/CMA/ By Jeannie Naujeck
When Chuck Mead set out to make Back at the Quonset Hut, an album of classic Country songs, he wanted to kick the project up a notch.
He was recording at the Quonset Hut, the recently reactivated studio erected by Harold and Owen Bradley on 16th Avenue, where Patsy Cline, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Roger Miller, Ray Price, Marty Robbins, Tammy Wynette and many others recorded some of Country’s most enduring hits.
With such a rich history, Mead wanted to include a film about the making of his album and about the Quonset Hut itself, as part of a CD/DVD package. The only problem was the added cost of producing it — about $10,000.
So Mead turned to Kickstarter, an online funding platform that allows fans to “invest” in creative and business projects. Within 30 days after posting his request at Kickstarter.com, he had reached his goal — and then some — to help pay the costs of producing, mixing, mastering and editing the music and film, and then packaging the CD and documentary together.
The money came from 178 friends, fans and other backers who pledged at levels beginning at $10, for which they received a handwritten note from Mead. One person pledged at the maximum $1,000 level and received a free house concert by Mead as thanks. Most backers pledged from $25 to $50 and received an advance signed copy of the package.
“It’s a great record and a beautiful package. It’s really culturally compelling,” said Theresa Kereakes, a Nashville photographer who contributed to Mead’s project and several others related to music and film.
In fact, Kereakes is planning her own Kickstarter campaign to produce a book of her touring photography exhibit, “Unguarded Moments: Backstage and Beyond.” “On Kickstarter, you reach 100 percent of your interested audience,” she said. “That’s the new patronage in this economy. You can’t plan on having a corporation underwrite your efforts. What the corporations used to do, people are now doing on their own individual level.”
Kickstarter is just one of a number of “crowdfunding” sites that artists, writers, filmmakers and startup businesses can tap to find funding for creative projects without turning to record labels, film companies or banks. Those seeking money make the pitch on their sites, and interested parties invest at varying incentive levels, which can range from $1 to upwards of $10,000. Incentives can be anything from a song download and signed CD to backstage passes, a personal concert or dinner and a recording session with the artist.
If projects do not reach their funding goals by deadline, which is usually a month, the money is not collected, so there is no risk to the backers.
When a project is funded, Kickstarter gets a 5 percent commission of the total, and Amazon receives an additional 3 to 5 percent for processing payments.
Texas Country artists Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis are using the money they raised on Kickstarter to make an album together for the first time. The couple exceeded their goal of $35,000 by nearly $10,000 and got 563 backers, lured by incentives from an advance download of a song plus streaming rough mixes from the studio for small pledges of up to $10, to a personal concert from the artists. Those who pledged $25 received advance downloads of songs from the album and a signed CD. Larger pledges were rewarded with concert tickets, handwritten lyrics, limited edition posters, photos and T-shirts, as well as copies of the artists’ album catalog.
One backer who gave $1,250 will get to sit in on a recording session with Robison and Willis and receive a credit on the album. Another gave $5,000 and will have a song written for him or her by Robison. Yet another pledged $10,000 in exchange for a house concert.
The money gave the couple time to write songs without the pressure of label recording constraints. “This model gives us the most freedom to manage our music and career,” they said. “This new album will truly be made with and for our fans.”
Some 20,000 projects have met their funding goals thus far on Kickstarter.com, the largest of the crowdfunding sites. Others include Indiegogo.com, on which independent artist Mike Block raised $48,001 to help with medical bills after being hit by a taxi; RocketHub.com, which also focuses on creative and artistic projects; Microgiving.com, a fundraising site for various causes; and Quirky.com, specializing in finding support for new product development.
Kickstarter’s biggest success to date has been the Pebble, a wristwatch that provides email and social media alerts, caller ID, a customizable face and a variety of apps. Within two hours of posting the request, the partners made $100,000. Overnight, they raised $1 million. Also, indie artist Amanda Palmer raised more than $250,000 in the first day of her Kickstarter campaign to make her first album since leaving a major label as well as fund an art book and tour. Though her original goal was $100,000, she had raised nearly $600,000 from 11,000 backers in just one week.
Not every artist has a fan base the size of Palmer’s or the buzz of a watch tied to the iPhone. But many have exceeded more modest goals. In November 2010, singer Mike Farris raised $14,500, more than double his goal of $6,000, to complete the first phase of his album Already Alright!. One backer pledged $1,000 and got to spend the day with Farris, touring his favorite places around Nashville.
Nashville producer Phil Madeira asked for $5,000 in his Kickstarter bid — and got it on the first day of his campaign. By the second day, he’d raised $10,000. Within a week, he had gotten $20,000 in pledges. Madeira ended the campaign with $37,205 from 706 backers – plus another $5,000 from people who contributed to him directly instead of going through the site.
Madeira used the money to create Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us, a compilation of songs with spiritual themes, featuring The Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Civil Wars, Emmylou Harris, Buddy Miller, Shawn Mullins, The North Mississippi Allstars and other artists.
“I was knocked out,” Madeira said. “It blew my mind. I said, ‘If I get $5,000, that will more or less cover my CD manufacturing bill.”
Madeira let people know about the Kickstarter campaign by emailing friends and posting information about it on his Facebook pages. These contacts then passed along links to their friends, creating a viral promotional effect. That, plus near-daily interaction with backers and fans on Kickstarter.com, further facilitated the campaign’s success.
“It was really a great way to promote and publicize the record,” Madeira said. “I had a dialogue going with all these people. That kind of activity begets more activity.”
Three of his backers pledged at least $2,500 and got the opportunity to write and record a song with Madeira. Three others took up his offer of a two-hour songwriting session in person or via Skype. And another three who pledged $2,000 or more will get a personal house concert.
“I’m a fan of several artists on the album, but I thought the project itself, the way it was described and the theme, was really admirable,” said Will Jennings, a lecturer at the University of Iowa who pledged $100 and received a CD, a digital download and a watercolor painting of the album art. “I couldn’t be more thrilled with how the whole project turned out. It’s on heavy rotation in our household. And when you have a good experience, you want to tell other people, ‘Hey, check out this CD!’”
Jennings peruses Kickstarter for worthy projects and so far has backed 16 of them, including a new album and film by Canadian singer/songwriter Rose Cousins, an iPad amplifier and the Pebble watch. He has also pledged money to a project to winterize a farmer’s market building and turn an old jail into a grain mill, both in Maine.
“I’m a believer in micro-financing or common financing,” said Jennings, who played in a band for 16 years. “I like the idea of spreading the risk out among an array of people who are willing to lend their support. Why not let people put their money where their mouth is?”
Madeira used the excess money to pay his support team and further promote the album, which was released April 24. Since then, he’s been busy fulfilling his promises to backers, including mailing out CDs and participating in songwriting sessions.
“The first order of business is making sure these people are treated well,” he said. “I have at least 500 things to mail out. That’s hard to do yourself. But it’s been fun.”
Madeira hopes to fund his next project, a solo album, by tapping the backers who funded Mercyland. “I don’t anticipate the kind of income that Mercyland brought in because I won’t have Emmylou Harris; I won’t have this cast of real stars,” he admitted. “But now I’ve got this network of 700 contacts who did say ‘yes’. And out of those, I’ll bet half of them will support a solo record. We’ll see.”
© 2012 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.
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