Four ways to fund your next project

You want to record your music, make CDs, create awesome merchandise, throw an album release party, play gigs, or even go on tour. You're a musician, after all.

Trouble is, as an indie musician, you probably don’t have the cash on hand to make these things a reality. How can you raise money to help fund your career as a musician, or at least your next project?

It starts with being smart about expenses and driving income through music sales, shows, merchandise, and licensing – but there are alternative opportunities to earn income. In fact, before you begin a recording project or start booking a tour, there are means of raising money to help get those projects off the ground and provide you a potentially bigger budget than you could produce on your own.

Four of these fund raiser opportunities are sponsorships, patronage, crowd funding, and grants.

Sponsorships

While you may think sponsorships are only possible for national or well-established acts, they really are within reach of just about any musician. Businesses everywhere – from multi-national corporations to local mom and pop shops – are on the lookout for opportunities to get exposure to new customers. As an active musician, your fan base, shows, blog, public appearances, website, and social media presence can provide marketing opportunities for these businesses.

Getting a sponsorship can be as simple as asking your local pizza parlor to pay you $500 to put their logo on your stage banner and merch table. You can take it a further and seek out specialty brands that match your style, genre, and music. For example, if you're a steel-drum artist with a beach-party vibe, seek out a Caribbean-style beachwear company and wear their clothes at your shows and plug the brand from the stage.

The basic idea is, in exchange for a company's sponsorship, you offer access to your audience and an association with your brand.

You can help promote and market the business’ product or services by:

  • providing ad space in your newsletter and website
  • making online sponsorship announcements on your website and social media
  • offering branding opportunities at your shows and in your videos
  • giving product placements on stage and in videos
  • striking an endorsement deal

When you approach a business to pitch a sponsorship, you’ll need to share information about the size of your audience and reach, so be prepared to talk numbers, including the size of your average live draw and your mailing list. Other stats of import include your website and blog traffic, the number of social media followers you have, and the average number of views you get on your videos.

The barter system

Sometimes a business will be interested in having you create original musical content or use your existing music on their website, in their marketing campaigns, or in promotional videos. You’d be surprised how often businesses need licensed music. If you have a studio, you can also barter studio time so they can make radio/video spots or commercials. Small businesses rarely have the budget to pay for time in a professional recording or video facility.

If you aren't sure where to go to find a sponsorship that suits your music, there are services out there that can help connect you to potential sponsors. Some of the opportunities listed on sites like Sonicbids involve big name brands. These companies are looking for ways to reach a target demographic, and your fans may be it. Brands like Red Bull and Jägermeister are particularly musician-friendly and create events and opportunities for independent musicians.

Patronage

In “1,000 True Fans,” Kevin Kelley suggests that if you can get 1,000 fans to spend $100 a year, you will earn an annual gross income of $100,000. While this idea seems plausible, it is difficult to get someone to spend $100 if all you’re selling is an album, a T-shirt, and tickets to your show. And even if this fan buys everything you offer in year one year, you’d need to put out another album, new T-shirts, play more shows, and hope that the same fan will spend another $100. It's a flawed business model that might be difficult to sustain over the long term.

One way to derive a stable income from your fans is through their patronage. Historically, artists were often supported by wealthy individuals, large organizations, or royalty. Today, we've got an app for that. Modern patronage via sites like Patreon or Patronism provide options for fans to fund music careers. Patreon is a model that provides fans a means to set a dollar amount they'll pay every time you release material – like a video, an album, or new song – while setting a monthly maximum so they stay within their budgets. Patronism works on a subscription basis, allowing fans to pay a monthly installment. Both programs allow you to offer exclusive access to live recordings, backstage videos, unreleased material, blogs, vlogs, and more.

Another simple way to ask fans for financial support is to provide a PayPal link and have a virtual “tip jar” on your website.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding services provide a platform where you can ask your fans and the general public to help fund a product or project. You set a target dollar amount you’re trying to raise and offer rewards for different levels of pledges. The service collects the money, takes its fees, and provides a platform for you to market, communicate, and update your backers with the status of the project.

Crowdfunding accomplishes two things. First, it reduces your risk by allowing you to pre-sell your merch, albums, or concert tickets to fans so you get their money up front. Second, crowdfunding offers the ability to entice larger backers to get involved, especially if you offer unique and compelling rewards to get them to pledge more than they would pay for an event or album.

But make no mistake, crowdfunding takes a lot of time and effort; you won't succeed without a plan. In fact, over 40 percent of music campaigns on Kickstarter fail. Those who succeed at crowdfunding are the musicians who plan their campaigns, offer persuasive rewards, and put together great marketing campaigns that sell the project.

Five elements of a successful crowdfunding campaign include:

  1. Create an intriguing project. People want to fund projects that appeal to them.
  2. Set realistic, adequate goals. Set a funding goal that is achievable and allows you to fund your proposed project. If your goal or project is too ambitious, you risk your campaign failing. People might not pledge if they get the impression the project won’t see the light of day.
  3. Select the right platform. There are many services you can use to raise money, including Kickstarter, PledgeMusic, IndieGoGo, Feed the Muse, and Artiste Connect. Each has different fees, features, and funding models. Kickstarter, for example, won’t give you any of the funds you raise if you don't meet your goal; while IndieGogo allows partial funding. Do your research to determine which platform is best for you.
  4. Plan great rewards. It is essential you offer rewards that will inspire a successful campaign.
  5. Execute your campaign. Successful campaigns are well-planned and sequenced effectively to get the most money out of the backers.

Get a grant

When most people think of obtaining a grant to support their art, they think of applying to government agencies, but the government is only one potential source of grant money. Trusts, charities, private companies, nonprofits, and even private individuals offer grant money to musicians, too.

One way to increase the odds you’ll get funding is to apply for grants from entities with mission statements and goals that align with your act and your project. For a list of agencies providing grants for the arts and music, go to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and check out the Savvy Musician’s funding page, which lists organizations and nonprofits that offer grant funding.

Grant associations establish criteria you must meet and rules you must follow in order to qualify, and applying for grants requires a lot of detailed paperwork – 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 stipulated in the grant. And bear in mind that most grants make a distinction between for-profit and nonprofit businesses. As most musicians are for-profit and lack the necessary nonprofit tax status required for eligibility for many grants, you may need to consider seeking sponsorship from a nonprofit. Services like Fractured Atlas specialize in this.

The next time you record an album, plan a tour, or create a new line of merchandise, consider 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.


This 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.