Making it happen

For my money, crowd funding is one of the things that makes the internet great. In the arts it is increasingly difficult to secure traditional sources of funding for projects – arts council grants are ever more squeezed and sponsors want to be assured of a return on any investment – but to get an artistic project (an album, a tour, a play) off the ground you need money up front. The general hope is that you’ll then make it back from the consumers.

Which is why crowd funding is so neat. Not only does it allow you to raise the money you need to make your project happen, it also gives you market confidence that you might be able to use to secure additional investment.

It’s a win-win situation.

I first heard about the concept about a decade ago when I read that Marillion, being without a record label, had emailed all the fans on their mailing list (this was before social networking) to say that they’d only be able to make a new album if several thousand of them agreed to pay for it up front before it was even recorded. And, surprisingly, many thousands of them did.

Scoot forward ten years and we now have a bunch of crowd funding sites (like Kickstarter and We Fund) who enable producers to set a goal and allow punters to pledge as much as they like (sometimes with a rising scale of incentives) and chart the progress of the project. It reminds me of the old totalisers they had for Blue Peter appeals. It creates active personal and emotional investment, and generates pre-publicity, especially when combined with social networking.

For some people it’s already become the go-to business model for getting a project off the ground. Amanda Palmer (a righteous evangelist of the Make It Happen creed if ever there was one) famously used Kickstarter to raise cash to record en EP by young discovery, Tristan Allen. And nowadays my twitter feed regularly features links to a crowd funding page for this project or that project. If it sounds interesting I take a look. Sometimes I pledge a few quid. If the message gets around widely enough a new record gets made or a play gets staged.

I guess there are pitfalls. There’s always the chance that brilliant as you think your idea is, not enough people will agree with you to make it happen – but that’s the downside of market proving. And I think as a producer you also have to be careful when picking your target value. You don’t want to demoralize everyone by choosing a total that’s never going to be reached, so if you need a lot of money you might want to crowd fund part of it and investigate other methods of making up the rest.

All that said, crowd funding is an enablement model that is proving itself on a daily basis. I may have a new project of my own that I might want investigate methods of funding for at some point, but for now I want you click through to the We Fund page for the Glasgow Cabaret Festival. The inaugural Cabaret Festival in 2009 was easily one of my cultural highlights of the last decade. Couldn’t believe how many surprising, amazing, delightful and beautiful performances I saw during the course of a single week. It was where I first encountered the now cabaret superstars, Frisky and Mannish, and I think it was where many of our home grown variety acts really crystallized into what they now are (it certainly was for Markee and Bert). It’s a wonderful event, and it’s coming back this autumn. When it comes around, I cannot stress enough that you should get tickets to ANYTHING that’s on at it.  But for now, please consider becoming an arts benefactor to help make a really great event even better.

Word spread. Get involved.


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