This 6 Qs RE: is taking a slightly different approach than normal. I’m (Megan) usually the one behind the questions; not the answers! But, my friend and collaborator Tony Manfredonia wanted to ask me a few questions about the process and I thought it might be helpful for others to read about the nuts and bolts as well as the highs and lows. At its basic level: Crowdfunding is the process of leveraging your network’s resources to help you fund a project. I know that crowdfunding has changed a lot over time. Kickstarter has been around for nine years (since 2009)! In fact, I remember Kevin Clark had an amazing multi-part series on the subject of Kickstarters here in 2012. There are a multitude of crowdfunding platforms from Kickstarter to IndieGoGo to Crowdrise to GoFundMe to Seed&Spark. The list goes on and on. Crowdfunding can be incredibly helpful for artists who are working outside the popular music infrastructure so I can see why this continues to be a efficient and useful avenue rather than a flash in the pan funding model.
Let’s get to the questions!
What was your timeline like? Did you promote / countdown to the campaign before it went live? Or did you simply share it to the public it as soon as it went live to give it more urgency?
Actually my Kickstarter project was born out of a spark of an idea that caught fire pretty quickly. Shaya Lyon is a friend I made originally via Twitter who has become one of my favorite people and a life-long friend and collaborator. Whenever Shaya says, “have you ever thought about…” my ears prick up and my imagination goes into overdrive immediately. Shaya set the wheels in motion by tweeting, “On my list of fantasy commissioning projects: wordless lullabies for the sleepless, sung by @mezzoihnen.” I thought that was a pretty sweet idea. I’d love to do something like that. So, I quote tweeted her suggestions with, “Composers, can we make this happen?” and received an overwhelming response of people who were interested. That told me that this was a project that was ripe for the happening. Shaya’s tweet happened on March 7th, 2017 and I launched the Kickstarter on April 3rd, 2017.
Because my project included getting 26 composers on board, I communicated with them prior to going live. I also put together my content copy for the Kickstarter page and had some of my close confidants read it over and give me advice. Furthermore, the idea originated on Twitter so I think my network there knew that I was moving forward with the idea between March 7th and the launch date.
How did you determine the budget? I’m sure there were costs directly involved in the recording process, but what additional costs went into the total funding goal?
In the initial recruitment of composers, I gathered information about their commissioning rates for a brief 2-3 minute lullaby for solo voice. The answers were in a pretty large range but I ended up finding the average rate and pitching that to the composers who wanted to be involved. At first, I thought I was going to just self-record and release a digital album. (I’ll probably speak more to this in a later question.) So, my recording costs were super low. I figured I would record at one of my institutions and then digitally distribute through CD Baby. So, I added up those costs and did a conservative calculation of what I thought I could raise and ended up at the initial number of $5,700 or so. Outside of the 5% that goes to the Kickstarter fees, the remaining went to the commissions for the composers.
How many days/weeks/months in advance did you plan the campaign itself? Do you think running a crowdfunding campaign is possible on short notice?
Well, I definitely know that a crowdfunding campaign can happen on short notice. Like I mentioned, the origination of the idea happened less than a month before launch. My collaborators and I rapidly mobilized our communities to make this happen. I often say that this was a 7 day-long Kickstarter that was in the works for ten years. I hadn’t run a Kickstarter of my own prior to this one. However, I have been an active community builder in new music. Plus, I had a team of 26 motivated collaborators. They had potential commissions on the line.
How did you market it? Did you have a concrete audience in mind when writing the campaign’s description, or was it more so when it came time to send it to potential backers?
This is an extremely important aspect. You have to be willing to ask people directly for money or help. Running a crowdfunding campaign is not a “launch it and they will come” sort of endeavor. Kickstarter, and most of the other platforms, have excellent guides and toolboxes for creators on their sites to help you promote and market your project. I’ll break my marketing efforts up here:
I don’t have a giant email newsletter list but I definitely have an engaged group of readers. I sent out an email everyday of the seven days to the entire list. I use ConvertKit for my email newsletter. I wrote all of the content before the launch and scheduled it so that it would go out in succession. The first email was a call-to-action to help me spread the news:
After the last paragraph, I included some ready-made, shareable social media slugs that my friends could copy/paste to use on their favorite platforms. I also created some email newsletter content for the composers to send out to their email lists that I sent to them before the launch or right at the beginning of the launch. We were 32% funded on our first day.
I requested that some of the composers write guest blog posts about why they wanted to be involved with this project for the Sybaritic Singer. It gave me more content to share throughout the week. It also included other voices than my own sharing why they thought this was a worthy and deserving project. Social proof, a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation (Or basically, the reason why Yelp works), is an important aspect of crowdfunding. If you seem to have a lot of people giving to your project, other people want to join that momentum.
I run into artists and creators who think that if you post about your Kickstarter project once a day then hordes of people will rush to your project to give you money. I don’t buy that for a second. I really chose the seven-day option because I knew I was going to post about it incessantly and I also knew that I couldn’t keep that up for more than a week. People check their social media feeds throughout the day so I knew that it would be important to have my project showing up throughout the day/night on these platforms. That’s why I focused my first call-to-action on a request for sharing the project. That would help me scale my reach and my visibility overall. Plus, the ever-powerful social proof.
I created text, image, and video content throughout that time. I asked my collaborators to change their facebook banners to support the campaign. I believe in this project and I wasn’t going to be nervous or ashamed to ask for something that would help fund this endeavor. I used canva.com to create a consistent brand/image for the Kickstarter project so that it would look cohesive and then gave that to anybody willing to share.
I usually tell people this when it comes to marketing performances, but it also holds true when asking for money. “If you’re not willing to ask everyone individually, don’t plan on them attending/giving.” The individual ask is the most powerful tool you have. I made individual asks to people who I knew had the capacity to give to this project. Plus, I made as much of my communication as possible as individualized as I could. I wanted people to have a feeling of personal involvement. This is a project that they can feel connected to and they are helping to create the world they want to live in with their resources.
Typically Kickstarters go for 30 days, but yours lasted about two weeks (if I recall correctly). Why did you go this route, versus the month-long process?
You’re right. Kickstarter does inform most of its project creators that the typical campaign lasts 30 days. After I saw Shaya’s initial tweet, got a lot of positive feedback from composers and collaborators, I saw an email from Kickstarter promoting their All in 1 theme. “All in 1 is a creative sprint to help you bring something new to life, simply and swiftly. Run a one-week project so you can get right to the fun part — creating.” I was hooked. I didn’t run my one week campaign during their promotional time but I did it right after. Another reason I chose the one week option was because I wanted to do the campaign as a “Lean Startup” idea. As Eric Ries says, “‘The Lean Startup’ idea is based on lean manufacturing–a management philosophy that we can easily adapt to the start-up culture. A key part is creating a feedback loop: build, measure, and learn. We want to get through that loop as quickly as possible. But it’s not just failing fast, it’s failing well.” That is to say, I wanted to know if people were excited by this idea and I didn’t want to wait a month to see if it would fly.
What are some of the challenges you faced in both achieving a successful campaign, as well as the aftermath? I know Kickstarter comes with rewards for backers — have you run into any unexpected complications with preparing those?
No project is without complications. In fact, Kickstarter knows this and has a “risks and challenges” section of each project.
Risks and challenges
There are a lot of moving parts to this project! I have already started negotiating with over 25 composers to get their scores by June 10th, 2017. I will then record the project over the summer months. Understandably, I cannot plan for all of their life events over time so we may flexible there.
I have made preparations to deal with any delays in an efficient manner. I also have a project management plan in place to keep all the communication organized and up-to-date. These safeguards will keep us all on track!
I feel very lucky and grateful about the fact that the campaign itself was very successful and flowed easily. Plus, I was able to communicate effortlessly with all the composers and received the compositions on or near the due date. I got started on the rewards in a hurry last summer but there was a pretty ominous cloud looming over me. I thought that I would be able to do this project myself and get the recording down and out the door in a few months.
But, I was wrong.
At the end of August, I hit burnout really hard. By taking on more academic jobs and less of my own private studio, I didn’t realize that I was shooting myself in the foot in regards to time (teaching more than 40 students per week) and financial resources (I don’t have to tell you all about adjunct life) to help complete this project. I wrote, “Understandably, I cannot plan for all of their life events over time so we may flexible there” unaware that it would be my own life events that delayed the making of this album.
Then, I added the pressure of thinking that I should record this album in a studio and get it professionally produced — an aspect for which I had not actually initially raised funds. I even got an agreement from a label that would do that for equal to the amount I had raised in the initial Kickstarter (not to mention what I would pay in fees to a recording studio.) I pursued grants to help me cover these costs but didn’t come away with more money for the project. I was able to start premiering some of the lullabies in live performance opportunities throughout the year, but I fell farther behind on my goal of having them recorded in the way I had initially envisioned.
This project has been a real eye-opening experience about the limits of my abilities to do everything I dream up. I am grateful to have an amazing group of collaborators who are still excited to be part of this project. Furthermore, I feel incredibly responsible to them and to my backers to bring this through to fruition as soon as I can. Sometimes we fail at our biggest and most public projects. But, it isn’t over yet.
Hi, I’m Megan Ihnen, a classical singer on a mission to change the world through the commissioning, performance, and proliferation of new music. I sing new songs written by composers who are writing in a current style of classical music. Want to hear an example? Check out Mara Gibson’s piece “One Voice” for voice (me!) and viola (the incomparable Michael Hall) here. Or, perhaps you’d like “Otherwise” for voice and cello by Christian B. Carey.
You can find out more about my take on the world of new music and arts entrepreneurship here at the Sybaritic Singer. I take every opportunity I can to talk about new music and classical music around the country. For example, I relish the opportunity to write for The Des Moines Register, I Care If You Listen, and more. As a musician and arts entrepreneur, I am dedicated to powerful musical performances, high-level digital communications, patron experience services, and education. While so many in the classical music world are competing for ever-shrinking pieces of the pie, I actively seek to create opportunities and brainstorm strategies to change the way things have been done to better support the entire field and not just a select few.