Crowdfunding requires your attention and intention

Crowdfunding can feel unpredictable – even desperate. I've funded two of my four records through fan contributions, and I still have a little voice in my head that says, “It doesn’t count. It was just a fluke.”

But my logical and methodical ways of working at my music career don’t account for “fluke.” I quantify everything: I even have an eight-step process for writing emails. Inspiration, luck, coincidence, and fate, are all concepts I dismiss. I believe we have the power to create exactly what we want, with the help of a few key tools.

Let me tell you a story about how one of my largest fan contributions came to be, and perhaps together we can decide what is fluke and what is created. Heck, maybe we’ll make a list. I like lists.

It all started when one of my vocal students, an 89-year-old gentleman named Paul, wanted lessons to help him learn his choir’s music, and who then went on to work on his solo voice. After a lesson one day, he walked out with me and mentioned he had to get to a Bingo event and invited me to come along. I jokingly said, “I only play when there’s some good money at stake.” He laughed and said, “Oh, we are high rollers.”

Thinking he was kidding with me, I added, “Well, send your high rollers to my record campaign!”

He laughed, the hallway split, and we went our separate ways.

The following week, when I showed up for Paul’s lesson, he had a checkbook in hand. I told him he had three more lessons in the current package before he needed to pay again. He said “No, tell me about that record project of yours.”

“Oh, I’m just raising money to fund the production of my fourth record.”

“How much are you looking for?”

“Well, I’ve got about fifteen thousand left to go.”

“Ha! I can’t do that much! How’s ten?”

“Ten dollars? That’d be great! I would be happy to give you a CD and…”

He cut me off.

“Not ten dollars. Ten thousand.”

I am not an easy person to surprise or shock. And yet, here I was, speechless, with a sudden stream of tears flowing down my face. Paul was not impressed.

“Oh for goodness sake, it’s only money, and what the heck am I going to do with it?”

And that was that. He handed me the check, and I deposited it.

It took me several years to understand that crowdfunding is a transaction, not a cry for help. It’s a way to offer someone an opportunity to be part of a process. And not necessarily for just a single project like you see on Kickstarter or PledgeMusic. These projects take tons of time and energy.

Having been through the crowdfunding process multiple times, and exploring the different platforms – including Patreon – I'm beginning to see the bigger picture of the “experience exchange” we musicians are creating. It’s not random, or fluke. Finding supporters of your career requires attention and intention.

So here it is... my crowdfunding success list (so far)!

1. It’s about you. It's not necessarily the music. It’s about your passion, your ability to clearly communicate why you’re doing what you’re doing, and moving people to be either extremely entertained or extremely inspired. And yes, it helps if your music is great. But be real. Be you. Be honest.

2. Prepare your elevator pitch. The more you understand why you’re creating what you’re creating, the more others will understand and then go and share the project.

3. Present your campaign as an opportunity. This is a chance for your fans and potential fans to get involved in the process and potential success of your project, not a charity case for you.

4. Know who you are marketing to. When promoting your campaign, understand that the people who will give $1 or $10 require different marketing, outreach, and rewards than the people who will give $5,000 or more.

5. Schedule your time wisely during your campaign. How much time do you put in a normal day job to earn, let’s say $4,000 a month? 40 hours a week? Well, if you’re aiming to raise $10,000 in a month, you had better put in some serious hours. Set a weekly goal (e.g. 15 hours) of working on your campaign and having intentional conversations. When 13 hours hits and you feel like you’ve done everything you can think of, those last two hours are where you’re going to start to get creative and see the big results.

6. Personally connect with fans as much as possible – in person! My first big fan-funding check came from a fan I met at a house concert six years ago. You never know who will become that Super Fan for life, the fans who will repeatedly write the big checks, come to your big shows, and challenge you to think outside your box to come up with great experience exchanges worth five figures.

After giving Paul a copy of Inevitably, the album he had invested so heavily in, I came to his door the following week and heard him blasting the last song. I asked him what he thought of the record. “It’s not my thing,” he replied. “But then again, I stopped liking new music in the 1940s.”


Cheryl B. Engelhardt is a full-time singer-songwriter and composer. When she’s not working on a new jingle, co-write, film score, or choral piece, she’s jamming all of her experiences into resources for musicians, including this free pitching checklist. You can read more and hear her music at www.cbemusic.com.