This year I changed gears from demoing and producing a new album, to re-releasing another one for its 10th Anniversary. How did I strategize the crowdfunding aspect of it?
Demoing For A New Album
Around about this time last year you may recall that I was in the throes of demoing for my first new, full, real and true album since 2005 (I’ve released a lot of stuff since then but not a true “album”). My intent was to have that new album out by now but, obviously, that hasn’t happened. Instead, I reissued a completely remixed, remastered and repackaged 10th Anniversary version of my third album (and, as noted above, my last true one) Lemonymous. Here and there, I’ve mentioned little pieces and little bits about why I changed gears the way I did, but I never really have gotten into the how.
So, as promised, here’s how it all came together.
But first, in case you’ve missed the “whys”, here’s a little summation – just because it might be important to know this stuff later on.
How I Got Here
As I stated above, my plan last fall was to have an album done and out by Fall of 2015. I’d set the whole thing into motion by starting work on demos in September of 2014 and getting a private group created in Facebook that was meant to showcase the work as it developed, getting feedback from trusted friends along the way. I’d convinced my good friend David Brewington to take up the mantle of acting manager (it is incredibly difficult to try and do this all yourself – that’s another thing I’ll get to later on), and was in the process of wooing James Shiveley (who’d done the score for my wife Emily‘s short film Are You Listening) to produce. I wanted to have a good 15-16 demos ready by January 1st 2015.
By the end of January 2015, due to the fact that I had been deep into editing Are You Listening, I only had about ten very rough demos, which I didn’t consider enough for work to start on a full album. The editing of the short film project had taken up a significant amount of my time and, as a result, I’d stepped away from the demo work long enough that coming back to it was proving to be very difficult – I couldn’t get in the mindset and I was losing track. I had really wanted to get out of my house, find a place that I could take my portable studio and record (anywhere, really… it didn’t have to be a studio), and regain my focus, but my search had left me with nothing.
On top of that, I didn’t have the money that I was expecting to pull in to get some of the equipment (amps, pedals, other effects stuff) that I felt I needed to kick this project into gear and help me discover a new sound – so I was locked into having access to, more or less, the same sounds I’d always used. I couldn’t break new ground that way. On top of that, James and I agreed that because the album wasn’t moving forward fast enough, we’d part ways on the project and come back to it later on down the road.
I also realized I had another significant problem. My goal was to release an album that had about 10-12 songs, with music videos, a special edition package with a bonus CD and a whole lot of extras, a LOT of photos during the sessions and after, and if possible a DVD/Video of some behind-the-scenes stuff that could really help pull people in. Doing all of this would cost a significant amount of money (starting at least around $5,000… again, money I just don’t have), so the plan had always been to go through a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter.
The problem was that without much of a fan base to speak of, there really wouldn’t be anyone to contribute to the project, so it was very clear to me that even if I could get a good chunk of this completed I would not have the money to release it. I looked into PledgeMusic, because they’re a crowdfunding platform that focuses specifically on music acts like myself, and they have a very high success rate, however, the reason they have that success rate is because they take a look at your social media standings (your Twitter, Facebook and Mail List) and help you find a realistic goal to set so that you can reach it. But, again, I had no real fan base to speak of. I would never make enough through that to pull the full album off.
So it was in early February of 2015 that I happened to put out a little blurb on Facebook and Twitter mentioning that this year was the 10th Anniversary of my album Lemonymous. Strangely, I got a lot of positive reactions from friends and family congratulating me for such a milestone. We’re not talking in the hundreds or anything… more like in the 10s – but that was still enough to mean something coming out of such a musically dismal Fall.
A light bulb went off. For years I’d been wanting to clean up, remaster and re-release all my work, with the intention to start with the 15th Anniversary of Neon Apocalypse in 2016, but (as of February 2015) I still didn’t have the rights to a good chunk of that music, which complicated things (I won’t get into the legalities of it but suffice to say while I could pay the royalties and release the music, putting out videos and doing other kinds of promotion with it would be very difficult and expensive). What if, rather than wait until 2016, I started this year with the 10th Anniversary of Lemonymous?
An Anniversary Re-Release
The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Lemonymous was one of my favorite works. It was eclectic, experimental, and represented in many ways the broad spectrum of my musical tastes and abilities, and might very well make a great re-introduction of my work to the world and to a new crop of fans. On top of that, while remixing and remastering (which I intended to do all of myself) would take a lot of time, I wouldn’t need new equipment to handle it, the photos were already in the bag, and as long as I put the work in to design the package, I could release the album as I had always intended to back in 2005.
Additionally, I could use the process to try and gain new fans that might help me build my base and actually allow me to raise enough money to put out the new album that I’d originally planned for, using any of the above-mentioned crowdfunding platforms; I could learn along the way how to raise the money without the pressure of also having to make new music, make the mistakes I’m likely to make and learn from them but not sacrifice the quality of new work for it, and be more prepared to put new stuff out the following year with what I’d learned. This would include building new media contacts, radio and podcast friendships and other blog relationships.
In short, putting this album back out would cost way less than doing a new album and might help me build the support base I’d need to successfully put out a brand new album later on.
Once I fully committed myself to this idea, I also decided I wanted to put out an additional CD of remixes and alternate takes (which originally wasn’t going to take a lot of work but I’d find out later on would turn out to be a bigger beast than I’d expected). Since it became clear to me very early on that I wouldn’t be able to put together any kind of documentary on the album (again, I had no support base and no money to put it together, and trying to do it myself was just not going to work), I concluded that a companion CD would be the best way to celebrate the decade and it was something I could surely do on my own. It also served as an excuse to record a few things here and there to get my creative juices going and to refamiliarize myself with my recording software and practices.
The Numbers And Strategy
Before getting started, the first thing I’d have to do is figure out how much money I’d need to raise via crowdfunding to put these two albums out. So I went to Discmakers and put together two quotes – one for the 10th Anniversary Lemonymous (with full-color fold out wallet and full-color 16 page booklet), and one for Lemonymix (which is what I was calling the companion CD), including the CDBaby Pro Bundle that would get it onto all the digital retail sites (like iTunes and Amazon MP3), and into sync catalogs for potential TV and film inclusion. The figure I came to was about $1500-1600 for both of them together. I knew immediately that I was highly unlikely to raise even this but I felt that if I could raise even half of it, I might be able to put in the rest.
With the final figure in-hand, I started to formulate the best strategy for crowdfunding the project. Because I had no real support or fanbase I knew that the people most likely to fund the project were going to be friends and family. Given that, I wanted to ensure that as much of the money that they were dedicating went to its intended purpose, so I almost immediately ruled out crowdfunding platforms Kickstarter and Indiegogo – their fees were just too high, especially for such a comparatively small number that I was trying to raise.
In the end, I decided that I would run the campaign through my website, using Paypal as a means to do the crowdfunding – their transaction fees were a very tiny fraction of the funds that would be coming through, which meant more money was going to its intended purpose, rather than being wasted on the platform’s administration costs. Decision made, I went about creating the buttons I’d need from Paypal, embedded them in the page that I coded on my WordPress template, and designed the background and color themes that the website would use throughout the year to celebrate the release.
I put out a press release and then created and edited a very quick promo that went up on the website and teased the upcoming crowdfunding campaign, which would start March 15.
The campaign itself would require a pitch video, so I wrote myself a script, filmed some B Roll of the old hard copy of the CD and album jacket, along with some screenshots of the crowdfunding campaign webpage, mail list and the templates that I was already working on in Photoshop (more on those later), and then sat down to film myself talking to the camera and making the pitch that I’d scripted out.
My intention was to weave a story, talking about some of my previous work and how Lemonymous was different, giving a sense of the importance and history of the album, while at the same time making it clear that this wasn’t just any reissue – this was about putting the album out the way it was always supposed to come out with the tools that I (and other artists) now had at my disposal.
In the end, the final product looked very much like a mini-documentary of the album, which was satisfying since I knew at this point I wasn’t going to be able to make the full one that I had wanted to make.
And let me tell you, that video was not easy to film – since I was doing it myself I had to work a long time to get the focus right (because I didn’t have a monitor to look at). I literally had to focus the lens, hit record, go sit in front of the camera for a second and then come back and see how it looked. I had to do this for about two hours to get it right. And even then, if you look closely, you can see I’m not entirely in focus – this is mainly because I couldn’t keep getting myself into the exact spot every time, and I had no one behind the camera to make the corrections live.
But that’s okay – I think it still turned out well – I’ve gotten a lot of personal compliments on how well it came together. I think I could have done better, but I always think that.
On March 15, the Paypal campaign went live. It was time to promote it and see what would come in. And in the meantime, I was already getting started on remixing the music and putting together the actual packages.