In November of 2013, Cleft decided to give crowdfunding a go. They’d just finished recording their new album, Bosh, but in order to release it physically (with both CD and vinyl in mind), they were going to need some money to fund the final production costs. They were careful to choose and prepare all of the rewards for pledges of certain amounts and to fill their Kickstarter page with videos, media, and thankful messages directed at potential backers. What they didn’t know was that they would be over halfway to meeting their goal of £1,800 within two days, and that within 21 of their 30 allocated days they were fully funded, leaving them another nine days to achieve a funding amount well over their target.
Given the current climate of the music industry – changing from an environment where large labels were seen as the only methods for funding large projects, to an environment where these large labels are dying out and a myriad of other options are becoming available – the success of websites like Kickstarter is certainly interesting as a new model, heralding in a new level of freedom for indie releases. According to the current Kickstarter stats, a total of US$112 million has been pledged to Kickstarter music projects specifically, with close to 16000 successful music projects since its inception in 2009. Moreover, Kickstarter is not the only website providing crowdfunding services. Other platforms such as Pozible, Sellaband, PledgeMusic, and ArtistShare can provide similar services for musical and creative projects around the world*.
In order to garner some wisdom from Dan and John from Cleft about the success of their campaign, we caught up with them and asked a few questions.
What made you decide to use crowdfunding in the first place?
John: Well, it was a case of we didn’t really know where to get the money from! We didn’t have a spare two and a half
grand lying around to do vinyl, and it was something we really wanted to do. Neither of us had ever released a record on vinyl before… and you can only produce a minimum of 300, so we had to do something about it. I’d known about Kickstarter for a while and I thought “Why not give it a go? It seems like a good platform for bands to start off with, and we’ll see if we can get any support with it,” and low and behold, it turned out we have an audience. And we’re dead pleased with that.
Dan: We were quite nervous doing it in the first place, because we were like ‘If it doesn’t work, it’s going to be so embarrassing.’ Because it’s not like you can do it again, if it fails…
J: Because if you don’t meet your target, you don’t get anything at all.
This “All or Nothing” system is true of many crowdfunding platforms (including the aforementioned ones, bar PledgeMusic and ArtistShare). Platforms that use the AoN system demand that all projects have a clear deadline (which is often recommended to be around 30 days), and a clear target amount. If that target amount is not raised in time, then the pledges are not taken, and the project is left unfunded. At first you might think that this is a pretty harsh way to raise funds. What about the projects that only fail by a hairline? The Kickstarter website has some pretty convincing arguments for why an AoN system works best:
Did you decide on what to ask for by taking your pressing costs and taking off a little bit to be on the safe side?
J: Pretty much, yeah. Our total was about 2.5 grand to get everything done, so we thought, well, “What can we reasonably ask for? What do we think we might actually make?” and eighteen hundred quid was the target we decided in the end… and then we made more than that.
So you didn’t expect it to be as successful as it was?
J: No! Not at all. It was an experiment entirely.
And then once you met your initial target, it was open for you to try and get closer to the full amount that you needed.
D: We very nearly got there, it worked out. And then we put presales up on bandcamp before the album was released, and made the remaining amount anyway, so we managed to raise all our production costs before we’d done it. Which is brilliant.
J: Otherwise, without backing, it’s very difficult for bands to afford to do stuff like that. So the only way is taking it out to the community and saying, “Please help us!”
D: It’s the perfect model for an independent band, really.
J: And we’ve recommended it to quite a few other bands since.
Are there any things that you can pinpoint that drove your Kickstarter to be as successful as it was?
D: We did lots of little videos and updates.
J: Yeah, we put a lot of content online to give people. We did a bunch of studio videos, and we did the initial video to try and encourage people to donate. I think that initial 3-minute video helped a bit, and it got shared a hell of a lot on social media. So it was just other people that helped us make it in the end, to be honest. We didn’t do much apart from provide some content, and hope that they’d engage with it.
Are there any other pieces of advice you’d give to other bands who are wanting to do something similar?
D: I suppose had it timed fairly well, like we’d hit the stage where people seemed to be willing to pay for our music…
J: That’s a good point actually; the best advice would be “don’t do it too early”. Wait until you’ve got a fan base and you think that you’re able to ask people for enough. Because otherwise, if you don’t know about whether people are willing to pay for your music then you’re never going to reach your target.
D: We did our very first EP before we’d played a gig or anything, and we tried to do a thing where we wanted loads of images of chins. We were just like, “Just take a picture of a chin and send it to us, and that’s going to be the album cover”. And it was such a struggle to get anything, because no-one had heard of us; we had maybe 60 likes on facebook…
J: Which were all of our mates! So we got three chins from people and then we ended up stealing chins from profile pictures of our mates on facebook to make the album cover.
D: And in the end it was like a ditched attempt… So yeah, you’d need to be at the right level, really.
J: Another thing I would say has worked well for us is providing our music for free download. It’s much more important to spread your music to other people, and get people engaged with it, and get people coming to gigs. Then they might eventually buy a vinyl or a tshirt, or something, but it’s much more important to actually get people to listen to it.
Cleft are a two piece instrumental math band from Manchester, UK. You can listen to Cleft’s debut full length release, Bosh, as well as their two EPs on bandcamp, or follow the band on Facebook.