Sunday, 19 July 2015

Pledging My Love with Boat To Row

A modest crowdfunding appeal to get their album pressed: 88% of target in 16 days. Great going. 

Wayne Fox Photography    
Chatting with Boat To Row is a pleasure. They're great company, and damn fine musicians to boot. The band has quietly built up a very loyal fan base in their six years. Now they're working that fan base to cover production costs for a first album, using that cornerstone of fan-funding, Pledge Music.

We met for coffee in Brum this week: me and three band members. The other two? Tied up with a very new baby and teaching paperwork. But the Colmore district was packed with celebrities: Perry Barr MP Khamid Mahmood was hanging at Yorks, and Julian Lloyd-Webber, the new Principal at the Conservatoire, was in the Wellington. Movers and shakers clearly surround this band.

Tips and tricks for a successful campaign

It looks like you're done and dusted already – it's an SNP-style landslide. 82% of target reached in fourteen days...
Ben Gilchrist: It's really nice, how fast it's gone. We don't want to get too cocky until we cross the line, but it's amazing. 
One of the big challenges is keeping a momentum going. But I guess a realistic target, for a specific purpose, kind of helps?
Lydia Glanville: We're not asking for a huge amount. This is to press the album.
Ben: We've covered all the recording costs through touring, including the mastering. It;s ready to go, the artwork's there. It's ready to go to the pressing plant. 
Hannah Fathers: I think that's the point. It's really focussed. People know how much work has already gone into it. We're not saying support it from the very start. We need people to help with this last bit. 
So would you suggest that a small, achievable goal is a good way to approach Pledge?
Lydia: For us, yes. People know how long they will have to wait. It'll come really soon. And we can offer them previews into it. 

The extras on offer

And of course, with all Pledge campaigns, you offer goodies over and above the basic album. How did that go?
Lydia: We did deliberate quite a bit, didn't we? 
Hannah: We didn't want to pitch it too bland. Other people offer really crazy things. We didn't want to go over the top. The whole thing is governed by what you are asking for in total. How many options do we offer, so it's not too confusing. How many different levels? We've offered lots of small amounts rather than something really big.
Do you get any guidance from Pledge? 
Ben: Yes. But we went to them with a fully-formed idea. If you want help, they'll give it to you. Obviously they want the campaign to success, because then they get a commission. 
There are bands who go for six-figure sums...
Lydia: I'm following one – a friend of mine who plays in a band from London. They're probably a smaller band there than we are here. And they've been asking two thousand pounds to come and play a house concert. I think that's unrealistic
Especially as you are offering house concerts for way less than that!
Lydia: We've done a few, It's a really nice atmosphere, but I find it more nerve-wracking.
Ben: You're quite exposed, playing in front of twenty people, with no PA most of the time. But it's lovely, everyone's relaxed and comfortable. 
I think what's helped Boat To Row is that in many ways, you're one of the most connected bands I can think of. You're tapping into musical communities, there's a solid and warm online presence, and a bit of longevity. I think that we can reasonably assume that, short of your massively offending everybody, you'll make your target. So that means the album is coming soon. What can we expect? You're definitely getting more punchy and textured live...
Ben: I think it's the first time our live sound has been properly captured. Before it's been a bit clinical.
Hannah: Because of the nature of the recording – using Highbury Studio, recording in 16-track analogue, on tape – it does have that kind of live feel. We planned it out ahead of time, we rehearsed it really well. 

Web fan-funding: on the rise, or a saturated market?

It's worth remembering that there are always Pledge campaigns going on that you ought to know about. Subscribe to a campaign, and Pledge shoots you weekly emails detailing fresh high-profile campaigns. Of the last headline acts mentioned in the past four weeks, two are local: The Enemy and Scott Matthews. On top of that there's a there's a mention for the ongoing UB40 campaign which will produce an album in 2016.

But it strikes me that it shouldn't be beyond the wit of man or of Pledge to do a bit more customisation in their mail-outs. I am currently following several friends' campaigns with interest, and of course they're local – there's the totally admirable campaign for Highbury Studio which I wrote about a few weeks back, and Vix has a campaign on the go too. Also worth noting: The Traps, who have been relatively quiet of late, this week announced the successful completion of a Kickstarter campaign for their new album.

For info, this is Ms Perks' latest project, but she was the really edgy showy one with the Elvis sneer in Fuzzbox. Nowadays, all that attitude is long gone, and she cheerfully fronts Vix and her MsChiefs.

Pledge is one of those tools which lets artists big and small to achieve their goals without having to dance attendance on a record company. Fan-funding can be a great way to go when it works. But I suspect that Pledge are missing a trick in not customising mail-outs a bit more. I have pledged quite a bit – I'd like to do more - and it's always going to be for acts from my patch. I like to support work by people I know and who I've seen live. Looking at my fellow pledgers, I'm definitely not the only one who thinks this way. So, given that Pledge are constantly building and refining their database of supporters, you'd have thought they could look harder at the motives of pledgers and work in a bit of localisation. It's not really good enough to offer just a mediocre genre range by which to search. 

That said, the main way Pledge campaigns work is by working existing loyalties, no matter how big the acts are. So the location of an act probably isn't the biggest factor. I do think it counts for something, though, especially in markets like the West Midlands, where fierce loyalty is earned by solid gigs. It's foolish for Pledge not to make use of this. 

In the meantime, go Vix, go Highbury, and go Boat To Row!

Boat To Row's pledge page

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