Four ways you can fund your next music project

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Earning money with CDs, merch, and ticket sales is part of life as a musician. But how do you find money to get a music project off the ground? Here are four ways to fund your next music project.

fund your next music project
You’re a musician – of course you want to record your music, make CDs, have an album release party, create new merchandise, and go on tour. Trouble is, you don’t have the cash on hand to make any of these things a reality. How can you raise the money to help fund your next music project?

Fortunately, beyond being smart about expenses and driving income through music sales, licensing, shows, and merchandise, there are plenty of opportunities to earn income. And even before you begin a recording project or embark on a tour, there are opportunities you can explore to raise money. We’ll review four: sponsorships, patronage, crowd funding, and grants.

And now, a word from our sponsors

Although many musicians think getting sponsored is only possible for well-known or well-established acts, sponsorships actually are within reach of nearly every musician. Every business out there – from corporate behemoths to your local mom and pop shop – is looking for opportunities for growth and to get exposure to new customers. As a musician, your fan base, public appearances, shows, blog, and online presence can provide valuable advertising and marketing opportunities for these businesses. All you need to do is work out an arrangement that benefits both parties.

Getting sponsored can be as simple as asking Jake’s Pizza Palace to pay you $200 to put their logo on the banner that’s behind the stage. But some musicians take it a bit further, and seek out specialty brands that match their music or style. Take Frankendread, for instance, a steel-drum artist with a laid-back beach-party vibe. He worked with a Caribbean-style beachwear company that complemented his music perfectly. He wore their clothes at shows, and it was natural for him to plug the brand from the stage.

In exchange for company sponsorship, you need to offer the business something in return in the form of access to your audience and/or your skills as a musician. You can help promote and market the business’ product or services by giving them advertising opportunities to reach your audience via your newsletter; online sponsorship announcements on social media and videos; ad placements on your site; branding at your shows or events; product placements on stage and in videos; or even endorsements.

When you’re approaching a business to talk about getting sponsored, you’ll need to share information about the size of the audience you can help them reach, so be prepared to talk numbers. You can support your case by sharing the size of your average draw or your mailing list. Other statistics that can help include the number of social media followers you have, your website traffic, and the number of views you get on your YouTube channel. When you’re talking to a potential sponsor, be sure to mention other businesses that have already sponsored and signed on with you.

Music barter
Sometimes businesses will be interested in using your music or having you create musical content for them in exchange for funding. You can offer them original music that you’ve already recorded, or you might suggest that you write new music they can use in their marketing campaigns, on their website, or in promotional videos. You’d be surprised how often businesses need licensed music. If you have a studio, another option could be to barter studio time that they might need to make their own radio/video spots or commercials; small businesses rarely have the budget to pay for time in a professional recording facility.

If you’re not sure where to look for a sponsorship that suits your music, there are a number of services that can help to connect you to potential sponsors worldwide. Some of the opportunities listed on Sonicbids involve big name brands. These companies are looking for ways to reach a target demographic that your fans may already fit. Some active brands, like Red Bull, are particularly musician-friendly and will be predisposed to create events and opportunities for independent musicians.

Patron of the arts

In an article called “1,000 True Fans,” Kevin Kelley suggests that if a musician can get 1,000 fans to spend $100 a year, that musician will earn an annual gross income of $100,000: a very good living. This idea seems plausible mathematically; the problem is, it’s hard to get $100 out of a fan if all you’re selling is an album, a t-shirt, and a few tickets to a show. Plus, even if your fan buys everything you put out in one year, in year two, you’d need to put out another album, new t-shirts, and put on more shows, and hope that the same fan will spend another $100. It all adds up to very flawed business model.

One way to get a stable income out of your fans is through their patronage. Historically, artists were often supported by royalty, wealthy individuals, or large organizations. Today, there’s an app for that.

Modern patronage using sites like Patreon or Patronism gives two different options for fans to fund your next music project. The first is a method gives fans a way to set a dollar amount they will pay you each time you release material, such as a video or a new song. They can even set a monthly maximum so fans can stay within their budgets. The second model works on a subscription basis, letting fans pay a monthly installment. Both can allow artists to offer exclusive access to unreleased material, live recordings, backstage videos, blogs, and more.

For example, the band Pomplamoose releases videos on a regular basis. They have over 2,000 fans who give them a total of over $6,500 for each video they release.

The simplest way to ask fans for financial support is to have a virtual “tip jar” on your website. All you need is a Paypal link. Of course, Paypal will take a cut, but any money a fan donates above this amount will be all yours.

Perhaps the best feature of the patronage model is that you can get funding from it while continuing to make revenue from other income streams, including music sales, merchandise, licensing, video advertising, and more.

Crowd funding

Crowd funding services let artists ask the public to help fund a particular project or product. You set an overall target dollar amount that you’re trying to raise by a specified date, and offer rewards for different levels of pledges. As fans pledge, the service collects the money (minus fees) and provides a platform for you to communicate and market your project and campaign to your backers.

Crowd funding accomplishes two things. First, it allows you to pre-sell your albums, merchandise, or concert tickets to fans so you get their money up front. This reduces the risk of putting out a product without knowing how much money you can recoup. Second, crowd funding offers the opportunity to involve larger backers, especially if you offer enticing rewards to get them to pledge more than they would pay for a regular album, event, or show.

But don’t fool yourself, crowd funding takes time and effort; it’s not something you want to jump into without a plan. In fact, more than 44 percent of music campaigns on Kickstarter fail.

Musicians who succeed at crowd funding are the ones who plan their campaign, choose the right rewards, time the campaign right, and, perhaps most importantly, put together great marketing that sells the project. (Read Pledge Music’s “5 secrets of the successful indie artist” on Echoes for more on this.)

There are five elements to running a successful crowd funding campaign:

  1. Create an appealing project. People want to fund projects that are intriguing and compelling to them.
  2. Set realistic – but adequate – goals. Be sure to set a funding goal that is achievable but will allow you to fund your next music project. Keep in mind that crowd funding services take a cut, so you’ll need to build in an amount to cover those fees. If your goal is too ambitious, you run the risk of your campaign failing; people might not pledge if they get the impression the project won’t get made.
  3. Select the appropriate crowd-funding service. There are many services that you can use to raise money. These include: Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, PledgeMusic, Artiste Connect, Sell A Band, and Feed the Muse. Each has different terms and conditions, features, fees, and funding models. For example, Kickstarter campaigns that don’t reach their target don’t give you any of the funds you might have raised, while IndieGogo allows partial funding. Do plenty of research to find out which one is best for you.
  4. Plan your rewards. It’s essential to offer rewards that will ensure a successful campaign.
  5. Execute your campaign. Successful campaigns are not only well planned, they’re also sequenced and timed effectively to get the most money out of the backers.

Take time to check out successful campaigns to get ideas for your own. Look deeper than the crowd-funding page and explore the artist’s online and social media activity to learn how they promoted and marketed their project.

Get a grant

When most people think of getting a grant to support their art, they think of applying to governmental agencies. But the government is only one source of grant money. Private companies, trusts, charities, nonprofits, and even individuals offer money to musicians, too.

One way to increase the odds that you’ll get grant funding is to apply for those whose mission statements and goals align with your project and music. You’ll need to research what opportunities are out there. For a list of agencies that provide grants for music and the arts, see the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. Also check out the Savvy Musician’s funding page for other public and private organizations and non-profits that offer grant funding.

Grant associations establish criteria you must meet and rules you must follow in order to qualify. Applying for grants requires a lot of paperwork, too, before and after the money is issued. Be sure to follow the submission instructions carefully, meet submission deadlines, and follow all of the reporting requirements afterwards.

Keep in mind that most grants make a distinction between non-profit and for-profit business. Most musicians are for-profit and lack the necessary 501(c)(3) tax status that that is required to be eligible for many grants. One way around this is to be sponsored by a non-profit. Services like Fractured Atlas specialize in this.

There are a lot of options available when it comes to grant funding. For example, check out the Awesome Foundation. This organization gives away $1,000 to any project they determine is “awesome” with no strings attached! There are Awesome Foundation groups in major cities all over the world, and they meet regularly to review projects and award money.

Seek and you shall find

Next time you record an album, decide to go on tour, or create a new line of merchandise, remember that there’s money out there waiting for you; you just need to claim it. Sometimes, the only difference between musicians with money and ones without is that some took the time to ask for it.

DIY Advisor logo smThis post originally appeared on Electronic Musician’s The DIY Advisor column.
Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Together, they’re musicians who are working on their 21st album, authors of The Indie Band Survival Guide: The Complete Manual For The Do-It-Yourself Musician, 2nd Edition (Macmillan), creators of the 15-hour online course, Making Money With Music (CreativeLive), and regular contributors to Electronic Musician Magazine, including the free weekly web column, The DIY Advisor. They also teach and consult about music business.

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