Crowdfunding - Agony and Ecstasy
2nd May 2014
It's not always easy to ask for things. At school I was reluctant to ever ask for help with anything as I always thought I should be able to work everything out on my own. I should have learned that there's a time and place for self-reliance from when my determination to wing it alone in home economics caused me to fail quiche (I had to take it home in a bowl). However, as I’ve grown up I’ve realised that while a preference for self-sufficiency can be empowering in some ways (surely deconstructed quiche must be on the menu somewhere in the world) it can also only get you so far in life and indeed can exclude you from all sorts of possibilities and experiences. As Amanda Palmer said in her inspiring TED Talk, we live in a culture in which we’re generally not encouraged to ask for things. We’re encouraged to assert our own individual strength and security at all costs and to regard other people with suspicion. The message that people are basically self-interested bastards is pretty pervasive. Too little time is given to the fact that people are more often than not surprising and generous in ways that you cannot begin to imagine. So much more becomes possible when we do things together.
Most people realise that it has become increasingly difficult for independent artists to sustain themselves making their own work. As an independent muso you are constantly giving away your music for free in order to get it heard by the people who might connect with it. It feels good to be able to give the best of what you have to offer freely but when each aspect of your work - live performance, records, radio perfomance, music videos - is expected to be free, as it is claimed to be promoting another aspect (your free gig is promoting your record... your free record streaming is promoting your live work...), it's hard to actually get paid! People who love music and art do actually want to see the work made and support the people making it and so crowdfunding has somewhat stepped into the breach and become an important way to allow music lovers to do just that.
Various online crowdfunding platforms exist, the most well know of which are Kickstarter, indiegogo and PledgeMusic, where all sorts of creators - artists, musicians, film makers, inventors - can raise funds for their project through public support. The set up is relatively simple: you make a little film pitching your idea, add some more detailed written information and then you offer various exclusive “rewards” or “perks” which people can select as a thank you for their contribution.
Now, it SOUNDS simple but I have to say it is unspeakably awkward being a British person trying to make a Crowdfunding appeal. I received some advice when preparing my indiegogo campaign from various friends who said,”just take an attitude of hey, I do cool stuff... if you like it, here's your opportunity to show your support and then, whether people do or not, don't be too fussed about it either way!” I should make an important point here: ALL of these particular friends were either North American or Australian. It just seems these ballsy folks take to this stuff like ducks to water. My fellow Brits on the other hand were almost unanimous in saying "Oh god! It's hideous!!! Just clench your buttocks and get it over with!" The process of making my pitch video made me feel very VERY British and I really must thank my film maker friend Tristan Shepherd for getting me through it. Somehow he managed to shoot and edit the film to make it look like I am able to ask for help with something other than the discomfort of someone repeatedly stabbing themself with a fork. It is truly a miracle of modern film making.
So it was with some trepidation that three weeks ago I drank 104 cappuccinos and sat in a cafe on the high road, my finger trembling with fear (and caffeine) over the go button. It’s bizarre to experience such nerves at four in the afternoon to a soundtrack of clanking coffee makers and Celine Dion. It’s a little like throwing a party and sitting there alone wondering if anyone will turn up. Only potentially much more humiliating and accompanied by 90s power ballads.
I pressed go, put a link up on Facebook and waited... one minute...nothing...two minutes... This is ridiculous, I thought, talk about watched kettles! I was about to close the laptop and go mournfully eat a twix on a park bench, and then... It started!
I had my first backer! Michael Roth, an American composer (and Randy Newman's orchestrator dontcha know) who contacted me last year, surprisingly after having watched the live stream of my performance from a chilly St Pancras Station while eating his breakfast in the Santa Monica sunshine. I was really moved that in fact all of the first people who jumped in to back me were fellow musicians, people I respect deeply and that I know are not exactly swimming in cash.
Then things happened fast! As I write I'm at 68% of my final target with just over three weeks to go. I'm really so staggered by everyone's generosity. I feel so encouraged and excited about what I'm going to be able to do with all of your help.
I’ve now been able to finish the production of the album audio, shoot the album artwork and yesterday I finished mastering it with the wonderful Andy Ramsay from Stereolab.
If you would like to contribute to the campaign, and there’s still a way to go, your support will be very very much appreciated. I still need to raise the funds to actually get my album manufactured on both a beautifully presented CD and a really special limited edition Vinyl.
To everyone who has backed me, thank you so very much! As I've said before, without people like you there are no people like me.