[Originally published at Hypebot in August, 2012.]
Rock band Murder By Death recently achieved the honor of having the third highest funded Kickstarter music campaign after Amanda Palmer and Five Iron Frenzy. Exceeding their $100,000 goal, their final pledge total was $187,048. I spoke with lead singer Adam Turla over the weekend and he shared the details of the campaign.
Murder By Death, based in Bloomington, Indiana, first got together as Little Joe Gould in 2000 and have gone on to release five full length albums and numerous other shorter works on vinyl in addition to CD and digital versions. Along the way Adam Turla took over business management and so decided to run the campaign himself.
Murder By Death Kickstarter Campaign Video
For their upcoming release, "Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon," they decided to use crowdfunding to support the production of a vinyl edition and also to do some things that would deepen their connection with their fans.
Care For Your Fans & They'll Care For You
Turla explained that they've been handling the vinyl releases themselves, even when working with labels on CD and digital releases. They knew from past experience that they had a strong group of fans that would preorder whatever they put out. As you can see from their Kickstarter campaign page, the rewards include such offerings as a Postcard Club, an MBD Book Club plus personal events such as house shows. In addition to being unique, such rewards keep them in direct touch with their more supportive fans.
Murder By Death has always made a point of connecting with their fans including hanging out after shows for pictures and conversation. They strive to show their fans that they care about them and Turla believes that's evident even from the stage. He feels like the success of the campaign was almost a reward from the fans for that caring.
Budget As Best You Can, Set Prices That Feel Right
I assumed that Turla's experience with vinyl gave him a real edge over newcomers in budgeting and pricing. But he said that there are always surprises and that sometimes the quotes they received for special items such as the Zoetrope (pic on the campaign page) were less than the final product cost. More importantly, one never really knows which rewards will attract the most attention. That means that it's hard to predict costs because you don't know till the end of the campaign which items will take off.
Beyond budgeting as best as one can, Turla also revealed that pricing was not set with a particular margin in mind. There were times when aesthetic choices overran profitable ones and the pricing reflected that. Turla says the final call on pricing came when he posted the rewards on Kickstarter prior to making them public and doing a gut check to see if they felt right. Having contributed to numerous Kickstarter campaigns himself, he knew from his own experience that overpricing items wouldn't feel right and that sometimes the right price wasn't the most profitable.
Turn It Into a Game
Murder By Death's status as the third highest music campaign on Kickstarter came about almost by accident. Turla just happened to check the "Most Funded" categories on Kickstarter on the last day and discovered that they were in striking distance of being third. They immediately notified their fans and he said it became almost like a game for them.
Many chose higher rewards or simply upped their pledges as well as notifying their friends. He says if he'd checked sooner, they might have gone for second place but even so the response from their fans was overwhelming. He didn't attempt to turn it into a game but fans responded as if it was and that suggests the power of gamificaton when people care about what you're doing.
Adam Turla's Advice for Other Bands
Now that they're Kickstarter heroes, Turla says other bands are asking him for advice. He noted that bands should assume they have only one really big campaign possible, as opposed to crowdfunding multiple times, and that they should work really hard. For his part, it may have been a mistake to do it all on his own (my interpretation not his) especially since the campaign wrapped up as they were heading out on tour.
Having every hour of one's day devoted to touring, interviews and dealing with the work of a crowdfunding campaign is overwhelming. But even if you're not going out on tour, recognize that a successful campaign requires a great deal of work. It's not something that can succeed on its own.
Turla was most moved not by getting a bunch of money but by the personal response from fans. The campaign gave them a reason to reach out and express their feelings about the music of Murder By Death. He says he's written a huge number of emails in reponse but that it was incredibly gratifying to hear stories of how their music had affected their fans.
Be sure to check out the campaign video above as well as the Kickstarter page. The video, photos and text are all well done and give one a sense of a band that can take care of business without losing their personal touch.
Indiegogo recently shared their picks for the Top 12 Music Campaigns of 2012. It's a nice mix starting out with one from George Clinton:
"The renowned king of funk, George Clinton, ran a very successful campaign (over 600 contributors) to upgrade his music studio and secure the rights to some of his classic music."
"As the Banks House grew in popularity, its founders knew they would need to find a new space to share their music. The community helped them make it happen."
"Four Brazilian guys randomly met in Barcelona, started performing Beatles songs together, and then decided to record an album in Italy with the help of Indiegogo."
"You might recognize Dave Elkins from the band Mae. He ran a successful Indiegogo campaign to shakeup the music industry at the grassroots level."
"This 17-year-old DJ started a project to raise money for breast cancer research through electronic concerts."
"After the popular game Glitch closed down, fans wanted a way to remember the game. One of the game’s creators is helping people do just that by funding the soundtrack on Indiegogo."
"Watch it [the pitch video], and you’ll understand why 361 contributors helped them reach their goal!"
"Unable to ignore the tragedy that recently occurred in Connecticut, OneRepublic started a campaign to bring relief to the affected families and community."
"With another great concept for a pitch video, the fledgling English band Yossarian got their contributors involved in such a way that created a viral loop."
"By offering exclusive perks they knew their fans would love, Spock’s Beard rolled well past their funding goal and toward its 11th album."
"Crowdfunding experts — the two Randy’s of Cherry Suede — engaged their fans with a funny and informational pitch video and then made it even easier for contributors to help their project by offering incredible perks — like a chance to go on tour with the band!"
"These headbangers turned to crowdfunding to help finance their tour. They hit their goal...times 3."
The Limousines' Campaign Video for Hush
Their pitch video, shown above, as well as the text description on Kickstarter makes it clear that they're asking for the basic amount they need but that they'll be able to do much more if they get more. They describe what they would use additional funds for without becoming overly detailed. They then go on to describe why they don't want to sign another record deal and how they want to do things in the future. And they do it while big upping their fans and staying positive.
Their video is entertaining and humorous. It doesn't get bogged down in details or rhetoric while communicating quite a bit.
In addition, their campaign rewards are well thought out from special digital goodies for those who pledge $2 to limited edition tees at $50 (along with a copy of the album) to all sorts of interesting rewards at higher tiers many of which are one of a kind. For example, one of the $500 rewards is titled the "ZOMBIE KILLER PACK" that includes a leather jacket worn in a music video plus other cool prizes.
Every aspect of this campaign is well thought out and definitely an example worth considering when you're thinking through your own campaign.
Eric Victorino seems to handle the talking job for the band and he discussed why they took the crowdfunding route in a recent interview:
"I have just learned as I've gotten older that nobody is ever going to be as passionate about my art and my ideas than I am. That leads to the next logical step, which is to seize control over my art, not to hand it over to someone who doesn't care about it like I do..."
"[We are] people who can only be happy when we're making art – it's the process that gets us off and we're tired of having people fuck with our process. That's what this Kickstarter campaign is all about. I have seen some people comment that it looks desperate or needy when a band does a crowdfunding project for their album – I don't think it's desperate, I think it's honest, I think it's ballsy, I think it's a hell of a lot easier to pick up the phone when these label people call and say, "Okay, I dunno what all that fine print says but I wanna be signed" and just give away control of this huge part of your life..."
"Now, since I've been signed to a few labels in my career, and I know it's not the route I want to take again – should I just say, fuck it, I guess I'll go find a job and just kinda make music as a hobby, since I don't want to be a professional musician? No. I am a professional musician. I can stand up in front of a crowd of 15 thousand people and entertain them for an hour. I'm good at that. It's what I love to do with my hours. The music business is fucked up, but I'm not going to treat my art like a hobby just because I don't want to play by their rules anymore. I'm going to find another way to get exactly what I want to do done."
"I think there's nothing more natural and obvious in the progression of the business than bands getting closer to their fans and treating them like partners, cutting out the middle man. Bands need two things to stick around; a desire to make music and fans who give them the love and support they need to make it all feel worth it."
"I don't know how many hours I have left on this planet. To me, they're priceless. So I'm gonna find whatever way that works so I can be free to make what I want and to be proud of myself."
Big ups to The Limousines and their fans for a job well done!
Note: Eric Victorino was also interviewed by Matt De Mello. It's a really sad example of a hostile interviewer who seem to neither understand the realities of the music industry or the shift in power brought by crowdfunding. Victorino responds strongly and well but ultimately it's a waste of his time and I hate to see that happen.
I had considered including it in a post I'm working on about criticisms and misconceptions of crowdfunding but glancing over it in consideration for this post just turned my stomach. De Mello is clearly not worth your time or mine.
Luís Tinoco - Orchestral Works CD Promo
Tinoco's goal was 3000 Euros and he exceeded that with a grand total of 4220 Euros. Since wrapping up the campaign in early June, he went on to complete the recording session later that month.
Tinoco used a fairly new Portuguese crowdfunding site called PPL which launched in 2011.
Crowdfunding: Portuguese Artists in Survival Mode
Monica Campbell created the above radio piece for PRI's The World and also wrote about the campaign which was a response to a crashing Portuguese economy. Luís Tinoco turned to crowdfunding as other sources dried up:
"It was always a mission impossible. All the doors closing...I tried private companies, I tried state funding. I was really in a big stress, waking up in the middle of the night."
He was initially a bit concerned about the campaign:
"I was a bit fearful because when you ask the public to be involved in the process like this, if that fails you are also failing in front of the public."
In addition, both crowdfunding and online payments are new and untried concepts for many Portuguese people. PPL co-founder Paulo Pereira stated:
"People had some skepticism for example regarding online payments. And so these things take a little longer to catch on...You need to build a lot of credibility on a platform like ours before people really start understanding that they can trust us, that the projects are good."
Tinoco says there were also concerns from other composers who were worried about such funding allowing the government to pull back from arts funding. But, as Tinoco pointed out, the money wasn't there and crowdfunding worked.
Two pieces of music by Luís Tinoco (with shockingly little identifying information) via above article:
Adam Jay's Mediastinum EP Campaign Video
Though some people including journalists still think of crowdfunding as "passing the hat", which is a bit ridiculous given the fact that they're mostly discussing platforms that function as presale and superfan rewards systems, Adam Jay is in a situation where traditionally donations might be requested. However, in order to address his $20,000 hospital bill, Jay isn't passing the hat, he's crowdfunding a techno EP that uses sounds recorded in the hospital.
Adam Jay's Mediastinum EP campaign has a fascinating backstory. As he explains in the above campaign video, he actually decided to get serious about making electronic music 12 years earlier during a hospital stay. Since then he's devoted himself and reached a personal highpoint with a performance in late May at the Movement Electronic Music Festival.
That evening he developed a nasty cough and after a few days of treating it as potential pneumonia, he checked into the emergency room where they eventually discovered that he had a "microscopic perforation" in his lungs that had developed into pneumomediastinum or "air in the chest cavity" that "severely compressed" his lungs and trachea.
As he began to come out of Intensive Care, he started to pay attention to the sounds around him:
"It was incredibly hard to sleep there, because you have all these machines that are making noises...You have a thing on your finger that's measuring your blood oxygen level and any time that dips below, like, 90 it starts beeping. You got other machines moving air and a whole arsenal of equipment keeping you alive. I've done some recordings in the past where I've used found audio and I just thought, maybe there's something here that I can work with."
After being discharged and facing a $20,000 bill, he decided to turn his personal disaster into something positive, partly inspired by the desire of his friends to help out:
"I wanted to be able to give everyone who so generously agreed to help me out something in return...Something with meaning and something that came from this experience."
"I'm not looking for handouts...My goal here is take an awful situation and make it into something productive. Something that can be shared with a community of people who are willing to help."
The result is the Mediastinum EP which is now complete and streamable via SoundCloud:
With just a few days left in his Indiegogo campaign, Jay is a little over a third of the way there. Please consider pledging and be sure to spread the word!
The Giuseppi Logan Project Campaign Video
In May Scott Steinberg released The Crowdfunding Bible which is available as a free download or paid hardcopy. Recently VentureBeat ran an excerpt from the book on Ed Pettersen's Kickstarter campaign to fund an album with Giuseppi Logan:
"Giuseppi Logan was a contemporary of Albert Ayler, John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders...In the sixties Logan was hailed as one of the bright lights of free jazz. In the seventies, Giuseppi disappeared from view and remained lost to the music world for over 30 years."
"Around 2009 Giuseppi was found playing for change in Tompkins Square Park and assistance was found to get him housing...Through friends and contacts, we were able to connect and after one failed attempt...we met up with Cooper Moore and Larry Roland in Manhattan for a full day of recording. The highlights of the session are captured in the Giuseppe Logan Project, with 3 new original compositions and Giuseppi’s unique twist on 3 classic jazz tunes."
The campaign requested a modest $6,000 that resulted in pledges of $12,208. Here are some lessons Ed Pettersen learned in the process:
Crowdfunding is NOT "Begging"
"I wasn’t a big fan of crowdfunding. To me, it had a tinge of begging and the recording industry is humiliating enough without adding to it. However, when it was pointed out to me that in essence we were simply pre-selling our wares to fans we already had and potentially new ones as well, I realized that my prejudice was silly."
Do Your Research
"We studied several, maybe even dozens of campaigns… why some were working, why others weren’t, why some were more attractive than others, etc. We also looked at which promotional devices they were using, what their networks were, and so forth. We actually spent about a week or ten days studying other campaigns."
"We used some of the more effective campaigns we studied as a jumping off point, but then followed the Kickstarter tutorial to the letter...Then we spent about four to five days writing and rewriting, all the while referring back to some of the more successful campaigns we saw."
Put In The Work
"Once you do decide to dive in, you must be relentless. Nothing will come easy, and it may take up a good deal of your time, but once you commit, work harder than you ever imagined or you will regret it and may lose the opportunity."
"We spent four hours a day for three weeks after our campaign launched writing to every jazz journalist, every blog, every website and every record collector we could find. We sent out hundreds of individual e-mails and letters."
Work Your Way Up the Media Chain [sez Clyde]
"Blogs are great, but overrated frankly. We spent so much effort and got little tangible return until that effort attracted a large, respected newspaper’s attention...somehow all roads led to getting The New York Times interested in our project. They obviously heard about it from someone we had contacted, i.e. a blog, activist, or other journalist."
[Note: Pettersen discounts the value of blogs yet he notes that they may have helped get the campaign into the NY Times which is what got the response they needed. Check my post at Hypebot on Pendulum Pitching for one articulation of working your way up the media chain.]
Follow Through With Those Who Pledged
"After the campaign launched, I personally thanked each and every person who pledged, immediately after they pledged [and provided "personal info and contacts."]...This, I think, is very important. Some folks haven’t been exposed to crowdfunding before...I believe it’s prudent, polite and comforting for them to hear from us right away. It seals the deal, if you will."
And Keep the Public in the Loop [sez Clyde]
If you're interested in getting hold of the final project, keep an eye on the Kickstarter updates and Ed Pettersen's site. To be honest it's a little unclear what's happening. That means the project is missing out on one of the greatest benefits of crowdfunding beyond raising money and that's the long-term marketing and awareness aspects.
After putting so much time into spreading awareness of a campaign, don't miss out on how that can fuel publicity beyond the campaign. If the music's that important to you, keep the ball rolling!
More from The Crowdfunding Bible:
I previously posted at Hypebot regarding The Crowdfunding Bible On Campaigns That Succeeded & Those That Failed.
California Headphones Pitch Video
California Headphones completed a highly successful Kickstarter campaign a few days ago. They more than doubled their goal of $100,000 reaching $220,159 in pledges. I think their campaign is a great example of how to succeed in crowdfunding.
According to the pledge video, cofounders Tim Hickman and David Adam started developing their headphones 14 months prior to the beginning of the campaign. By the time they launched their campaign they had already designed the headphones and gone into production. So this wasn't a campaign for a product that was depending on crowdfunding to move forward. But the fact that they were already well on their way and had pictures of the final product meant that gearheads leery of companies with great design but no experience following through were satisfied (this concern will grow in coming months and years).
Having the professional photos of the final product are also a real enticement to folks into such gear. That approach to photos fits California Headphones well just as a more casual approach fit Black Moth Super Rainbow's campaign. Both are an example of presenting one's campaign in a manner that fits one's audience or intended audience.
As noted in the pledge video, the headphones were designed to meet the needs of rock and country fans whose audio concerns are different from those of hip hop fans. Given the wide range of hip hop-related headphones that have been introduced over the last few years, they're also able to leverage that publicity. For example, their current home page states:
"STOP PRETENDING TO BE A RAP STAR."
In addition, they position the materials of their headphones, "retro metal and leather," in opposition to other headphones made of plastic as seen on their home page and on their Kickstarter campaign page:
"Tired of Plastic headphones? California Headphones are retro designed die cast headphones wrapped in leather that sound insane"
The campaign also taps into a demographic of rock and country fans that often hate rap music. This focus helps explain some things about the press coverage they got prior to the campaign linked out on the Kickstarter page. It's all tech press, no music press. I've seen that approach undermine certain companies offering music-oriented apps and mobile services who never developed a big following because they didn't target likely users of their services via the music press.
In this case, gearheads can be found reading tech sites plus the overwhelmingly white male audience for such sites (as well as the overwhelmingly white male writers) fits the demographic of "people who might buy headsets focused on rock and country music." In addition, having great reviews of your product going into a campaign is a great asset.
Note that at the bottom of their page they have video endorsements from the kind of white guys that are going to attract gearheads. That's not to say other demographics won't be attracted to these headsets or would not be enticed by the campaign. It is to say they have a strong fit with their likely market, one which Tim Hickman already knows well through such such brands as "Speck Products, Hard Candy Cases and Gumdrop Cases for smartphones and tablet computers."
Tim Hickman's apparently well-known for such products. Having a strong personal/professional brand behind a product is always a plus for both marketing and for reassuring potential funders that you will follow through properly.
Taken as a whole, California Headphones' Kickstarter campaign is a beautiful example of one primed for success. Though it's not a campaign by musicians, which is the main focus of this blog, they offer a great example of all the necessary elements coming together for crowdfunding success.
Clyde Smith on Crowdfunding Music
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