Catching the crowd funding wave

Dwarf dinosaur in Romania. Image by Mary Ann Wilson

There was a time when impecunious musicians and artists wanting to make a CD or mount an exhibition went through a tedious year of applying for grants (and waiting another year to hear if they were successful). Some did succeed, were awarded grants, made CDs, exhibited, and/or went on tour at the expense of State or Federal government or local Councils. Maverick South Australian songwriter Soursob Bob has a song about that – “Grant got a Grant”. A slacker gets a grant, puts the money in the bank and goes back to watching Mash. When someone in the Grants Department starts asking Grant what’s going on, he tells them it’s “in the developmental phases…and everyone knows that can last for ages.” Good on you, Soursob.

Fast-forward to 2015 and every man and woman and their dinosaur is raising money for creative projects in what is fast becoming a crowded field. Generically known as Crowd Funding, it works like this: the person wanting to raise money approaches one of the “platforms” (the people who run back of house, collecting money and taking their cut) – Pozible, OzCrowd, PledgeMusic and Kickstarter are just a few. If they like your idea and think it’s viable, they will help you tap your Facebook friends, family and fans.

Canadian paleontological sculptor Brian Cooley raised $25,000 on Kickstarter to help transport a commissioned work from Calgary to Romania. I know about this only because Brian is related to She Who Now Holds onto to the Rails While Walking Downstairs. Brian and his wife and business partner Mary Ann took their 7m full-sized Transylvanian Magyarosaurus on an amazing road trip.

Brian says his average donation was higher than the usual for Kickstarter, possibly because he offered incentives to those with deep pockets (Black Sea and Danube Delta nature cruises), supplied by a Romanian NGO.
“Had we not had those incentives, and people standing by to put in for them, we wouldn’t have attained our goal.
“Unless the big operators like Indiegogo or Kickstarter pick yours as one of their favourite projects, you get no promotional help.
“In reality, a lot of our donors ended up being friends, relatives and other people we knew and it was us, not the website, which brought our project to their attention.”

We’ve all heard about the famous people who did very well out of crowd funding. In just three days after parting company with Sony, Kate Miller-Heidke funded an independent CD, O Vertigo, and US songwriter Ben Folds did a similar thing, with his fans underwriting his next project. Critics say that big name-artists like Radiohead, Kate Miller-Heidke and Ben Folds did well out of crowd funding because their label created their profile in the first place. Kate Miller-Heidke acknowledges that, but points out it had been six years since her biggest album with Sony and all that time she has kept in direct contact with fans through social media and constant touring.
The concept of crowd funding involves offering your fans, supporters, mentors and patrons a choice of gifts in exchange for a financial pledge.
Kate’s husband and musical partner Keir Nuttall says one misconception they have encountered is that people think it is some kind of donation or loans system.
“But we went into the campaign with the clear intention of it being at its simplest a variation on the old model of pre-sales.
“The smallest pledge people made included a copy of the record and a bonus live album, for a little less than it would cost them anyway. The additional fundraising incentive items were everything from house gigs, Happy Birthday phone calls, handwritten lyric sheets and merchandise packs. The feedback we had was that people seemed genuinely happy with the value for money they received on all of these things.”

Brisbane artist Nicole Murray raised funds nearly three years ago through Pozible to send her Fiddle Icons series of paintings to an exhibition in Belfast. We tipped some money into that and as a result have a limited edition print of fiddler Emma Nixon on our lounge room wall. Murray says she would do it again, but only if she really needed the cash.
“The one piece of advice I’d offer is, don’t make your rewards too difficult to deliver. It took me ages to catch up with people whose reward was an art print. For some I only had an email, so I was depending on them to send me a mailing address.”

Alan Buchan’s business, fRETfEST, which involves mentoring young singer-songwriters, took something of a body blow last year when his long-running relationship with the Woodford Festival came to an end and Arts Funding dried up.
Not a man to be thwarted, Buchan took a brief holiday at the beach then launched a successful fund-raising campaign through Pozible, to take the fRETfEST roadshow to small halls in regional towns. Born in Ayr, just south of Townsville, he has experienced small town Australia first hand and he’s proved this is the place where undiscovered talent lies waiting for someone with flair enough to lure them into the spotlight.

“Nowhere Line” studio still

Crowd funding is a handy tool for the fiercely independent film maker who has something important to say but lacks the finance to finish the production.
A new campaign has been launched by animator Lukas Schrank, who needs to raise $20,000 to complete post-production on his animated documentary about life for two detainees on Manus Island.
I found out about this because I am on a couple of refugee support organisation mailing lists. If you think about it, an animated film is probably the only way this story will be told (the film makers have recorded the stories of two Manus Island detainees). I made a modest contribution to this project, with the feeling that we will be reading about this documentary after it is shown at international film festivals. The press coverage will paint Australia as a selfish, callous country.
I would like to see a one-line credit/disclaimer: “Thanks to the Australians who financially supported this film and who do not agree with their government’s refugee and asylum seeker policies.”

Crowd funding is not for everyone – as Nicole Murray says “If you had the money to fund (the project) yourself, you wouldn’t do it.” Alan Buchan says he found the 30-day time-limit quite stressful, as did Brian Cooley, who found out only after his campaign had closed that he was starting to get pledges from outside Canada.

A crowd funding campaign can also be the best sort of reality check. If you aim to raise $6,000 and don’t meet your target, the under-funded money is not collected and you’re back to square one. There the project may languish while the artist ponders whether it is worth the financial risk to dig into their own pockets.

In our case, it was so much easier to produce our studio CD by writing to my industry Super fund, saying that as I am retired and over-60, I would like some of my own money now, thanks. So we have “paid it forward,” as they say, and in six weeks or so will rely on family, friends, fans, colleagues and acquaintances to keep the faith when we offer our new CD for sale. Anything’s pozible!