What’s crowdfunding got to do with a marriage proposal?
Tyrone and Lesley are a ukulele and double bass duo, playing original music. All of our records have been recorded on a shoestring garlanded with favours. In late 2013 we thought we’d attempt a modest crowdfunding campaign through Pozible to see if we could gather some more resources to enable us to expand our musical/recording palette and record our third album.
This kind of fundraising isn’t new, and has its ancestors in things like Praenumeration in the 1700’s. It probably ended because they didn’t have broadband in the olden days.
It takes a lot of work to make crowdfunding happen, especially if you’re in an act that’s not hugely popular. We’d tried once before, when our audience was even smaller, but didn’t meet our target because it was pitched too high and we didn’t work hard enough to ensure word of our proposal got out through all channels available. So we tried again.
It’d be counter-productive (and annoying) to use such a platform to simply hassle people for cash – the exchange needs to be more significant than that. It could be considered a way of honouring existing relationships as well as maybe being a meaningful starting point for new ones. Sometimes the support could be as simple as spreading the word or sharing a link. If you’re asking people to support you, to become part of an artwork, then artistry (no matter how basic) must be applied to the request. We made this little introductory video.
The campaign reached its target. Yay! We then had to ensure the rewards reached our supporters. A lot of these rewards were, for want of a better word, creative. For some supporters, it was enough to pre-pay for an album they hadn’t heard yet in the knowledge that they’d be the first to receive it, and that they’d be credited as ‘executive producer’ in the liner notes. Some of the smaller rewards garnered a ‘work-experience assistant to the producer’ type credit, thus gently poking fun at the grand titles while offering a gesture of recognition.
We even offered a Christmas album called ‘Baubles’ exclusively to fans who ordered it through Pozible.
Some of the ‘rewards’ we offered in return for financial support included having a ukulele chord named after you. For this we created a bogus instructional video. We promised others their name would appear in a Thankyou song so we wrote it.
Another option was for supporters to suggest songs by other artists that we would perform cover versions of on youtube: this included a version of the Aphex Twin song Milkman (the original version has some.. ‘language’). This cover proved popular, because there’s an inherent challenge in adapting such a downright weird (and peurile) electronic song to an acoustic context.
writing songs as a reward
Perhaps not all musicians could do this, but we offered the option of writing songs as a reward. Essentially a commission. It’s an artistic challenge that we’d tried before and were well up for. Sam and I had some experience of writing songs ‘to order’ under great pressure through a project we did for the Queensland Music Festival in 2011. We knew how hard it could be, but also had a sense of how potentially… rewarding it could be to create these rewards.
Pozible supporters Trevor and Lindy selected the option of having a ‘song written on a topic of their choice’. They suggested two words- Gentlemen Songsters, which turned out wonderfully; almost a statement of Tyrone and Lesley’s musical philosophy. We wrote the song, recorded a demo and sent it to them – they were the first to hear it. It’s now the title track of the album. It wouldn’t have been written without the pozible campaign.
We also offered an ‘online singing telegram’. One of the sweetest results of this was us writing a song One Question Remains that served as a proposal of marriage. We met with the supporter and built a gently humorous song around information he gave us. The idea was that the potential bride could be called over to ‘look at an interesting video on youtube’ (which would celebrate their long-standing relationship) and then the question would be popped. It was an honour to be involved. She said yes.
We have used the funds our supporters gave us to make our third album, Gentlemen Songsters. We had planned to make the album in an old hall, but logistics (and cicadas) made this more difficult than it had initially seemed, so we shifted plans and recorded it in a small studio, much of it live. We were able to pay musicians to help us, who’d perhaps ordinarily help us out for free; pay for studio time; and arrange for manufacture and distribution of the music without being out of pocket. We didn’t pay ourselves anything.
There were also costs involved in manufacture and postage of the materials out to people who’d pre-purchased, and of course we’d budgeted this in as well.
The writing around an artwork (bios, project descriptions etc) is nearly as important as the writing in it.We took our time to do this as well as we could, and carefully reviewed all the handy hints pozible had to offer.
We probably over-did the ‘creative rewards’ element, but then we got as much out of it as the supporters did. The planning and labour involved in conceiving and conducting a crowdfunding campaign the way we did it is comparable to, and probably more than applying for a grant to do an arts project. On this small scale crowdfunding surfaces the invisible economy of the arts.
If we costed our writing, rehearsal, recording and filmmaking time in relation to the proceeds of our pozible campaign, we’d certainly have come out at a loss, but maybe it’s not entirely about that kind of accounting.
You can sample or purchase the album here.
It’ll be alongside our other recordings on itunes before too long.