Fading: The Whole Story (Crowdfunding And How It All Worked Out) – Part 1
Deciding to release my own album on my own label involved a fairly lengthy process, but one that I think most people should be capable of, so I’d like to document the process so that others may be able to do the same for their own work. The “Do It Yourself” (DIY) ethos in the music industry is something that many people are considering these days, so hopefully this can serve to help others decide whether the DIY route is for them or not.
I should start by mentioning that Echodub had been running as a regular label for a year or two by the point I decided to release Fading on it. Echodub is my own label, and started as a collective of musicians. I had the means to release EPs digitally and so we all worked together on putting out music so that Echodub could work as a platform for new musicians. For some it worked, for others it maybe didn’t, however there came a point around a year or so before I decided to self-release Fading, where I felt that Echodub really needed to start functioning like a more regular label. The “collective” as it stood was disbanded in a sense. Echodub became more like a regular digital-only label where I would approach producers about releasing an EP and then we would put the release together (AKA, decide on tracks) I would pay to get them mastered and make the cover artwork myself. I would send them to the digital distributors, they would give me a release date and I would do as much promotion as I could until that day of release and beyond – and then we’d move on to the next release and so forth.
Echodub was lucky enough early on to get a comprehensive distribution deal. We were working with a company who took our mastered wav files and distributed them to as many digital stores as they were able to and around a year before Fading was to be a release we switched over the distribution to ST Holdings. ST Holdings are a distribution company who are considered one of the key players within the realm of music that Echodub is releasing and so they felt like the natural choice for me to switch to.
Echodub was running with distribution in place, a mastering engineer who I have a good relationship with (Bob Macc at Subvert for those interested), and the ability for me to cover the artwork side of things, as well as go some way towards promotion and PR. Essentially all the bases were covered for us to affectively provide digital releases. The weakest point probably being at the promotion and PR end of the stick.
Fading was the album I had been working on. I initially wanted to call it “Fading: A Futile Endeavour” as a comment about how I felt about the music scene. I was convinced I was fading in to the background, and that my music was going un-noticed. I later shortened the name to just “Fading” so that it wasn’t so blatant, and so that it could be interpreted in more ways than one.
The tracks that ended up on Fading had all been produced, and were in a state where the mixdowns were rough but provided a good enough listening experience for people to check the tracks out and decide whether or not they liked them.
I hadn’t decided to release Fading on Echodub at this point, so I had emailed a few select labels about releasing the album. There were just four or five labels I approached and I decided that if I was going to get an album released, that these labels would be the best place to start. I think it’s worth always aiming hight to begin with. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
I didn’t have much luck with those labels, and most didn’t even bother to get back to me. I also sent the album to a couple of producers who I respect to make sure things sounded alright – the first piece of valuable feedback I got was that my mixdowns needed work, so I decided to email my mastering engineer and a couple of other people I knew, who had been doing some research in to mixdowns. I collected up the advice that these sources gave me, and I downloaded a free plugin which gave me some comprehensive spectrum analysis and I went through every album track and re-did the mixdowns over the course of a few evenings. I couldn’t do them all at once because of ear-fatigue, so I did two to three tracks in a row and got the pre-masters where I wanted them audibly.
It was at this point that I decided on the possibility of releasing the album on Echodub. I could most certainly do it as a digital release with minimal cost, but ultimately I was keen to make this a CD release, so I had to look at prices and solutions for producing a physical product.
I’d looked at my options which at the time seemed limited. I could continue to shop the album around a few labels, and the more labels I spoke to, the longer it would take, and the less comfortable I’d be releasing on smaller labels. I could however take the plunge and go the DIY route. My main obstacle for that would be saving up enough money to do it properly.
I ultimately opted for the DIY route (as you know) because I decided that it was time to take Echodub up a step. I also felt that if I was to fund this myself I would make sure that the product was as good as it possibly could be, and that any return would be able to fund future Echodub releases. Now my only battle would be the time it would take to accrue the necessary funds.
My brother had recently launched a campaign to help fund a film that he was working on. He had looked at Kickstarter as a viable option, but had also discovered a site called IndieGoGo. Kickstarter was limited to those with an American bank account and I had looked at it previously as an option to try and do the first Echodub vinyl release but the project had been canned before we got to that stage. Kickstarter also requires that you reach your funding goal in order to collect the funds. It was an all-or-nothing model. IndieGoGo on the other hand, allowed you to be UK based and also allowed you to collect any of the funds, regardless of whether you made your target. The catch being that IndieGoGo would take a slightly larger percentage cut if you didn’t make your target.
I figured this would be a good way to attempt to raise the funds for the album. It meant having the project run for just over 2 months but it allowed me time to promote the album a bit and to find out whether or not there would be any real support for the album. At this point nobody had heard the album, and so it felt like a fairly large risk.
IndieGoGo made things very easy to start-up, and I signed up for the option that allowed me to collect some of the funds as they came in (as opposed to waiting till the end of the project). That way I could use some of those to fund the mastering of the album. My reasoning here was that if I could have the album mastered while the funding project was still active, I’d be able to let people hear clips from the mastered final album in order to help them decide whether or not to contribute towards the end of the funding window.
Coming up with the rewards and perks for the funding project was interesting and probably one of the longest parts of setting the project up. I had to make sure people would get at least their money’s worth – if not more, but without having to personally over-spend on the project potentially leaving too little for the products themselves.
Promoting The Project
Once the funding page/campaign was set up, I did a bit of solid promotion. Initially I emailed friends and family – those I was told by IndieGoGo were the most likely to donate. After that I emailed a number of blogs about it, although very few took me up on the offer – most didn’t see it as particularly newsworthy. (I subsequently think that had Kode9, Mala or Loefah done exactly the same, they’d have been the talk of the blogosphere, but that’s beside the point.) I have no delusions of grandeur here, and so I continued to promote elsewhere. I hit as many forums as I knew of without being spammy. I mentioned the project on Facebook, Twitter and I had the video on Vimeo, and later in the project YouTube, just to spread the project as far as my network allowed me.
The initial uptake was phenomenal. We were almost a third of the way after a couple of weeks, which is where the funding started to tail off. I tried to promote the project a little more, mentioning in a few places as things like pay-days came and went for some people. A few more donations trickled in.
With about two weeks to go, I decided on another major promotional push. I emailed round friends and family again, trying to omit those who had already kindly contributed, and mentioned the project in all the same places. Another couple of blogs mentioned the project and I got interest from a local magazine, although by that time, printing dates may have rendered their support futile. However the last push and the help of those who mentioned the project elsewhere meant that in the last few days of the project I managed to get enough support to reach the target $5000 that I had set, as well as push that limit by a further $1000.
So, with that funding in place, the album mastered (based on some of the earlier contributions), the artwork complete (I had covered this myself) and enough to cover the cost of the album, and an additional 12” release, I had to consider my next steps. Where should I take it from here?