Friday, 24 August 2012

Pledging my love: Red Shoes and Electric Swing Circus take the crowdfunding route

Crowdfunding to pay for a project is generally agreed to be a good thing.  It worked well for the Destroyers, but could it be too much of a good thing?  Plenty more people are working the system right now. 

Red Shoes' numbers on Sunday 26th
Right now, the pledge movement is the favourite new way for bands and artists to raise funds for big projects. It's simple: meet  the pledge site's (quite stringent) conditions, then use the site's muscle, guidance and savvy to to raise funds. For this, you pay a commission fee. The sites undoubtedly help in many ways, but you've still got a lot of work to do to reach your target. 
The two sites here are Pledge Music, one of the largest, who don't disclose funding targets, have big and small clients worldwide; and Crowdfunder, UK based, much smaller, who charge less, do disclose the funding targets, and also fund non-music projects. 

At the point of publishing this post, two West Midlands bands: Red Shoes, and Electric Swing Circus, were closing - ultimately successfully - on their funding targets for new albums, with Pledge Music and Crowdfunder respectively. Red Shoes are veterans who have recruited some absolute superstars of the folk world to work on their new album; Electric Swing Circus are a charming, skillful and slightly demented new-ish six piece who blend (their description) 'breakbeat and house with jungle and dubstep, whilst keeping true to their own unique style of swing'

And both bands were kind enough to honestly answer my very picky questions about the whole process.

At the time of writing you are both closing on your targets. How has it gone? 
Mark Evans, Red Shoes: We’re running at 78% now with a real jump in the last week. We’re not there yet, but we think that we’ll hit that target. 
Tom Hyland, Electric Swing Circus: So far so good, we’re on track to hit target on time so we are all happy with that. 
I’m a fan. I follow your progress on Facebook, and it seems like you’re there every day with bits and pieces about how you’re doing. It’s great to see the numbers edging forward, but do you ever wonder that you might be nagging your fans…? 
Tom Hyland, Electric Swing Circus: Yes recently there has been a lot of that – but because our Facebook page has grown so fast this past month on the back of the festival tour, we are trying to get the message out to our new  friends, so we have perhaps pushed it a bit harder than we would normally. We are usually quite good at mixing posts about ourselves with other things in and around the electro swing scene. And very soon we’ll resume normal service, with maybe a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio of Crowdfunder to other stuff. 
Mark Evans, Red Shoes: We've had that feeling. It’s hard to strike a balance between getting it out there and just informing people. But if we don’t do it for a day or two, the pledges slow down. None of us are used to the hard sell and it’s difficult putting it up constantly on your own personal page. But remember not everyone keeps up with everything ever day. We’ve had a couple of negative comments on Facebook, but they’re people that haven’t pledged. Our pledgers have come out in support and have “shared” and “liked” the comments and posts.
People can pledge for all sorts of goodies, not just the cd. What has worked best to sustain interest? Nine months ago, the Destroyers auctioned off Louis Robinson’s beard…. What is your most outrageous/attention-seeking offer? 
Mark Evans, Red Shoes: We’ve tried to keep to the music side. Gimmicks wouldn’t really work for us, and none us has a beard to shave off in the first place!  Our album guests (Dave Pegg, Dave Swarbrick and Bev Bevan) have brought us increased and sustained interest. You know you’re doing something right when these people play on your album. The signed CD is working the best for us, but over the last few days our new T-shirts have gone great guns. People who’d already pledged have added them to their order. We had to get the right design and we think that ours  really works: Lyrics to a song, incorporating the album title, along with the group name. The addition has given us a new burst of activity.
Tom Hyland, Electric Swing Circus: We haven’t got anything particularly wacky on our list; we really wanted to focus on stuff that we thought was genuinely worth something so the rewards are a little straight. Our headline reward is two guestlist tickets to a festival with us next year and that has had quite a bit of interest – if people ever wondered what artist camping is like at a festival, now is the time to find out (FYI it’s better, but not that much better). We did really try and keep the prices down, on all the rewards so for example with the festival tickets, they work out as £125 each which we think is quite a bargain!
As you’ve both said, success really depends on you getting out to market your work. But by setting yourselves a very public target, are you not also running the risk of failing in public? It does happen…
Tom Hyland, Electric Swing Circus: I agree, doing this does make you feel exposed. I've spent plenty of time refreshing the screen, hoping for the slightest increase, wondering who amongst friends and family might donate, and then wondering if I've asked them once twice or three times already...
Mark Evans, Red Shoes: Aaaagh, don’t say that! No, we know we could fall flat on our faces. But if you don’t try, you’ll never know, and it’s better to have tried and failed. The one thing we are all confident in, is the songs and the sound of the new tracks, and we’ll get there.

It’s really interesting to look at your pledge site, and see who else is out there pitching. Are you in good company, do you think?
ESC closing on their target too...
Mark Evans, Red Shoes: It’s bizarre to see yourself next to great artists like BB King (and we’ve been side by side with him since day 1!). To be on the same page as Shelby Lynne, Ben Folds and Then Jericho is a little unreal, but it also shows what kind of status Pledge is at. If these people are on there and it’s working for them, then because it’s a level playing field, it also might work for us! No one, artist is singled out on that Home page, we all get the same publicity and push.
Tom Hyland, Electric Swing Circus: Looking through there are a couple of interesting musical projects that I've been meaning to get round to supporting for a while. That said there’s not as much there as I thought there would be. More interesting projects on the site would definitely be welcome, though, if anyone is thinking about it...
And are people able to see exactly how much money you are asking for? Some sites let you see this sort of thing, others don’t. 
Tom Hyland, Electric Swing Circus: I think by showing the amount of money you are asking for, it makes it much easier to justify things to fans. I don’t see a real advantage in hiding the total, unless you are trying to do something a bit sneaky. It’s very difficult to pick the asking amount, and there was much debate within the group as to how much to aim for. In the end we went with £2500 because it did feel much more attainable than figures like £8k that we are expecting to spend in total on the album.
Mark Evans, Red Shoes: No, that’s not revealed. It’s just the target percentage against the Pledges and days left. It really wouldn’t sit well with us as people if that amount was up there is £ and pence, we’re not good at “asking for money”. 
Right now, I’ve got pledges on both your sites, and I could have a whole lot more… do you think there will come a point when this sort of fund-raising won’t work any more?
Tom Hyland, Electric Swing Circus: I think the more it is used, the more it will favour established projects rather than new projects. If everyone is shouting, some of the smaller players may struggle to be heard. It is interesting how this model gives total power to the fans. If people want it, it will happen, if they don’t it won’t. I think there will be people who get disillusioned after failed projects, but this model is very honest – a project will fail because either the concept is flawed, or there wasn’t enough exposure. There are no other excuses. If we were to fall short though, it would act as a wake up call: either we’d need to sort our marketing out, or come up with a better offer! 
Mark Evans, Red Shoes: We think it really is the way forward. It’s not a new concept: Marillion and The Strawbs have funded their releases for years through pre-orders on their sites. But Pledge is a complete platform. There’s a support network if you have any questions on sales, fulfilling the pledges, business advice... you don’t get that on your own site. Updates are put out regularly and you’re encouraged to do this constantly yourselves as well.
This form of artist funding is starting to worry the big boys, because they won’t have control over releases in the future. But they’ve only themselves to blame. Great artists like Dylan, Van Morrison, The Band, The Stones or The Beatles just wouldn’t get a look-in these days if they were starting out. If they were starting out again, then they’d be using Pledge Music.
How helpful has your site been in guiding you through the process?
Tom Hyland, Electric Swing Circus: Fantastic. I've had a fair few queries through the process, and replies have come with within a few hours at the latest. It was also helpful having someone at the end of a phone if needed. 
Mark Evans, Red Shoes: Brilliant from the start. Carolyn spoke to them on the phone initially and we got a full rundown on what could be done. They asked lots of questions about the project. We were encouraged to be realistic about our target figure and to base it on our mailing list to start with. The mailing list is most important: that's those fans who really want to know what happening with Red Shoes. They are the people who bought the first album, and are going to more than likely want the new one . . . and they have!
They run through a very easy business plan with you and assess all the figures, then encourage you to think of the extras that will act as the incentives that only Pledgers will be able to get. This goes backwards and forwards until all the boxes are ticked and all the extras are in place. When we’ve had a question, we can get hold of our personal mentor almost immediately either by phone or through a mailing system. We get our Pledges delivered through as emails and the database is updated immediately to show the new orders.They encourage you to give things away to the Pledgers/Fans. It makes it a very personal connection. We’ll let you know that it’s worked perfectly when we start sending those orders out!
Finally – any tips for those who are considering going down this route?
Mark Evans, Red Shoes: We spoke to Paul Murphy from The Destroyers before we took the plunge. His advice was worth it’s weight in gold. He made us reassess a few things before we launched; we’re glad we had someone who had succeeded on Pledge to talk to apart from the mentors in the office.
You need a loyal and supportive fan base, with a mailing list of people that you talk to. You don’t  have to have lots of members on it, but you need people who follow you or come to see you live regularly and have signed up for information. Next, be realistic about your target, because overreaching for a figure just might make it difficult to get to your target. Then, be prepared to push, push and push all the way, blog it out to everyone who’ll listen, that you have a fantastic album coming out and they’d be mad not to pledge on it.
Pledge also let you arrange to make donations to a charity of your choice. You can have allocate some of the funds to go to that charity. Because we all knew people affected by strokes, we are giving 10% of funds raised over the 100% to Stroke Association. As a last statement, we’d say “Go for it, you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain!”
Tom Hyland, Electric Swing Circus: Well we are not through the process yet –and until we hit target I wouldn’t want to give too much advice in case I got it totally wrong... but based on what I have learned so far... It’s best to do the campaign while something else is happening, so we have alternated our dialogue with the fans between this campaign, and the festival tour. It is also good to do this during a time when your fanbase is growing, as it means that there is something there for recent followers to engage with behind. All in all I think crowdfunding is fantastic, not only for raising money, but for giving fans the chance to get a bit closer and get involved. Just make sure you're ready before you jump in with two feet.
On balance, it seems all good for Mark and Tom, and I really think that both bands will hit their targets. But I see problems in the long run. As Mark says, the old-school 20th century record industry has driven itself into the sand with its conservatism, market manipulation and get-rich-quick repertoire selection. It's no surprise to me that musicians are choosing to bypass the old ways. If I I was a record industry executive, I'd be looking hard at the new talent emerging on the pledge sites, and snapping up whatever I could. And I would ask myself why the big names like BB King are abandoning my business proposition. But I would also ask where the next big names are going to come from.

And if I was in a band, I might also want to ask how long this method of funding will work for - unlike Tom, I certainly don't think it will last 50 years. I might also ask myself how long a music packaging format  that was invented by an obsolete record industry - the album - is going to last. But for now, hey guys - it's looking good! 

Red Shoes website           
          Red Shoes gig list 
Red Shoes on Pledge Music 

Electric Swing Circus 
         Electric Swing Circus gigs list
Electric Swing Circus on Crowdfunder 
Pledge Music

1 comment:

Bob Boucher said...

I can't help noticing the Facebook references to the fan funded albums Back in 1979 Mean Street Dealers funded the recording and production of their live album "Bent Needles" by selling vouchers to the fans in advance of the recording with promise that the voucher could be exchanged for vinyl when the pressing was completed. Following the live recording at the Railway, Curzon Street, Birmingham on 29th September 1979, the tapes were mixed and produced overnight by Bob Lamb (working at the Haven pub in Yardley Wood) and taken for pressing the following morning. I believe the fans had the vinyl in their hands within ten days. In those days our finances were such that without the fan funding the record would never have been produced.