Case Study: Mary Bue And The Studio Run Kickstarter

MaryBue

I was recently introduced to singer-songwriter Mary Bue from Minnesota. We got along like a house on fire from the start – she’s smart, funny, spunky, and resourceful (and a great songwriter and musician.) In the process of getting to know her, Mary mentioned this “Bands Banding Together” Kickstarter project she was involved in over the past few months with a recording studio called Welcome to 1979.

The campaign started with a contest in which the studio sought bands willing to travel to the Welcome to 1979 studio in Nashville to record an album live direct to lathe (vinyl). This is actually a very old recording technique which has recently experienced a trendy comeback, including a direct to vinyl live performance by Neil Young and recorded by Jack White on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show.

Beths Cafe With The GoGirls
Me, Jean Mann, Julie Wisckstrom, Alex Winters, Chris “Seth” Jackson and Mary Bue (Photo by Kelly McWain)

Once the bands were selected by the studio, they committed to help promote the Kickstarter campaign (which was set up and run by the studio) to their fan networks, and also to provide merchandise for some of the premiums. The campaign had a fundraising goal of $25,000, which would enable Welcome to 1979 to record the five bands live in the studio, one at a time, and then release five vinyl records. Each band would also get some vinyl records of their recording to take home out of the deal.

An Interesting Crowd Funding Model

I think this is such an interesting model for crowd funding a record. It makes a lot of sense in many ways: the studio is incented to make the campaign successful, because they are paying themselves, and the combined fan groups for both the studio and the artists involved would theoretically make for a wider audience for the campaign. However, there are also a lot of potential pitfalls in this model.

I did some research, and couldn’t find other examples of studios doing crowd funding campaigns on behalf of musicians except for one, Groove Box Studios for Nathan Kalish, but it was a much smaller amount. [Thanks to Ian Anderson at Launch and Release for finding that one for me].

Let me be clear: no one was ripped off, and I don’t think anything shady went on here. I think everyone just felt disappointed that the project didn’t succeed, and some fan goodwill was expended. Perhaps we can all learn from this.

[Tweet “This campaign was pitched as being about the process of recording live to vinyl.”]

I think the much bigger takeaways are about the planning and coordination needed to implement a joint Kickstarter between 5 bands and a studio.

Key Takeaways

While an idea like recording direct to lathe is interesting, it’s not enough to guarantee the success of an entire Kickstarter. My observations about this campaign:

  • It’s important for bands to have input up front on a Kickstarter that has their name on it, including how much is being raised and the premiums.
  • $25K is a lot to raise on Kickstarter. Successful campaigns average between $5 and $10K.
  • To be successful in crowd funding, learn from others beforehand by getting input from folks experienced in crowd funding – or at least study the free research on successful crowd techniques available on music crowd funding websites like Launch and Release.
  • Both studio and bands need to contribute significant effort to push the campaign via email and social media – and to explain the campaign clearly to their fans. The contest up front was a confusion factor.
  • Successful marketing campaigns of any kind require effective communication among all parties, including a clear call to action, agreement on the marketing and ongoing communications during the campaign.
  • Adjusting tactics early on when a crowd funding campaign is not going well is critical, including adding premiums or creating other incentives for fans to share the campaign with their own social media networks.

[Tweet “To be successful in #crowdfunding, learn from others beforehand.”]

Mary’s Story In Her Own Words

I asked Mary if she would mind if I shared the story of this Kickstarter campaign with my readers as she shared it with me via email. Here it is, for your edification:

 

5/21/2014

Good morning, Solveig!

I hope this email finds you well.  I’m FINALLY following up on our brief but lovely chat outside of Beth’s Cafe in Seattle last month to share a bit more about this Kickstarter project I’m involved in.  I know that you are familiar with the basics about it as you mentioned it on the #ggchat last week but here’s a bit more!

MaryBueThis project is through Welcome to 1979 Studio in Nashville.  The engineer, Chris Mara, notified me (I’ve worked with him briefly in 2006) to let me know of a contest the studio was hosting.

Process:

1. I filled out a survey (questions about whether or not I’ve done a Kickstarter,  do I have a mailing list,  how many Facebook fans/Twitter followers,  etc).  Myself and 9 bands were selected into a “battle of the bands” to narrow it down to 5 bands via a Facebook poll. If we agreed to the terms, we had to help promote the studio’s Kickstarter campaign,  travel to Nashville for 2 days of “free recording” within two months of the Kickstarter being funded (we have to cover our own travel & lodging expenses),  and we would end up with 450 vinyl albums to sell as we desired – live recordings,  no overdubs or edits,  pure in-the-moment albums.  After agreeing,  we had to hound our Facebook friends and strangers to vote daily for us. I made it to the top 5.

2.  Since I made it to the top 5, I was offered yet another chance to back out before the Kickstarter campaign started.  There was a month off to think about it and “give our voting fans a break.” In May the Kickstarter began.  We weren’t told how much the studio was trying to raise.  When the campaign began, the goal is set at $25,000.  WHEW.  Now, there are 5 bands involved plus the studio, so that comes to  trying to raise $4,166 each if we divided it between the 6 of us.  I raised a little more than that on my campaign in 2012 …

Here is our project:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/6384401/welcome-to-1979-presents-bands-banding-together

3.  Now, we’re sitting at $4,000 of that $25,000 with only 10 days left.  It would be quite a miracle to get it funded — and it is possible — I’m trying not to be jaded about it!  😉  I’m wondering if I should reach out individually to my fans on Facebook via messages (individual, not mass) or just continue to post daily, do my mailing list,  tweet,  etc … I feel awkward about individual messaging.  Have you ever done that?

ANYWAY!  I know you’re a busy lady, but I just wanted to tell you what’s up with this project — it truly is quite the unique approach and kudos to the studio for doing it.  Bringing lots of traffic to their site… Their studio is already doing really well (was featured on the cover of Mix Magazine this month which is pretty snazzy).

 

5/27/2014

Hi Solveig!!!!!!

Thank you so much for taking the time to check out the project and write back.  I truly appreciate it and value your opinion!!!! Pardon the delayed response – was in the city and then deep in the woods (mosquito hell!) this weekend.

Totally agree – this project is absolutely geared to vinyl enthusiasts.  The studio asked what we could donate to the project — I said t-shirts & cds (I have 4) but they just grouped all of those items into “band swag” at the $20 level,  but didn’t go into great detail about whose swag.

I would invite the studio to change their premiums, but once they are set,  you can’t change them apparently?  I asked them to change the band name they had listed for me, but they were unable to do so … which makes me think that once the campaign is published,  you can change the body text but not the “prizes” or prices or amount.  I vaguely remember that when I did my Kickstarter two years ago.

Here is the first newsletter with how I pitched it to my fans:

http://us2.campaign-archive1.com/?u=dd191f5652323335d3746031f&id=ecec8a1028&e

I plan to write another newsletter tomorrow with 3 days left.  When I spoke to a number of friends this weekend,  they seemed confused by this Kickstarter. They thought that it was just the STUDIO raising money, and that it wouldn’t affect my going there to record.  Once they heard that if it doesn’t get funded, I DON’T GET TO GO to Nashville and record,  then they felt more invested to pledge.

The video starts with the two engineers talking about the process of recording live to vinyl, shows 5 brief clips of each participating band,  and then does this spacey/cosmic video montage of the “direct to disc” process: first of a singer roaring into a mic,  then to the engineer booth,  then to the lathe,  then the record needle,  then someone’s ear who is listening,  etc.  Then they talk about incentives and it gets pretty geeky audiophile-y but great if, as you said it,  you’re a vinyl lover.  I think the video is pretty effective, but doesn’t really state that if it doesn’t get funded that the bands don’t get to do it so that emotional tug is missing of the broken-hearted artists (waaaaaah! LOL)…

Anyway, it appears that the other bands aren’t really promoting too much either …

SIGH!

It has definitely been an interesting challenge!

Thanks again for your 2 cents.  I might reach out to the other bands to see what their tactics have been…

Best to you!!!!!!!

Mary

MaryBueFaceplant

6/1/2014 (Facebook posting from Mary)

Dear Facebook friends,
It is with great disappointment that I share the news that our Kickstarter didn’t receive the funding needed for the “Bands Banding Together – Live to Lathe” recording project in Nashville to happen.

ALAS! I won my spot in the battle of the bands back in March thanks to all of your votes … and in our contractual agreement to participate in the project, the five bands had to help promote the Kickstarter fundraising campaign. No sweat, right?

Well, the studio hoped to raise $25,000 in 30 days which is a BIG chunk of change and my-oh-my, that amount seemed daunting! I oscillated between motivation to promote, hope, despair, embarrassment for all that I was trying to ask you guys for, delusions of grandeur (I dreamt that Pete Townshend contributed $2000!) and finally disappointment that this particular dream wasn’t going to come true.

I would like to thank my husband Kyle for his pep-talking, support and for being my musical partner in crime! AND to Brett Molitor & Scott Millis for being willing to be my bandmates and travel down to Nashville if this project would have succeeded! And to all of you who voted in March!!!!! You are countless! THANK YOU!

And finally these amazing peeps for chipping in to the Kickstarter (your credit cards won’t be charged, but the gratitude from me is huge):
Pete Cich, Aaron Rowan, Jake Larson, Janelle Bane, Thomas Bane, Ian MacLean,Lorene MacLean, Brett Molitor, Katie Wiedewitsch Snyder, Mark Dey, Kyle George, Ida Jo , Crystal Detlefsen, Andy Asbury & DeAnna Asbury, Pat Thomas, Odette Allen-Berg, Carrie Kohlmeier. Sarah McPeck, Trey Schroeder and my fabulous parents. Thanks also to the fantastic Solveig Whittle for your advice (everyone check out her music industry blog: www.shadesofsolveig.com). If I am missing anyone who supported this project, I apologize!!!!

As a consolation prize, however, I/we get a full day of recording at WELCOME TO 1979 studio in Nashville whenever the time is right. SCORE! So, not all is lost as that is an awesome, awesome prize.

THANKS SO MUCH, everyone!

 

6/1/2014

Dear Solveig,

I wanted to follow up with you about our Kickstarter debacle!

First of all, thank you for your advice.

As far as what happened – epic fail!

These last few days were pretty emotionally hellish as I felt rather embarrassed about all I was asking for from my fans and friends … and the disappointment of 3 months of working on this,  plotting,  planning,  rehearsing,  saving,  etc.

BUT as a consolation prize,  the studio gave me a full day of free recording with the head engineer.  That’s pretty sweet, right?  And I can do that whenever it works for me — or if I can’t travel,  they said they can give me a break on mastering,  vinyl cutting,  etc. So I guess I truly did WIN about $750 (that was the daily rate they quoted me last summer).  This helps “heal” some of the emotional roller-coaster!

Thank you and best to you,

Mary

Words of Advice From Ian Anderson of Launch And Release

I also asked Ian Anderson of Launch and Release to comment on this subject, and he had some great advice for bands, gleaned from his many crowd funding case studies:

[Tweet “NOTHING is more effective at raising money than advocating for yourself.”]
The vast majority of music crowdfunding backers (like 90%+) are people with ZERO degrees of separation from the artist. In other words, the artist knows them before the campaign even starts.

And the artist is the one that needs to talk to these people in order to establish an emotional connection and interest. This is what separates crowdfunding from pre-selling and allows you to make an average of $50 per backer instead of $10 per buyer.

It is hard for me to imagine a studio going through all of the hassle and work to reach out to all the people who the artist knows and even if the studio does, it will never be as effective at converting people to backers as when the artist does the reaching out. (In other words, their conversion rate will be much lower.)

Bottom line, when asking people to back your music crowdfunding campaign, it needs to be done as personally and authentically as possible. You can’t have other people do it for you and expect it to work that well.

– Ian Anderson, info@launchandrelease.com, Twitter: @launchrelease @iananderson0

 

Have you had any experience working with a studio or on a group Kickstarter project with other bands? Was it successful? What do you think of this model? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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