As a recording artist, I was so lucky to have participated in many projects during the heyday of the commercial big label recording industry. When I was about five years into my career, I was offered an exclusive contract but on the advice of my manager I opted to record for many labels in order to work with various artists, conductors and orchestras. In other words, I was not exclusive. Sometimes I think about the loss of the publicity that went with exclusivity, but the artist in me has no regrets. Classical recording in those days was often subsidized by the label's popular music income. Gone are the days of limos, lavish buffets and high budget recording projects. Gee, I even remember the days of tape technology. Fast-forward (pun intended) to the present. Independent labels are coming to the front. It is a digital world.
I may have graced the cover of Opera News back in 2000, sitting at my laptop dressed as Cherubino, but I am by no means a tech wizard. However, thanks to much social networking I have successfully funded my Kickstarter project to record songs by Carlisle Floyd! I wrote about it here on HuffPost when it was launched.
My use of Kickstarter and crowd funding was an education. After researching recording costs, I chose a goal of $20,000. If it was reached, pledges would be processed and Kickstarter would take a percentage. If the goal was not reached, no one would be charged and I would be plumb out of luck. It was risky since the time period and amount I wished to fund could not be changed. I could, however, add information, photos, videos and change premiums.
The pledges were slow going at first and I had a sick feeling that I should have instead aimed for the more realistic $10,000. I received helpful, unsolicited comments about the need for more creative premiums and the use of a video. My initial video was of me discussing the project but I found it annoying so I replaced it with a clip of the songs in a live performance from a few years ago. It still was not ideal. This aspect could definitely be improved on if there is a "next time."
Originally, the premium I had offered was a copy of the finished product. Coming up with other ideas took some doing; after all, I am not PBS. I thought of hawking various items I own like an original French 1930s His Master's Voice poster, or even my collectable '74 Bimmer that I have wanted to sell. However, the rules stated that all premiums must be project related. So much for the car and poster!
Serendipitously, the biography of Carlisle Floyd, Falling Up: The Days and Nights of Carlisle Floyd by Thomas Holliday, was just coming on the market so it seemed a logical addition. I also realized that some people might prefer to download the finished product rather than have a CD so that was an easy and affordable perk. Other premiums included a signed photo book, to which I had contributed an essay, called Water Music by Marjorie Ryerson, "Susanne Mentzer sings Happy Birthday or Happy Anniversary to someone special," and even a private recital. It seems that most donors were just interested in the CD. Some people even waived the premiums, which I appreciate as it cut down on the costs.
It was an odd feeling soliciting funds for something that was not under the auspices of a non-profit or any sort of organized company. I was forbidden from making my own donation to my project. Kickstarter helped to set up account on Amazon that would handle the funds on my behalf. In order to use it the donor had to register, leave credit card information, make a password, etc. There were some people who wanted to help but absolutely not via the Internet. My plan was to accept checks from them and if I did not reach my $20,000 goal they would be returned. Fortunately, this was not necessary.
I did have to shake the trees often. If activity began to fall off I placed annoying reminders on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. I was relieved and grateful to find a very generous donor willing to fill the final gap. I keep a very careful record should anyone want to see the evidence of expenditures.
Once the project at Kickstarter was closed, I was able to view and download a record of exactly who donated, for which premiums, the breakdown of people who were known and unknown to me, and also how they knew about the project. This was very helpful in terms of learning how this whole crowd funding things works. A majority of the donors were contacted by me or by "friends or friends." (Nice friends!)
Apparently, there are generous people who browse these sites looking for pet projects. I was warned that the classical music projects rarely get much attention. I am guessing that other projects might involve an investment and return. Once again, even on Kickstarter, classical music is not a moneymaking proposition. However, it has different kind of return -- one that is not necessarily quantifiable.
Now I am a producer, writing letters of agreement with participants, booking travel and hotels and contracting with the studio. Fortuitously, through an acquaintance on Facebook, I was approached by the independent label GPR Records that will do the production work for a flat fee. We will record the third week of April. The label has an agreement with Naxos for distribution to which I most likely will agree. I could "shop around" but I feel this is an easy and obvious way to go for this first-timer. As for the packaging, that is still TBA. If I have to, I will write my own liner notes. I am guessing that when all is said and done the costs will surpass the $20,000 but the "pay off" will be well worth it. To most big businesses $20,000 is a drop in the bucket, but in my world, it goes a long, long way. I send a big thank you to all who are helping to make this possible.
Now I need to put my performer hat back on, rehearse with the two pianists and Carlisle Floyd, and stay healthy. I know that thanks to my efforts at least 250 people will have the CD in hand by the fall. This was the goal. It might not make money but the songs of one of America's legendary composers will be archived and recorded for future reflection and enjoyment. I would call that a good investment and return.
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