Two funding ideas for the indie artist

Your songs, arrangements, and studio time are all set, booked, and ready to go. Plans for CD replication, distribution, and publicity aren't far behind. The big question is... how will you pay for it all?

Even if you bargain, barter, and DIY like mad, the expenses of creating and launching an album as an independent artist can add up. The good news is countless musicians have paved the way and come up with creative business solutions to get their musical projects off the ground. Here are a few tips and strategies to gather the funds to make your dreams of an indie album release a reality.

Go for a grant

Toni Jannotta, a jazz vocalist in California, has received multiple grants to help with her music projects, with her first grant-related victory helping fund her 2015 release, Is It Magic? It all started thanks to public access television.

“When I was living in Ventura, California, I turned on CAPS-TV, our public access station, and saw a piece on winners of a grant from the city called the Cultural Affairs Commission Fellowship,” Jannotta says. “I’d never heard of it before, so I called the city and found out what they were talking about.” Jannotta attended an orientation related to the grant program, learned what the qualifications were, and submitted an application.

Grant applications can vary widely. According to Jannotta, the first application was very simple, while the second was so thick and complicated, it required its own index. “It took me six weeks to compile,” she says of the latter, “but it was worth taking the time to fill it out. As an indie artist, at the end of the day, you have to be your own everything, including grant writer.

When it comes to completing the actual grant applications, Jannotta’s advice is simple: “They give you guidelines, and you follow them. There are narratives that must be written and I suggest speaking from the heart, as opposed to selling and saying that you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread and that your work is groundbreaking.”

Instead, she advises, explain how much your project means to you and how you hope it will touch others. “Talk about how it might help and why it’s a good fit for the particular grant,” Jannotta continues. “Don’t try to be a PR person. Tell them what you have to offer and be honest. That’s what I’ve done every time I’ve had to apply.”

While finding the right grant and writing a winning application is daunting, Jannotta says it’s a road worth pursuing. “From my experience, once you receive one grant, you get on the ‘grant superhighway’ and you start receiving information on all kinds of other funding sources, asking you to submit applications. So if you get one, it opens the door for many others.”

To that point, Jannotta’s second successful grant application came as a result of an unsolicited email she received describing an "Artist In The Community Partnership" program sponsored by the Ventura County Arts Council and primarily funded by the James Irvine Foundation.

“That’s how I made my project ‘Voices of the Homeless.' I put on a jazz concert where a quartet of improvisers backed up storytellers from the homeless community, and then I made a documentary out of the performances. For the live performance, I had my grant money,” she continues, “but when I decided I wanted to make the documentary, I went back to CAPS-TV because, by that time, the money was spent. Luckily, almost every city has a public access station.”

To find grants in your area like the ones that helped Jannotta, one place to start is local arts councils. (Here’s an article I wrote for the National Endowment for the Arts on the subject.)

Crowdsource (and don't forget the chocolate)

When Argentinian musician and producer Emilio D. Miler was in the midst of a crowd-funding campaign for NY-based Carlos Mena's indie album release, his efforts took him in interesting and unexpected directions.

“Since Carlos is Ecuadorian, I suggested he get in touch with the Ecuadorian Consulate and Embassy, and he was able to get a distinction from the consulate as a Distinguished Personality of Ecuadorian Arts and Culture in the United States,” says Miler. “That in turn raised some eyebrows in his home country, as well as with his fellow musicians in New York who already knew him, but didn’t pay attention to the fact that he was from Ecuador. Also, it was a big deal for Ecuadorians to see that one of their own was in a scene as big and important as New York, and was making some noise and progress. For many years, he has been doing great work as a sideman, performing with a number of bigger-name artists in the jazz and Latin scenes.”

When it came time to brainstorm fundraising ideas for Mena’s debut solo album, Miler wanted to capitalize on the artist’s existing buzz while acknowledging his cultural heritage. “We wanted to find something to make the campaign unique, not just for the sake of uniqueness, but something that would fit his music and the fact that he came from Ecuador.”

Miler and Mena came up with the theme of Ecuadorian chocolate. “It’s one of the flagship products of the country,” Miler says. “So I made it my job to search for companies that sounded like they made chocolate in the same way that we made music — with passion, intention of growth, and awareness not only of where they come from, but who they want to reach. I wanted to find a company with a message, not just a product.”

Through his research, Miler identified Pacari, a small but growing business that exports chocolate to the United States. “I talked with the owners directly,” he says. “One of the key factors when trying to reach out to somebody outside of the music business is a natural, instant connection. I wanted to work with someone who just got what I was going for off the bat, and that was the case with Pacari.” As a result, Mena and Pacari began an official partnership, one through which the perks of Mena’s IndieGogo campaign include Pacari chocolates.

“When you’re going to produce music with an independent artist, sometimes you and the musician are as much of a team as you’re going to have,” he says. “The chores and responsibilities to make a project happen are essentially the same as with any project, but there are just fewer people doing them. You literally can’t afford to have the attitude of, ‘this is not my job.’ It’s the price you pay for being independent, but it’s a fair price for what you get in return, if you do your job right.”

If you pursue creative partnerships, follow Miler and Mena's lead and seek out companies that have a connection with your music and identity as an artist and beyond. Miler recommends you also have persuasive materials and a detailed game plan to present when you receive interest, because even if there's an immediate connection to the idea, multiple people within a company may need to give approval before any partnership is set into action.

In the end, Miler recommends you seek a company that can truly partner with you. “It’s not just about the funds,” he says. “It’s the attitude.”

Michael Gallant’s debut trio album, Completely, received a four-star review from DownBeat magazine and a five-star review from Critical Jazz, which stated: “This, my friends, is the future of jazz. Fresh, invigorating, progressive – there are simply not enough positive adjectives to list here.” Learn more, download through iTunes, or purchase through CD Baby. Follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant or on Facebook.