Being a musician certainly isn’t cheap, especially early on, with a lot of gigs having to be played to pick up that new piece of gear you’ve been eyeing off – and this is before you’ve even set foot in the studio. When it comes time to put that first record out, there’s a lot of cash that needs to be scraped together.
Crowdfunding is one way of getting a bit of coin together that can often be quite successful – although not usually quite so much as a recent campaign by Townsville outfit King Social, who entirely crowdfunded their debut LP using PledgeMusic, raising over $27,000 in the process – that’s a lot of money for a first crack, and the most they’ve heard has been raised in Australia for a debut album.
The band have gradually made a name for themselves with a sound that blends country rock with hip-hop and reggae, and have clearly built up a strong base of loyal fans eager to hear that sound finally make it onto a record – but there’s more to it than that. We’ve had a chat with frontman Angus Milne to find out how they went about it (including a pledge to wax one of their bandmates if certain targets were met), and if it might just be the best move for your band’s next album too.
With the record set to be released next year, there’s still a bit of time to wait for all of their supporters who backed the release, but their far-north fans will be able to catch King Social playing live at The Jack in Cairns later this month.
Crowdfunding Your Record With King Social
Firstly, how did King Social all start up?
The band formed late 2013 when I asked this unlikely bunch to meet up and record a few songs. Stevie and I actually had written a song together while drunk at a mate’s party and I really wanted to record it. It was our first song and still my favourite – ‘It Goes Around’.
I met all the boys in Townsville through different aspects of my life: I worked with Wonga (the Fijian sex God!) on a construction site, I got drunk with Stevie (the hip hopper) often and we played footy for the same team. Jason & Costa (lead guitar and drums), they just seemed to appear magically. They hear music and suddenly they are amongst it.
$27,000 seems like quite a lot to bring in for a first album?
We’ve asked around with the bigger crowdfunding platforms, and they all tell us that most first-timers bank is about $7,000. It’s a lot of money to us, anyway and we are all super excited to get started on the album now. I know that!
Can you take us through the crowdfunding process? What were the steps?
There was a lot of pre-planning and Sarah (our PR girl) did all the hard work. We just wanted to do it properly so the preparation was the most important part. We looked a lot at what other people have done successfully and used that to work out what was reasonable for us to expect.
The key steps were finding the right platform, coming up with rewards that would get people excited while also being profitable, and just making sure our fans knew what they had to do before time ran out.
Why did you decide to crowdfund?
Jason and Con had been saying we should do a crowdfunding campaign since we started the band. The rest of us hated the idea – we don’t like the idea of asking for money. However, I had been listening to a cool Australian music podcast – Music Business Facts with Rodney Holder – and one of the topics was crowdfunding. They spoke about pre-selling merchandise, the album and experiences, not just asking for donations. They also spoke about how it was a great way to promote the upcoming release. After a lot of long chats, we decided it was the right time to have a go!
Why do you think you’ve seen this sort of success?
We have amazing friends, family and supporters. That’s a pretty general answer but we sometimes feel like we have a little cult behind us. The King Social underground! Anything we do whether it’s right or wrong, we will have our crazy mob to back us unquestionably, 100%. That’s how we feel anyway and we are really lucky.
We’ve always believed in keeping people updated on everything that’s going on with us and we feel like our supporters are just one big extension of the band. A win for us is a win for them and we love celebrating together.
How did you work out costings and go about setting a goal? Does it cover the entirety of the costs?
We did a really rough budget to work out how much it would cost to record, produce, distribute and market the album exactly the way we wanted to, and then worked backwards from there. Of course, we had some band earnings of our own that we’d been saving up for the album, so the crowdfunding campaign just had to make up the difference.
We’d also been really careful to account for all the hidden costs in our planning such as PledgeMusic’s fees, postage and what it would cost us to produce all the rewards we promised our pledgers – we’d heard stories of musos hardly breaking even on their crowdfunding because they were suddenly having to produce all this extra merchandise to make good on their promises, leaving nothing for their album.
We focused a lot on coming up with money-can’t-buy experiences such as a Fijian Lovo cooked by Wonga and one-of-a-kind goods like drunken postcards and disposable cameras full of tour photos instead, so they wouldn’t cost a fortune, but would still carry a lot of sentimental value.
What advice would you give to other bands hoping to crowdfund an album?
Do loads of research and preparation before you start. Build a following first too. You need to put in the ground work to create your own cult following and that takes loads of time and money. It’s the best job in the world though!
Also, it’s important to always remember that the people who are pre-ordering our album or donating money or even purchasing a ticket for our shows have worked hard to earn and save that money! Who knows how long it’s taken and God-knows what they have sacrificed just to have saved enough. Sometimes people really want to be a part of what you are doing even if it breaks them. You have to give back everything you get plus some.
Amanda Palmer was famously slated for asking local musicians to play at her shows with her for free. Do you think there’s a difference between this sort of crowdfunding and that sort of crowdsourcing?
We talked a bit about that when we started the crowdfunding thing and in her book Amanda Palmer jokes about how when she started charging musicians to play with her as part of her crowdfunding the media shit storm died down – as long as someone was making money, no-one cared. I think she’s taking the piss a bit, but as long as she’s giving back to her fans and everyone involved is on board, then good for them.
I’m not qualified to draw the line between crowdfunding and crowdsourcing and whether one is right or wrong. We’ve just been honest and transparent with everything that we do and people are into that.
Are there some examples where you’d advise bands to stay away from crowdfunding, or a certain level they should reach before attempting it?
We won’t do this again for a long time. It’s sort of something that you should do only once or twice I think. If you do it, make it count. If you’ve got under 10,000 Facebook followers and you are still building your following, you will have a better shot at achieving success if you build your following a bit more. 10,000 is a good number to aim for – about 1% of those will actually contribute to your crowdfunding campaign.
Have there been any negatives or challenges throughout the process?
The biggest challenge was swallowing our pride and deciding to do it. We have spent the first 3 years together trying to market ourselves as a successful band. Sometimes more so than we actually are!
Now we are stepping back and telling everyone that we actually put all our money back into the band, no one gets paid and we can’t even afford to pay for an album ourselves. This industry is smoke and mirrors a lot of the time, and we have basically just exposed ourselves for what we really are. Broke losers! Nah we aren’t losers. Only Jason.