Back in February I woke up in the middle of the night, sat straight up, and whispered to myself, “Joe Craven is going to produce my next album. I stirred for a bit and eventually fell back asleep. The next day I called him and left a message. He called me back within the hour and said, “sorry it took me so long to get back to you, I’ve been in Cuba for the last 3 weeks and he was catching up on messages.” I assured him his timing was impeccable.
We talked for a bit and we agreed agreed to reconnect when he got back from another trip in the Caribbean. We found a week we both didn’t have anything scheduled in May and decided to record in California. Suddenly, I had 3 months to figure out how I was going to pull this off. Both artistically and financially.
I’ve never been one who was good at selling myself. It feels like bragging. I previously felt like my music should speak for itself and if people like it then they’ll buy it or go see me perform. But the truth is this; If you build it they won’t come, if you promote it the might come. The reality of the situation is that if I want to create an album of epic proportions, I needed help.
I wanted to try and prepare for my first campaign so I read a book by Amanda Palmer on the subject. Amanda has two of the top five highest grossing Kickstarter campaigns ever. Then I watched a ton of videos on how to have a successful campaign. I researched the best campaign hosts and narrowed it down to Kickstarter because of their brand recognition, GoFundMe because they didn’t require an all or nothing campaign, and Hatchfund who is a 501c3 non-profit organization who specializes in working exclusively with artists and musicians. They also provide a mentor/coach to help you through the process.
Here are some relevant ideas I learned in my research or personal experience:
Above all, be confident and be outwardly proud of how awesome your project is. Something, as I mentioned earlier, I needed to learn how to do better.
1. Don’t make your video too pro looking because it makes it look like you already have money. Don’t make it to makeshift of people won’t take it seriously.
2. Everybody is doing a crowd-funding campaign for some thing or another. People are over it!
3. I was naive to think that strangers would fund my project just because I thought is was a good idea. 90% of the people who funded me were people I knew or they knew of me and my music.
4. Find match-funds, sponsors, and create raffles. Anything to make it more interesting.
5. Create a sense of urgency. I had an all or nothing campaign going and it literally came down to the last hour. It was like watching the last 2 minutes of a basketball game. People were up watching at midnight to see if I made it.
6. Highlight and thank donors on social media. Highlight and thank donors everywhere. If you have a thousand of those type of dedicated fans you can make a pretty good living.
7. Get creative. Show your true self. Take people on the journey with you
8. A soft start is a nice way to have a jump on things when you officially launch
8.5 Start hinting about the upcoming project before you launch. Create a buzz
9. Tell your story, unabashedly.
9a. Local newspaper press goes a long way. Write a press release and connect with a reporter.
9.5. Be transparent about what the money will be spent on.
10. Have a good attitude and reassure people you will make it.
11. Have a back up plan, Especially in all or nothing situations so you don’t lose everything.
11.5. Be specific as possible about your project. Be clear about what your going to do. Don’t be vague.
12. It’s Leap of faith,
13. Go for it!
I chose Kickstarter and launched. Kickstarter was not available by phone or email to answer questions or support me in any way. Immediately after I launched I started getting about 10 e-mails and 3 phone calls a day from what I would call parasite companies that want a piece of the money your trying to make. I even spoke with some of them and they all promised, for a “small” fee that they could get me exposure and contributions. One said person gave me some free advice: QUIT. Fund my life campaigns don’t work. He also said start a blog (which I obviously did), play as many shows as possible, be every bodies best friend, collect fan email addresses for your email list. Contact those people often, sincerely, and directly.
Three days after launching I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma and was immediately scheduled for surgery. Faced with my own mortality (and the inability to use my right arm), I canceled the campaign and my upcoming gigs so I could spend time with my wife and two children and focus on healing.
During that time the songs I had for the album changed and rearranged themselves to tell a story. It became took on the template of the Heroes Journey, which is a structure used to tell a story. Every Star Wars movie follows it’s guidelines. It also became my personal story and helped me process the intense experience I was currently going through. So now I had a concept album. Better yet, I had something definite that everybody could relate to, and everybody loves birds. My story became less about recording some songs and more about the struggles and triumphs I faced to create the album. I made a choice to live. I made a choice to make a record and tell my story in the process.
After a 100% recovery I started another fundraiser using Hatchfund this time. Then I hopped on a Western bound passenger train to sunny California to start recording. I was unable to fly due to a a hole in my eardrum caused by an ear infection. I was determined. We recorded the entire album in five long days starting at sunrise and working late into the night at Foxtail Sound in Dixon, CA. I posted pictures, videos, and did Facebook live of us in the studio multiple times a day. I had become the annoying arts cause asking for money so often that you either did it or unfriended me. Like a public radio pledge drive! The thing was, I had to be in your face. I was desperate. I was in the studio and would owe money for it if I succeeded or not.
I got back on the train and three days later we reached our fund-raising goal of $8,000 just one hour before the midnight deadline. The album, Songbird, was hatched. To get the album to take flight I needed another $7,000 so I sold my truck, my bicycle, lawnmower, furniture, banjo, canoe, and my hand built wooden sailboat. I’ve also been working part time delivering vegetables for an organic farm, for a greenhouse growing flowers, and I still managed to perform over 100 gigs. This album is the story of how I got here and where I’m going.
It felt really good to package up all the pre-order/gifts from the crowd-funding campaign. I put personal thank you notes in each one. I also taped a torn out page from a bird field guide on each one to go along with the Songbird theme. I was feeling really proud of myself at the post office today as I recognized that I actually followed through and did what I said I was going to do. I was impeccable with my word and that felt good. In contrast to that, I felt like a heel because the people in line behind me hated me for making them wait. 2 people even left when they saw how big the pile of packages was that I was mailing.
I first saw Joe Craven perform (with David Grisman Quintet) 20 years ago. 10 years ago I hired him to play at Feel Good Music & Art Festival. 10 years after that we recorded an album together. An album 20 years in the making: Songbird.
Now it’s time to focus on booking the CD Release Tour in November and work on Publishing. Publishing? What’s that? I don’t really know either. I’m trying to figure that out.