Crowdfunding as a leveraging tool

Crowdfunding is a platform that allows many people to contribute varying amounts of money towards a project. It is the idea of patronage broken up into small pieces allowing a multitude of dedicated and curious people to participate in the creation process. The idea has been very successfully implemented digitally through websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, where the creator can offer various rewards for different levels of support. I am seeing many successful examples of this fundraising tactic in the art music world for things like commissioning, concert production, tours and recording projects. I recently came across a project initiated by the Kronos Quartet to raise money for their next Under 30 commissioning project. It’s something that I’m itching to try myself.

Seth Godin, a marketer and non-fiction author who fearlessly navigates the turbulent terrain of the modern world, just launched a project that uses crowdfunding as something more than a purely fundraising tool. Through The Icarus Deception project, he is harnessing the power of Kickstarter to blend new and old media for the dissemination of ideas: the internet with its ebook and blog, and traditional paper publishing.

The project was set up to essentially presell his new book in various forms to dedicated fans, giving them rewards for jumping on the bandwagon early. If the project reached its goal of $40,000 by a set date, the new book would be published in paper form and distributed through traditional channels. The genius of the idea is that he is not really using Kickstarter to fund the publishing process, but rather to simultaneously gage and create interest in his new book before he writes a single word. It becomes a kind of leveraging tool in the risky and costly world of paper publishing.

What if you were to apply this idea to the risky and very expensive process of producing a new orchestral work? An opera? These require huge investments in time and money with extremely uncertain payoffs (and I don’t even mean “payoffs” in terms of profit, but rather audience interest).

What if, as a composers, you took matters into your own hands rather than waiting for a giant behemoth of an orchestra or opera company to warm up to such a risk? You fundraise your own commission fee while simultaneously measuring and generating excitement about the work before it’s even on paper, before you’ve invested so much of yourself into it. Now you are coming to the producer with something more tangible, you have leverage. You are bringing a ‘tribe’ of dedicated followers who have already invested money and curiosity into your idea. No, you haven’t taken away all the risk, but maybe you’ve made that leap a little more appealing.

Crowdfunding can seem magical. Godin’s project reached its goal within the first two hours and 24 hours later it was sitting at almost $190,000, nearly five times its goal. But he has a huge tribe of dedicated readers already.

The success of such a venture really depends on how hard you’ve worked building up your following. You can’t pop out of nothing and expect explosive results. First, you need to take the time to build up a trusting network of supporters. Second, you need to offer valuable* rewards for their faith. This kind of initiative, if done right, can help you reach out beyond that close circle. It’s about using the fast, low-cost digital platforms to encourage the slow and expensive institutions to bring your art to life. You also get to really connect with your fans in the process, which is priceless.

* Your followers should really be getting something unique for their bravery and dedication, be it an unforgettable experience, a limited-edition object or an exclusive peek inside the creation process. It’s not worth thinking about this as a pity donation with a token trinket attached.

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