Self-starters passing hat online

By Rebecca Blithe

Chris Thomson (left) and Ben Ryan were amazed how quickly their fund-raising target was met on a US-based crowd funding website.
Chris Thomson (left) and Ben Ryan were amazed how quickly their fund-raising target was met on a US-based crowd funding website.

It's the new business of music making, of film-making, of making your seemingly oddball invention a reality. It's essentially asking strangers for money, but it's being favoured over bank loans and investors, validating products in their infancy and putting artists in touch with their fans like never before. Rebecca Blithe talks to three Kiwis making it big via crowd funding.

You've really got to get into social media and responding to pledgers and updating fans with the progress. You've got to keep people interested.Ted Brown, singer-songwriterSinger, songwriter and guitarist Ted Brown confesses to being a little bit "old school" about things.

"I'm from that era where people were hauling around tapes in boxes," he says speaking from his LA home.

Nonetheless, the recording of Brown's latest album, An Unwide Road, released last week, was achieved through a crowd funding website, where artists promote themselves and their intended project and receive funding through fan donations.

Fans can donate purely to support the project or to receive special offers from signed albums to private performances to - in Brown's case - sharing a favourite recipe.

The long-time sidekick to Greg Johnson, Brown released his first album, Shaky's Blessing, in 2007. But for his second offering he was encouraged by his manager to trial crowd funding.

"He said, 'You know, this is the way people are doing it.' And I'm totally surprised. I had no idea it would work."

Brown used the site Pledge Music, which assesses an artist's work before allowing them to sign on.

"Some people might say [crowd funding] means there's more crap out there. But you have to send in music samples and a bio before they let you join. They even tell you whether or not they think you're asking for a realistic target."

Once given the go ahead, it's up to the artist to promote their project in the hope of attracting enough fan donations to meet their target.

"If you don't reach your target in the allocated time, you don't get anything," says Brown, who raised the amount needed to record his album back home at Roundhead Studios. While he was here, he honoured one of his pledger's requests.

"A guy's wife pledged on a home concert for his birthday. So I went and played at their place in Mt Eden. They invited about 30 friends and I played in their living room. I would happily do that again."

Not one for self-promotion, Brown says the element of marketing himself was a big learning curve.

"I'm not one to self-promote. Everyone's got friends and family who jump in first off. But then you've really got to get into social media and responding to pledgers and updating fans with the progress. You've got to keep people interested."

For musician Fleur Jack, who recorded her first solo album via crowd funding site Sellaband, getting people to pay money to an obscure website was the initial challenge.

"I've always been big on self-promotion so [that part] was pretty easy for me. A lot of my friends thought [Sellaband] was a scam because, at the time, crowd funding wasn't huge in New Zealand. It was like, rather than convincing them to believe in me, I had to convince them that it was okay to put their money into some strange website they'd never heard of."

But she managed to raise €9000 ($13,675) for her album and US$2600 ($3200) on the site Indiegogo, to put toward her last North American tour.

While she hasn't had any strange requests from fans, she met her fiance via a family who donated to her.

"A lot has come from crowd-funding that has changed my life. I did my first ever solo tour in North America. I got in touch with a family that had helped me out on Sellaband to tell them I was coming to play in Seattle and to ask if they knew anywhere I could play and stay."

Jack was invited to stay with the family who took her to a music store where she met her husband to be. "Wesley and I fell in love instantly and he followed me for a few dates on the tour. Eight months later, I've moved over on a six-month visa and Wesley has asked me to marry him."

While musicians like Brown and Jack see crowd funding as the new way to get their music out there, it's also proven an effective model for entrepreneurial types like Ben Ryan and Chris Thomson. The Queenstown-based pair used US site Kickstarter to fund the development of "Genie", a motion control timelapse device for cameras. They opted for crowd funding over traditional financing methods for two reasons:

"There are two main advantages to using crowd funding, primarily it's the fact that you don't sell any ownership in your company. It's about supporting ideas and creativity above making money. Secondly it is an amazing marketing platform. You get exposure through a trusted gateway that would be hard to gain otherwise. With this comes validation of your project taking away the risk of going to production prior to really knowing there is a market," says Thomson.

Because Kickstarter is a US-based site, they spent about six months working out whether they could use the site legally and avoid heavy taxes. But once these concerns were clarified, the pair signed on and were surprised at how quickly they raised funds - and then some.

"We were confident that we could get to the US$400,000 mark, but the speed at which we reached our initial goal was surprising. The additional cash has meant we've been able to keep the business debt-free and also design and build a much higher quality product."

- NZ Herald

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