costing 3,000, 5,000 or even 10,000 euros each. Far-fetched, perhaps – but you never know what will happen! As you do so, remember that high-priced rewards must stand out clearly from the crowd. You need to be more creative than other bands to attract the attention of potential backers. ‘Get the album a month before release’ has long since been insufficient to secure the success of a campaign.
- Similarly, your project video plays an important role. It’s a simple fact that campaigns with videos are more successful, so plan for this element right from the start. It doesn’t matter how you create the video – whether ultra-professional or on a budget with smartphone and gimbal – as long as you present yourself in an authentic and interesting way. Consider, too, that producing a video cheaply doesn’t mean you don’t need a plan or goal. Structure every step meticulously; only then will you be able to maximise the potential of your crowdfunding project and your musical vision.
- At the same time, keep your goals realistic. For most projects, the chance of raising 10,000 euros from 50 supporters is highly unlikely. On Kickstarter, the vast majority of financial contributions range from 0-100 US dollars – so choose a goal that is both reachable and covers your expenses for the rewards. Accidental (and costly) miscalculations are to be avoided. In addition, don’t forget that Kickstarter and Indiegogo charge around 8% to 15% commission on the total amount raised, while Startnext charges 4% for the payment service provider and a voluntary commission of an average of 3%. Where applicable, be sure to account for the costs of sending packages to your supporters. Finally, remember the 50/50 rule: 50% of the budget for production, the other 50% for marketing. Plan accordingly.
- Even once you’ve reached your funding goal, you can encourage your followers to keep supporting you. This can be done by creating so-called ‘stretch goals’: additional promises that go beyond the scope of the original campaign goal. This could include, for example, the plan to record additional songs or shoot a music video when the next funding milestone is reached.
- Kickstarter explicitly states on its website that the most successful projects run for 30 days. Where projects last longer, fans can sometimes lose interest before the goal is fulfilled. A project duration of 60 days might give the impression that your needs are not so urgent – and anyway, no-one benefits from dragging things out.
- Once you’ve published your crowdfunding project, it’s time to get the campaign off the ground. Celebrate the launch on your social media channels and share it with everyone you know. Work day and night to ensure you reach your crowdfunding goal. Enjoy this time together as a band – it’s a great excuse for fun! In my experience, it’s usual to achieve one third to 50% of the total funding goal in the first week of the campaign, so most of your energy should be invested in this period. Don’t forget to respond promptly and politely to inquiries from potential backers.
- After the success and momentum of the first week, a little inertia can sometimes creep in. The initial excitement has faded and the urgency of the opening days is gone. Your task now is to come up with things to keep fans interested – a free live stream from rehearsal, for example, where you play songs from the upcoming album and answer questions from fans. This way, even those who are still undecided will be encouraged to be part of the vision.
- As the above makes clear: it’s crucial that your supporters feel they are part of the journey. Invite them to accompany you and think of them as an integral part of your (street) team. ‘Succeed together or fail together’ is the order of the day.
- By the same token, there will be supporters who don’t comment on every update or share your projects with others. Instead, they simply wait for the reward to arrive in the post. This is perfectly fine: not everyone wants to be ‘part of the process’. Treat these people with the same respect as you would your most die-hard fans. Perhaps they just like your music or are satisfied with a discount or the chance to get the album early. There are many reasons why supporters can be silent!
- As you see, not every fan is the same – which is why your communication should be as diverse as they are. Consider how to reach out to different target groups within your fan base, perhaps by assigning a band member to each. Discuss and plan this together in advance, since you won’t have time to do this once the campaign gets off the ground.
- One common yet easily avoidable mistake is forgetting to share the link to a campaign. No-one likes to spend time searching, especially not in the internet age. As such, there is no limit on how many times you can post your campaign link to make it easy for potential backers to support you. Even if it feels strange to start with, you’ll soon get used to adding the link to anything else you share. Your crowdfunding project must be easy for anyone to find!
- With this in mind, I give you one-time permission to do what I’d never normally advise: annoy people! Tweet, write and post several times a day on all social media channels. Make TikTok videos and exploit your campaign to the fullest. Everyone should know that you’re raising money for your music on a crowdfunding platform: after all, this is the next important springboard in your career.
- For the same reason, don’t be afraid to write personal messages to friends, family, fellow musicians and fans. These personal appeals for support are often very effective – so be sure to customise the messages and make them full of life. This can be a great way to kick-start that second, slower-paced week. While it’s a time-consuming process and can feel uncomfortable, it’s worth it: an amount in the low thousands can quickly find its way into your coffers and help you reach your funding goal.
I believe that fans are still willing to pay for music – but that musicians need to find new ways to ask them to do so. Crowdfunding can be the first step to getting your music out into the world.
What are your experiences? Have you ever started a crowdfunding campaign for a musical project? Was it successful? If not, where do you think you went wrong? I’d love to chat to you in the comments.