A piggy-bank video and a hand clicking a dollar sign button

Smart Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is a revolutionary way for artists to realize their vision, and create a community of followers. Two artists, writer Jessica Duchen and composer Dan Visconti developed successful campaigns in the United Kingdom and United States, respectively. Both offered 21CM their different perspectives on what worked best for them and what surprised them about the process.

Jessica Duchen
Jessica Duchen

I’ve just crowdfunded my latest novel. Nobody could be more surprised than I am – because I’d never imagined crowdfunding was for me.

I started writing Ghost Variations about four years ago. Because it is so different from my previous novels, I’ve sought a new way to take it forward and turned to the groundbreaking publishing house Unbound, which crowdfunds its books. They work out how much the publication will cost to produce, and you have 90 days to raise that amount via its site. Plugged as “the strangest detective story in the history of music,” this novel is based on a true incident involving the great Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Arányi, supposed spirit messages, Nazis and the rediscovery of the Schumann Violin Concerto.

This experience taught me a few things I’d like to pass on to the first-time crowdfunder:

  • Ensure you have absolute confidence in your project. Only thus can you convince other people of its worth.

  • Make a promotional video. Unbound recommends this should be no longer than a minute and a half. Argue your case concisely, look friendly, be positive. And try to get yourself properly filmed. I’m afraid I did mine with Apple’s Photo Booth application, using my desktop computer’s internal camera. It took 27 takes before I had something usable. Everything went wrong. I coughed, my husband barged in, and involving the cat was really not a good idea …

  • Include a sample of your product as a try-before-you-buy. Unbound’s campaigns include a few pages of the book.

  • Offer original and tempting rewards for your pledge levels. For Ghost Variations, the basic $15 bought an e-book and a credit at the back. For $28, you become a super-patron; for $70, you get a special artwork print and access to a playlist to accompany the book. For $17, you can sponsor a character. And for $710, I’ll give a lecture about Jelly d’Arányi and the Schumann Concerto in your home for you and your friends.

  • Look out for serendipitous linkups. For instance, it turned out that the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was about to give a rare performance of the Schumann Violin Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall, so I devised a reward that gave patrons a ticket for this plus a drink and discussion with me and fellow supporters afterwards.

  • Get the word out. On this side of the pond, we’re hardwired to scorn “self-publicists” and balk at the notion of becoming one. I suspect it’s a British 19th-century class issue. If you are middle- or working-class, someone will slap you down, ordering you to know your place; and if you are upper-class, well, you couldn’t possibly undertake an activity as low-class as trying to sell something — unless it’s organic jam, for charity, from your country estate. In 2016, we really have to get over ourselves. The bottom line is that if we don’t push our stuff, nobody else will.

  • Use and master social media. Along with including information on my long-established blog JDCMB and regularly posting about the book’s progress on Facebook and Twitter, I created a Ghost Variations Facebook page, complete with “sign up” button. Also, I sent emails to almost everyone I know.

Facebook proved an excellent tool, though “likes” on the book’s new page haven’t always translated into donations. The blog brought a relatively small number of pledges but at higher levels. Twitter drew the same number as the blog but mainly at basic rates. The vast majority of pledges, however, came from people who had received my emails. The $28 level has proved the most popular; close friends stumped up a bit more if they could, while people I didn’t know usually paid the basic “tenner.”

Crucially, though, the process has proved rewarding in ways I never anticipated. The Royal Festival Hall concert led me to collaborate with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. I helped in its publicity, which gave me the opportunity to speak about the concerto and my book live on BBC Radio 4. But also, I’ve made new friends: other writers involved in the same process, people who came up to chat at the OAE concert. Generally speaking, the good will I’ve encountered has given my morale an extraordinary boost.

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and author based in London, UK. She writes for The Independent, Opera News, Pianist and many other publications. Find out more about her new novel, Ghost Variations, here.

Dan Visconti
Dan Visconti

As composer and director of artistic programming for the classical music organization Fifth House Ensemble, my passion is reimagining classical music for a 21st-century audience by presenting concerts in fresh ways. Following our recent visual collaborations with graphic novelists and animators, we decided the next step would be to work with the interactive world of video games: in particular, 2012’s Grammy-nominated indie game Journey, a pinnacle of what gaming has achieved as a legitimate art form and an experience in which art, music and motion weave together in an almost operatic level.

To bring the world’s first interactive video game concert to life—one in which live musicians react to audience participants as they play through the game in real time—we ran a $5,000 Kickstarter campaign for our Journey LIVE concerts. We were thrilled to see the project fully funded in just a couple hours, multiplying this original goal 10 times over during the course of our campaign for a grand total of $52,000.

Below are some tips we learned.

  • Kickstarter is certainly about crowdfunding, but the platform may be even more useful as a form of marketing and data acquisition. The chance to create and feature a coordinated message, video and text reaches a lot of people, including many who do not end up becoming backers this time. And one reason Kickstarter was such a useful platform for our project is that the campaign allowed us to figure out where Journey fans were. We might have self-produced in the wrong cities and flopped, but running the campaign allowed us to target the right locations for connecting with our audience.

  • Have a plan to refocus the campaign when it becomes fully funded. Unless one is able to explain how funding an already-funded project will have an impact, there is a risk in losing interest and motivation among potential backers; for our project, an initial goal allowed us to make up the shortfall for a performance in the D.C. area, yet we managed to raise an additional $47,000 beyond this goal by appealing to fans in cities we had identified and asking for help adding concerts in those cities as well.

  • Have a variety of perks and price points: tangible swag augmented with free additions that carry real value like signatures, sketches, etc.. lessons with the composer of the game, consultations, even offering to record music on a backer’s answering machine (as another successful music campaign wittily proffered). Think of what has low or no cost to you and potentially a lot of sentimental value to a potential backer.

  • When you make that awesome project video, don’t forget to include the “ask.” You’d be surprised how many slick-looking Kickstarter videos show off a cool project but never actually make the ask.

  • Backers will overwhelmingly be people in your own social networks—so begin planning a budget by making a list of friends/family/acquaintances and how much they are likely to donate.

  • Treat your backers as you would any relationship you want for the long term. Think you’re done once the campaign ends? Time to take those backers along to your next project—in our case, future cities and the creation of a Journey LIVE social media community and website. Some of these backers might even end up loving one of our future collaborations with a graphic novelist, so connecting them to a “mothership” that’s buzzing long after the Kickstarter page goes dark is the way onward to the next project!

Active as a composer, concert curator, and music journalist, Visconti is updating the role of the composer for the 21st century as he creates innovative concert experiences in collaboration with the community. For his ongoing initiatives to address social issues through music by reimagining the arts as a form of cultural and civic service, Visconti was awarded a 2014 TED Fellowship and delivered a TED talk at the conference’s thirtieth anniversary.


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