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Vara La Fey

Thoughts on crowd-funding a music project?

I read an article yesterday about Amanda Palmer, a singer who got herself hugely crowd-funded on Kickstarter.

 

Hmmm!! Too bad it didn't go into any details. I only learned that Kickstarter worked for her, and that SellABand.com exists. Does anyone have any real knowledge or personal experience with crowd-funding?

 

I'm a trans-girl working to hone my writing skills so I can put together an all-trans band and maybe take it somewhere. The time is soooo right for this!! Being trans, I'm basically a part of the "LGBT" community (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans and nowadays countless others). The LGBT is very good about supporting its members and generally sticking together. There's friction, but we're generally good about it. And generally affluent. And generally have very few members writing hot original LGBT-themed music for us - and somewhere right around ONE hard rocking all-trans bands currently doing it. (Really, hard-rock all-trans original bands are right around 1, worldwide - and that one is a punk trio.) I think the LGBT is my built-in audience, and would be perfect crowd-funding donors of LGBT projects in general. If you can reach 'em. I won't even tell you how bad my financial situation is right now. Let's just leave it at this: I do odd work for small businesses near me when they have anything for me to do, and I cannot afford to buy the software I use, whose trial periods are expiring.

 

In general (LGBT or not), does anyone know how this actually works? How do you beg your peeps for money? What do they need to ensure that their donations are going to a legitimate cause or project, rather than just dope money? Or are these sites disappearing because of dope money and other scams?

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What I have seen of crowdfunding is that its all up to the existing fan/friend base the person/band has already established.  Soliciting money from strangers is probably not going to be real successful unless you have something that would seem to be what those strangers are looking for.  When it comes to music these days, I'm not sure that will work (although having a select audience, like you are suggesting - LGBT - could help).

I think to make any crowdfunding successful, one has to have a solid business plan in place, in other words: 1) you have to know how money you need to accomplish what you want to do - that's the  goal.  2) what will you provide to the people giving money - CDs, tshirts, merchandise, free concert tickets - that's the payout to the donors (obviously you have to know how much this all will cost and include that in item 1). 3) A plan on how to get this done in a certain time frame, you can't just leave it open-ended as once you hit your money goal, you need to complete the task.

I don't think you're going to be able to do this as just 'creating a trans-band'.  There are trans-bands out there already (or at least partial T-bands), who for the most part are local acts.  The music business is a tough one to make a living at and just being a 'T-band' isn't enough by itself, you've got to make music that people want to hear and will pay money to go see and hear.

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Hi Mike, and thanks for some very sensible advice. I have tentative plans, but not solid yet as I'm just starting to look into crowd-funding as an option.

 

I def have a built-in audience who has almost nobody writing songs for them, but I don't have an established audience. I don't know how that will break down into percentages when the day comes. The writing is always the most important thing, and I'm still working on that ("Incoming" and "Radio Free World" are my to-date submissions to the Song Crit section here, so check 'em out if you're curious.)

 

I've spent over a decade in bands in my day - gigging, recording, cover, original - so I'm not totally new to that side of it.

 

I figured that "creating a trans-band" is way too nebulous by itself. T-bands are more rare than you think, so that helps, but I understand that uniqueness is a selling point and not a product.

 

I have a couple things that I need to coherently fit together. Certainly it's past time for me to stop just writing and to actually start moving. I'll hammer it out a bit more on my drawing board. Thanks again!!

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I've contributed to two music projects by way of Kickstarter. One was a friend, the other was a friend of a friend. Both of them had videos on their Kickstarter sites, playing a song they wanted to record in the style they wanted to record in. Running over the video was text that went into what they were trying to do with the projects. One had written an album's worth of songs about family history, both her own and in general, trying to bring out the universals and connect with listeners' interest in their own family stories. The other was a young woman whose father had disappeared on a "Bike Across Oregon" bike ride, wandering away from his tent and was never seen again. He had a medical history of a brain tumor that had possibly come back. Her song collection was about grief, loss, recovery and love, all themed about this thing that had happened in her family. Their projects seem to have been funded by friends, family, friends of friends, and some fans. But in each case, their songwriting and performing skills were already first rate. The songs for the projects had already been written and performed many times.

 

To get people who don't know you to contribute is a hard one, and to get people to contribute who don't already know and like your sound, I don't think that happens often. You might already be closer to your goals than your post would suggest. If not, it seems it would be good for you to concentrate first on growing your skills in songwriting, on your instrument, and your vocals. If you're new to performing in front of audiences, also showmanship. Maybe your band mates could collaborate on the songwriting. If your vocals and guitar are already there but the writing is shaky, maybe you could start out as a cover band and gradually branch out into using original material.

 

Okay, I listened to the songs you posted, and you must already have a very clear idea of how you want to sound and what you want to communicate, that right now you're figuring out the best ways to communicate those ideas and feelings. As you wrote, "Get good now, get original later." Do both, then record, when your fans are really bugging you to. It's not too soon to try to put a band together. Are there trans-friendly open mics where you live?

 

 

 

 

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Hi Joan, and thanks for the thoughtful comments.

 

Having heard my posted songs (and song critiques are welcomed), you've heard my "singing", and you understand that open mic nights won't work for me. But soon after I posted my crowd-fund question, I found a local trans-female singer through Craigslist who has huge potential, and I'm hoping like crazy that we can work together. We meet this Sat. Pretty much all my stuff is full-band hard rock, so if we did open mic, I/we would have to write material specifically for it. Which would be a good writing exercise and a good live-test of the material. For both of us, it would be good experience. I have a decade of stage time, but not out front. I was a drummer. (And sorta still am at heart.)

 

Re crowdfunding, I literally need funding just to get enough product to go ask for funding. And even then - since I will never be a good singer - I would need the whole band together. And if I have the band together, I don't think we'll need crowd-funding. We'll be unique and have a built-in potential audience of LGBT, who are known for their loyalty to LGBT causes and operations.

 

But still, I'll start dreaming up crowd-fund angles for me, as I am now, just in case. Is there a way to browse a crowdfund site and know which are the successful campaigns?

 

 

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Yes, unfortunately, the open mics/jams that can support full-band participants are probably not going to be particularly trans-friendly.  But Joan has a good point- you need to put the band together first, polish your skills and performances, then try to Kickstart to go further.

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Vara, you can learn a lot from spending time on Kickstarter. And you're right about needing money to ask for money, some of the pitches look like some serious time and money went into putting them together. The home page helps you navigate to crafts, inventions, music, art, business ventures, etc. Just click on the “music” box and take a look at some of them. Each one has a funding goal, with a running tally of how long they’ve been up and how close they are to the goal. 
 
I asked about trans-friendly open mics not as a place for your band to play once it’s together, though that works too, but as a place you could meet other trans musicians. Any truly friendly open mic is a trans-friendly open mic, but the atmosphere sometimes depends on the region. I've been to open mics in Portland, Oregon where trans musicians did just great. Is there an LGBT club where you live, and could you start an open mic there? You’d need a sound system if you don’t already have one. Once you have bandmates, maybe the three or four of you could cobble one together from equipment you already own.
 
But that does lead me to ask, do you live in a town, or close to a town, where a trans band can gig? I could be wrong about this, but I think you need a hometown club scene where your band can gel and get the buzz going from. I don’t think you can go straight from rehearsing in a living room to touring LGBT clubs out of your home region. But if you’re all experienced performers, you could go right from living room rehearsals to a local club. 
 
Another thing to think about now: If your band comes up as a trans group in front of a more general audience than LGBT-specific, that will shape the songs you write. That will shape whether your band will be trying for a general audience or a cult audience. You know how there are gay comedians who play just for gays, and then there are gay comedians who play for everyone. Not that you can’t do both, but I think it helps to decide early on which way you want to go. It impacts who your imagined listener is while you’re writing a song. Will it be more “This is what I want to tell you about us” or will it be more “I know what you've been through because so have I.” Again, not that you can’t do both, but where you play, and in front of whom, will very much impact how you write. Those are two very different directions to put your energy into, and it really helps to decide early on. And if your group is musically enticing in a way that has broad general appeal, your message might shift over time. For a trans band, that would be earth-shattering and barrier-shattering.
 
I know there are exceptions to this, but it’s pretty much true that nobody goes to Kickstarter to look for something to send money to. Just like producers don’t randomly click around SoundCloud or SoundClick looking for an act to take on. The first people to see you on KickStarter will be the people who know you, and who got the link to your KickStarter site from your FaceBook post. Then if a few of them get really enthusiastic about it, they not only make a contribution but they share that link on their own FB page, and then things might start to happen that take a site viral. Then somebody writes an article about you, “the Internet sensation,” and some of the people who read the article go looking you up on YouTube. Yeah, easier to get struck by lightning twice. To become an Internet sensation, and get funding from strangers, you need to already be polished, working, and have your shit together to be ready to benefit from all the exposure. And as you say, once you’re at that point, you don’t really need Kickstarter. For most musicians who want to record, like the two I gave money to, their funding needs are moderate and can be met by their circle of family and friends by way of Kickstarter. 

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Hi guys, and thx for the responses.  :-)  I'm in Phoenix AZ. 4.5 mil in the metro, and most of it's ok with trans. Not active with trans, tho, as they're still warming to the idea, and most people here of any age are in some kind of retirement. No one wants to do much.

 

 

Mike B - There are tons of LGBT bars here, and I think some have open mic. I don't really know what the open mics are like these days, but I suppose most would be friendly enough. And I'm not very hater-friendly anyway, so it could work out. But I don't see a point in me and my (hopeful) singer doing open mic at straight events when searching for trans musicians. T-musicians are rare even among trans, trans rare among the LGBT, and they say that LGBT averages 1 in 10 of any population. Best open mics for prospecting would prolly be just ways to get the LGB to spread the word that there's a T project forming.

 

Joan - Thanks for a detailed response. Yeah, I didn't realize you were asking about a place for the whole band. I have (and can get more) contacts to slot us on LGBT events as an unknown opener. I just see open mic as a way to go prospecting for members. There won't likely be any in the audience, but people know people, and the LGBT is very communicative among our members.

 

Good to know there's a visible funding progress bar of sorts. Thx!! I guess it's time to browse those sites. I wanted some knowledgeable advice first, as I've never browsed one and know so little about it. (I'm on 8 different learning curves right now anyway. Ick.)

 

I do hope to eventually mainstream this thing like you suggest The LGBT circuit would be the starter and the ultimate home, but a trans band will break mainstream before too long, and I wanna be the one, or at least spearhead the movement. Trans is the new black, and people are starting to be fascinated with us (more than they should). Right now I'm writing a lot of trans-perspective stuff ("Incoming", here in Song Crit, is my intended opener) because it's an almost untouched playground. It's fun to have a whole playground of song possibilities pretty much all to myself!!  :-)  And as a libertarian trans-girl, I actually have two of them. Thus I can focus more on one or the other as needed without selling out my old principles or my audience/s. You can see why I'm obsessed with this idea. I have this whole compound vision, hardly anyone is doing either half of it, the time is right for both, I'm honing my writing skills, I know I'm getting better, I get positive and very helpful feedback - and I can't find members or afford advertising that would reach them. I feel like an explosion in a hopelessly sealed container with all these other fuses being lit, any day now, just outside of it.

 

Thx soooo much especially for your last paragraph. I didn't even know that was how it works.

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