Engage and be authentic – and no it’s not all about the music

The recent roadshow and associated research report from the Australia Council for the Arts, How to work the crowd: a snapshot of barriers and motivations to crowdfunding provide practical insights into how to increase your chances of success at crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding, if you’re new to the idea, is a way of funding projects via a website where people can pledge money, be rewarded according to the size of their pledge, and help you achieve a funding goal. You create a project, set a goal, devise some rewards and put the message out there – some variation of ‘please give me money so I can do this cool project’. If the goal you set is achieved, you get the money and you pay the site a fee. If you don’t achieve your goal, then you don’t get any money and you don’t pay any fees. A fan who pledges to a project that doesn’t achieve its goal is not required to pay – and they don’t get to support the project they took the trouble to sign up for and invest in. The Australia Council report makes it very clear – a pledger wants your project to succeed. You will not be the only one disappointed if it your crowdfunding attempt fails.

In an Arts scene that’s eternally struggling with funding constraints and the drudgery of applications to funding bodies, the idea is seductive: take control of your own funding and free yourself from that disempowering application / rejection cycle you’re forced into via the more traditional funding rounds.

And yes, crowfunding is an option that more and more musicians are thinking about. At first glance, the message seems clear. ‘If you’re making great music and want to take control of getting it out there, give it a try.’

See two current examples: Collider at Melbourne Writers Festival and AAO in Europe

But apply the recommendations and observations to Australian jazz and improvised music scene and the message is clear – it’s not just about the music.

At last Thursday night’s Australian Art Orchestra August residency gig at Bennetts Lane, Artistic Director Paul Grabowsky commented that crowdfunding is everywhere. He’s right – we’re hearing about it from all quarters at the moment. But how many people are succeeding in crowdfunding, and what are they doing that makes it work?

Insights from the Australia Council’s roadshow and the How to work the crowd report are backed up by information on sites such as Pozible.com, Indigogo.com, and Kickstarter.com. Australian-based Pozible.com has an online How to guide that includes testimonials and advice from successful campaigners about what worked for them. The short headlines align well with what we’re hearing from the Australia Council: be authentic, use your networks, plan, be ready to invest a lot of time, and most importantly, research.

Research includes listening to what others are doing, and finding out what works for them. It also means knowing your audience. Just because someone is a friend on Facebook or following you on Twitter, there’s no guarantee that they’ll pledge to your project.

The Australia Council’s report identifies motivations to contributing and barriers to contributing. For motivation, intangibles such as ‘creative belonging’, ‘a sense of pride’ and a desire to engage in what the Australia Council calls ‘cultural production’ are at least as important as an easy way to pledge, and a good selection of e perks or rewards you offer your potential contributors. A key theme through the document is that the specifics of your project, and the trust and loyalty you have in your professional, social and social media networks will impact your ability to reach out and motivate pledges.

How to work the crowd reminds us that if someone is going to pledge online, they’re probably capable of doing their own research before taking the risk, and it’s a good idea to make sure your online presence – website, Facebook, Twitter etc. – is up to date with details of the project you’re trying to fund.

‘If the crowdfunding pledger has received a recommendation from a family member, friend  or colleague, regarding a creative project by an artist who is not known to them, they are inclined to research (for instance ‘google’) the artist to learn more about them.’

Some current examples

Collider, Solo in Red multimedia. Expires noon on 16 August

Melbourne band Collider is seeking funding for a multimedia component of their forthcoming presentation of Solo In Red composed by Kynan Robinson and inspired by the writing of Cormac McCarthy – at this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival. With four days to go as this article goes to publication, the $3000 project is just over half funded. With a potential reach to thousands via the Festival, co-leaders Adam Simmons and Kynan Robinson also have a combined Facebook and Twitter audience of over a thousand.

See the Collider Campaign on Pozible >

Robinson, who composed Solo In Red, says the campaign constitutes about 5% of the total project cost, ‘if you also calculate in unpaid hours spent creating the work’. He was mainly prompted to use crowdfunding because of the lack of available Arts funding from other sources, and says if he had to do it again he would give himself more time, because it can take some time for the project to gain some momentum.

He says that it has been a challenge to find a way to reach out beyond the immediate circle of friends and family, something that is also mentioned in the Australia Council report. A key positive from the experience, however has been the revelation that the people they have reached through the project have been responsive and generous. ‘Believe in your work,’ he says, ‘and don’t be afraid to ask for help – people really want to be involved’.

AAO, Help the Young Wägilak Group get to Europe. Expires on 5 September

The Australian Art Orchestra, also has a Pozible campaign on the go, aiming to supplement their forthcoming tour to Europe, which currently has confirmed concerts at London Jazz Festival and in Paris. The Art Orchestra’s approach to funding has been to highlight the artistic and cultural merit of the project. AAO’s Development Manger Jeni Howland said she feels that ‘Crossing Roper Bar has great potential in this arena – it is artistically exciting and it has significant impact in a community in remote NT.’

See the AAO Campaign on Pozible >

The proportion of the total project funding that’s been asked for in this campaign is around 8%, and she notes that an over-funding (where the funding received comes to more than the project is asking for) means that they can ‘do more in terms of production and presentation. And perhaps feed the band while they’re on tour…’ Hopefully the last point is tongue-in-cheek!

The team at the Art Orchectra did their homework, attending the Australia Council’s roadshow, researching and seeking advice. Howland admits that although she is loving the process, and what it is teaching her about the Art Orchestra’s fan base she still finds this journey into unknown territory a little nerve-wracking.

Her practical advice, with the project over a quarter funded and 24 days to go, is to spend time preparing the campaign’s publicity, admin and budget, work on getting some guaranteed pledges from loyal supporters to start the project off, and then tell everyone.

Are  you a jazz or improvising musician with a story to tell about crowdfunding? We’d love to hear from you! Contact us on Twitter (@extemporeAus) or email info@extempore.com.au