Crowdfunding Classical Music

In an ever-present search for funding in the modern world of classical music, musicians, managers, executives, and entrepreneurs look towards new models of raising capital to see if any of these methods can be appropriated to benefit the arts. One of these models is crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding (also known as crowd financing, equity crowdfunding, or hyper funding) refers to a method of gathering financial resources via a distributed network of people who pool their money. This has traditionally be done via the Internet (for example: websites such as Kickstarter).

recent article in the Korea Times highlights the context in which classical music now finds itself situated in… amid modern marketing and constantly changing technology:

Fat profit margins, brand power and technological capability are no longer enough to amass approving nods. Now, humanity and cultural dignity are part of the calculus, and companies are increasingly tuning into classical music.

Marketing with classical music suggests grand elegant concert halls filled with well-heeled consumers, but the approach actually aims at a much wider audience.

It comes at a time when classical music has reached a crossroads in which it is accessible to many more people. Therefore, companies see the music genre as a way to establish their cultural identity, communicate to the mass market and help provide memorable experiences.

The mixture of corporate marketing and classical music is already seen in financial support from companies for performances and orchestras.

A company’s identity with classical music cannot be established overnight, so the marketing must be approached with sincerity and from the perspective of a long-term investment rather than one-off, ostentatious events. As a reference point, advanced companies’ timeframe for sponsorships is at least ten years.

Thus, the commitment requires a genuine passion for the arts as well as a detailed roadmap for communicating with orchestras and other music organizations.

While some of the points might be specific to Korean companies, others can be easily generalized to the field as a whole. We’ve seen time and time again here how creativity plays a crucial role in helping classical music.

An Innovative Approach to Funding Classical Music

The question is: does crowdfunding actually work? History shows that it can.

About a month back I had a chance to speak with prolific and critically acclaimed violinist Colin Jacobsen – co-founder of The Knights and Brooklyn Rider – about a variety of topics in classical music. Jacobsen shared some of his experience in building classical ensembles, including the logistics behind making such groups work in today’s world.

With Brooklyn Rider we’ve had to raise money ourselves and actually did a Kickstarter campaign for our last album Seven Steps, which enabled us to fully fund it.

And Colin Jacobsen’s success story certainly isn’t the only one. In fact, Mashable recently ran a story on Seth Godin’s Kickstarter project for his new book The Icarus Deception, which was funded (perhaps in record time) in under 3 hours for a goal of $40,000.

Obviously, Mr. Godin has a huge following which few people can match. But, crowdfunding doesn’t necessarily discriminate against us “regular” people, and in fact these resources can be very valuable when proper and creative planning is put behind them. Maya Jensen, the daughter of Ovation Press co-founder Hans Jensen, recently launched her own fundraising campaign on indiegogo and successfully met and exceeded her goal of $10,000. These funds are being used in final touches and mass production of her completed documentary Solidarity in Saya, which explores how Afro-Bolivian Saya music is used as a form of socio-economic struggle.

While Colin Jacobsen admits that this might not be a fully-sustainable model for funding in all cases, it does highlight one of the important ways in which passion can be harnessed for productive ends. Crowdfunding often relies on the willingness of friends, friends of friends, etc. to band together and pool their efforts to make something work. In the case of Brooklyn Rider, a Kickstarter project was enough to accomplish their funding goals. And with the Knights, a large portion of their support (especially initially) has been private funding through friends and their networks.

Crowdfunding as an Emerging Norm

This concept isn’t necessarily new. What’s different now is that the Internet has made it a more feasible option for artists and their project. Even more so, trends in the industry have shifted in such a way that crowdfunding is beginning to seem as a “socially-accepted” method of raising capital, and thus more and more people are considering it as a viable option.

A recent article on NPR Classical highlights this:

Dress shirts inspired by NASA technology, gourmet pepper mixes and … a new recording and study guide for Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time? That’s just a tiny sample of Kickstarter’s current array of “creative projects” seeking funding. Forget writing endless grant applications and long dinners with angel investors, the thinking goes — just tap into your social networks to raise money instead.

Although some of the biggest “wow” stories to come out of crowdfunding web sites don’t involve classical music — like Amanda Palmer’s staggering feat of raising more than $1.1 million for her latest album — there’s plenty of inspiring tales from classical artists. Among the most recent classical Kickstarter successes: an album of new symphonic music by Poul Ruders; a recording of Missy Mazzoli’s new opera Song from the Uproar; and the Kronos Quartet’s latest round of commissions from composers under the age of 30.

But does that mean that you already have to be well-known in classical music circles to give crowdfunding a go? Did you know that more than 50 percent of Kickstarter projects fail to attract enough funding — and that if you miss your goal, you don’t get any of the already pledged money? What are effective ways to let your fans know about your crowdfunded project, and when does “letting them know” cross over into spamming them? Can any artist do this on her or his own, or would enlisting a social media specialist be helpful?

Read the full story – Conducting Business: Crowdfunding Classical Music.

Do you have a project that you have, are, or considered funding with Kickstarter? Share it with us!

15 Responses to Crowdfunding Classical Music

  1. Marion Harrington June 30, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    Thanks for drawing my attention to this very thoughtful article, Colin.

    As you know, Classical Music Connects successfully raised over $2.500 at start-up which although short of target has provided enough seed capital to develop a revised form of the project.

    Several points I’d like to make about Kickstarter: firstly, when I was researching platforms prior to launch, Kickstarter wasn’t open to non-US residents; secondly, I was put off by the 3 month deadline.

    Crowd.sourcing can be very time consuming and the last thing any busy freelance musician needs is more stress! 😉

    In addition, just because you fail to hit target doesn’t automatically mean that a project is doomed.

    In fact, the new version of CMC is far more empowering and useful in the long term to a much wider range of musicians than the original. The fact that the total amount of funds failed to stack up was actually a good thing because v.2 is more sustainable in the long term which will better serve one the aims: to test a new business model for classical music which doesn’t rely on donations or patrons to survive.

    Coming from a life spent partially out of the music profession in business, it seems very clear to me that one of the reasons classical music is has not moved with the times – thankfully changing at last – is because it hasn’t been able to adapt quickly enough to the needs of potential audiences and an over-weight bias towards donations and grants.

    In my observation, this “lack of flexibility” stems from many education and training institutions where often individual creativity is crushed before it even has time to develop – a “my way or the highway” attitude. Very few places include teaching the business of making a living as a musician outside solo work, an orchestral position or tecahing.

    With the advent of crowd sourcing and development of the Internet, thankfully it’s no longer necessary to tread the well worn career path. We are now masters of our own destiny, answerable to nobody and can craft our own careers.

    For normal working musicians i.e., non A-listers like me who are in the majority, crowd-sourcing and the Internet are absolute gifts. Use them!

    My advice to anybody looking to crowd sourcing is this:

    *research the market carefully for the best match platform for what you’re trying to do. *revise the company’s terms an conditions carefully
    *ensure they are well established and stable
    *don’t schedule a campaign for when you’re really busy – you’ll need a lot of energy!
    *be aware of donor fatigue – avoid relying on crowd-sourcing platforms where only you are the only real beneficiary for your project.
    *if you’re an “unknown”, the most successful campaigns are generally those that ultimately provide something innovative and for “the greater good”

  2. Colin Cronin June 30, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    Excellent comments Marion. I definitely appreciate the insights and tips for those looking to raise funds. Definitely Kickstarter has its limitations, but I want to point out that Kickstarter is only one platform / outlet through which crowdfunding can be achieved. As you’ve pointed out, someone can achieve a similar goal through simply utilizing their own website and a donation button. The success of such efforts are not necessarily determined by the platform itself but by how the promotional strategy is conceived, developed, and executed… just like any other marketing campaign.

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