Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Destroyers cross the PledgeMusic finish line

How one band found online fan funding to support their CD. It wasn't easy...

Louis Robinson in make-up for the video shoot
On January 12th 2012, around lunchtime, the Destroyers hit their target on

This allowed them to fund the release of their second album. I am delighted for them. I’m not alone: check the Destroyers' Facebook page to read messages of congratulations from all over.

By the way, this here is Louis Robinson with a lot of scary make-up being applied. The Destroyers were shooting a video yesterday for their next single. More on this later.

I’m a big fan. I’d love to see the band grow and prosper.  I’ve been watching the online pledge process closely from the moment they got it underway. It seems to me that the Destroyers played this one just right. But setting up a worthwhile project on one of the many pledge sites is one thing; taking it to fruition is quite another. 

Fan-funded music releases aren’t new. Ten years ago, veteran Scottish pomp-rockers Marillion demonstrated the power of marketing themselves directly to a loyal Europe-wide fan base with spectacular success, when the record industry had long since written them off. Buffalo singer-songwriter Anni DiFranco has put out releases yearly for 18 years on her own label, maintaining and managing direct links to her growing following.

And it’s becoming a much more significant part of the music landscape. I went to PledgeMusic  to look at the successes. On the Funded - that is, successful – page today, the Destroyers are up there, front and centre, one of the most recent projects to cross the finish line. Following on are a string of happily completed projects from around the world. You won’t know most of them, because they all successfully work to their home areas. But if you jump back to the PledgeMusic home page you’ll see some surprisingly big names, not all of whom have been successful. Many are: there’s Reef, and Killing Joke, who have both wildly exceeded their targets, and in so doing, sidestepped the conventional record industry to great effect. But look – here’s Ian McCullough, a name to conjure with from the 70s and 80s, who has yet to hit the 100% mark. I think he probably will – he’s three quarters of the way there and he still has another two months to gather the remaining pledges of support.

Pledge sites work by inviting fans to contribute towards a total sum. This funds a CD, or a DVD, or a film, or an EP, or an artistic activity. There are dozens of such sites covering all sorts or artistic activities, but they tend to work in much the same way: your pledges are only redeemed if the entire project hits its target. So there is a risk of failure. And of course, if you fail, your failure is both public and extremely disappointing for the band and fans.

When the Destroyers kicked their campaign off late last year, they rapidly hit the 30% pledge mark,  offering a range of goodies to pledge for from straight downloads to signed items, and even attendance at a rehearsal followed by dinner with the band at a mere £140. This is a bargain: you have to fork out 500 Australian dollars for dinner with The Murphy Brothers, a three piece from Western Australia. After that encouraging start, things slowed down a little bit. Then, alarmingly, things slowed down quite a lot. The percentage total, loping gently but steadily upwards, started to crawl. And after Christmas, for obvious reasons, things got sticky. With a week to go, they were still some 20% off their target. However, recent days saw an explosion of online activity to raise awareness. Band members, friends, fans, family and fellow musicians, tweeted, posted and nagged. The band kept up a steady stream of posts, offering video clips and extra treats for those who had already pledged. I wasn't sure anyone eventually came in for Louis Robinson’s framed beard, though - a snip at £69. 

I met with the band at their video shoot (in a backstreet boozer a stone's throw from the Birmingham markets area) to talk over their campaign.Louis  was more than happy with Pledgemusic: 
“They get involved. You talk to them at least once a week, and it’s always the same person, so you develop a relationship. They’ll tell you about other campaigns on their site, and suggest you try this or that.”

It looked at one time that you weren’t going to hit your target. Do you think you were realistic in setting your financial goal?

“Yes. We weren’t asking for a huge amount – enough to press up a few thousand CDs, cover some mixing costs and bits and pieces. The bigger your following, the more you can aim for. But Pledgemusic are also pretty good at suggesting a realistic target. And they check you out before letting you sign up – they look at your site, see how many Facebook likes you have see, listen to your music, read the reviews…”

Louis, you still have your beard. Didn’t anyone pledge for it?

“Oh, they did. There will be a ceremonial presentation. There may be video footage in due course...."
Isn't there the awful risk that you might actually fail in your attempt to raise funds? I saw an awful lof of low percentage pledges on PledgeMusic...
"Yes, there is that risk, and we were well aware of it as we approached the deadline day. But PledgeMusic, like I said, were, extremely helpful in suggesting strategies."

Paul Murphy and Sam Wooster (trumpet) talked about the dog days of the campaign.

Sam: “When we got to about 60% of our target, with two weeks to go, I was a bit worried. But then it all came together. We got everyone working their own social networks - lovers, families, friends...”

Maybe your timing could have been better? You hit the slow stage right after Christmas, when everyone was flat broke. It was a bit touch and go there for a while...

Paul: “Robin, we really didn’t have a lot of choice. In planning the album release, tours for this coming year, a first single (Hole In The Universe), and everything else, this was how it had to be. But so many people came onboard with our last minute campaign, by posting and tweeting about us, it spread the word further. And we were able to offer a few exclusive goodies to our pledgers – so that helped.”

And with that, it was back to the video shoot. They were running late, of course. Here's the result:

Lessons learned?
Think it through. Design a campaign. Get your project up. And then sell it, hard, repeatedly, and shamelessly. Find angles. Enlist support. Get the project to go viral if you can. As with so much of today’s music industry, the onus comes back down to the artist. Your fans may love you to pieces, but your job is to convince them to part with money online. To many, that’s a contradiction in terms. And remember that you are in competition with dozens of equally deserving projects, some of whom will be by people you know. The day I went down to meet with the band, two more fan-funded appeals landed in my email inbox. I suggest you take a look at the freshly launched appeal project on from the wonderful Wes Finch. (Update: this project has now hit is funding target too)

By the way, if you’re nosing around Balsall Heath, and you just happen to spot a very battered and tarnished Tuba, Mark Davis would like it back, please. He only put it down for a second, went back inside, and came back to find it gone. Maybe the scrap metal boys came down his street while his back was turned. Now, it may only have cost £20 and a bit of elbow grease to convert it back to from its function as a plant pot; it may not have a perfectly brilliant tone. But it’s the Destroyers’ tuba, dammit, and they want it back.

My congratulations go to the whole band. Now, where’s my CD download?

See also
Scoring big national airplay: how two local bands did this

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