When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time in my closet. It sounds strange (I know) but I wasn’t doing anything THAT creepy -- I was writing a bunch of weird rap songs on my MacBook. I never considered myself a “real” musician, and I couldn’t have imagined where my music would end up taking me. Most of all, I NEVER thought I’d be a part of the music industry -- and I was right. Kind of.
I’ve never been signed to a major label, and I’m definitely not selling out huge arenas -- but I DID raise $25,000 in just a little over a day to fund my next record with help from my amazing fans. And even if you’re like me, making music in a closet somewhere in Florida or Sweden or the middle of nowhere, you can do the same thing, too.
How I Met My Fans
Making music in isolation doesn’t make me special. Almost every artist, “successful” or not, discovered their passion this way: chilling, studying, experimenting and creating. What’s unique to me, as a musician in 2015, is the freedom of the platform I’ve been given to share my art: the Internet.
It’s hard to explain why my first video, "Okay Cupid," took off back in 2012. After all these years, my only explanation is that my first songs were really weird, really personal and really different from other music that was popular at the time. The response to the video was shocking for me -- I’ve always been a very open person, especially online, but it was overwhelming to suddenly open myself up to such a huge audience. I tried to handle everything the best I could while staying true to myself, and would go to my mom for support when things got crazy. She’d give me the same advice she’s given me since I was little: be myself, be thankful, treat everyone with respect and don’t let anyone dull my sparkle.
These wise words from Mom apply to pretty much anyone. If you’re pouring your heart into your music, it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. In the long run, making something you believe in will always be more fulfilling and successful than trying to follow a trend. But when other people recognize your art for what it is, it’s so important to be grateful for their support and, to an extent, their criticism.
Music is a way to connect with people, and the way to build a fanbase is by appreciating the people who connect with you through yours. My fans are the most important people in my life -- and they’re the most supportive and dedicated people I’ve ever met. I still don’t really know what I did to deserve them, but I like to think they stick around because I make an effort to remind them that they are truly my friends.
Why I Decided To Kickstart My Record
I decided to use Kickstarter to fund my new record because after making four records with no budget and releasing them on my own for free, I want to finally be able to pour resources into making a project as cool as I possibly can. In the past, my own budget limitations have kept a lot of things out of reach -- things like studio time and making physical records. Instead of trying to convince a company to give me money to make something that fits their vision, I’ve decided to invite my fans to instead support a project that excites them.
I was inspired to do this by the successful campaigns of other artists I admire. I’ve watched De La Soul, a group I’ve loved since childhood, and Anamanaguchi, who are some of the most talented people on Earth, create amazing things with only the financial support of the people who love them. After a long and frustrating year of trying to figure out how to realize all the ideas I had, I decided that maybe I could do the same thing.
I’m not very good at accepting failure, so after a very long and careful process of budgeting what I’d need, I came up with an amount to ask for that would definitely be enough to make my record. I figured out ways I could reward people for their pledges, and asked everyone I could for suggestions on how to make my project worth supporting. Finally, after months of anxiously planning, I shared the project with everyone I could, with a message about how much their support would mean to me.
These steps ended up being what made my project successful. Every little bit of planning has paid off, and now that my goal has been met and I start work toward my next goal of funding my first headlining tour, I’m glad I was super thorough (for once).
My greatest advice I can give on making a project like this successful is to make sure you plan out every detail. When you’re passionate, organized, driven and grateful, people who believe in you will be happy to help you make your dream come true. You can’t expect anyone to have faith in something unless you can show them why they should -- and mean it.
Why DIY Is Important
A common criticism of artists who use crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter is that they “failed” at music and are desperately begging their fans for money instead of “getting a real job." Another is that they were unable to thrive in the scary world of the Music Industry. Most of the time, neither of these things are true.
Mainstream and lesser-known artists alike have become extremely vocal about their struggles with labels, managers and contracts -- and that’s a good thing. Popular music is a business, and fans are its clients. Like any other business, it’s important for clients to be aware of mistreatment within the company they are supporting, from sexual harassment to racism.
I’m constantly in admiration of strong voices in music who demand the respect they deserve -- A Tribe Called Quest, Ke$ha and everyone in between who has ever offered insight into an industry that can seem dark and mysterious to those outside of it. These are the people who encourage us to support music we love because we love it, instead of consuming what a business tells us to. Lauryn Hill’s 2012 letter on how she was exploited and manipulated by this business and Grimes’ 2013 blog post denouncing the sexualization of female artists are two incredible examples of this strength.
But to be honest, not much of this applies to me. I’m not a pop star, and most of my experiences with The Industry haven’t been anything remarkable. I’ve had some promises broken and some disappointing meetings, but thanks to the Internet, none of these circumstances have gotten in the way of my ability to share my music with the world.
I’m so incredibly lucky to have such supportive people on my side, who have faith in me to create something that is worth their money. Kickstarter and other crowdsourcing platforms are helping to cultivate communities of artists who are directly supported by people who want them to keep making art, and that’s amazing to me.