For musicians, using the Internet to promote and distribute their work is old hat. But Internet fundraising -- securing online pledges from fans to finance an album, a tour or similar project -- is just gaining traction among local artists. Ben Hardt and His Symphony, Joy Ike, and Brooke Annibale are just a few Pittsburgh musicians who have successfully funded such projects online.
Many of these artists have used Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com), a popular platform with an all-or-nothing approach. The creator of a project sets a funding goal and timetable, then solicits would-be donors. If the project doesn't meet its monetary goal by the deadline, the backers who did sign on are not charged (and the project creator pays nothing). If the project meets its goal, it's fully funded. (The pledges are processed by Amazon, which charges a small fee; Kickstarter also takes a 5 percent fee). Similar platforms include Pledge Music and IndieGoGo.
How does Kickstarter work for local musicians? Hallie Pritts, of local indie-folk band Boca Chica, used the site in September to fund the band's forthcoming third album; she offered premiums ranging from a copy of the album (for a $10 donation) to a custom performance played at the funder's house ($1,000). The project raised $1,718 in 45 days. The highest pledge was $450; Pritts wrote that backer a song on the topic of his choice -- he chose a trip to Mali during which he got malaria.
Pritts recommends Kickstarter, but says she hurried to launch her project once she heard about the site. "I wanted to get it done before everyone started using it," she says, fearing her project could get lost in the shuffle as the site became more popular. At press time, four Pittsburgh bands (and a number of movie projects) are raising money via Kickstarter. (To find current local projects on the site, go to kickstarter.com/discover/pittsburgh-pa.)
In some cases, local musicians using Kickstarter have raised impressive amounts of money: This fall, Ben Hardt and His Symphony sought online funding for an ambitious project involving releasing three albums in nine months. The project exceeded its goal by thousands, raising more than $10,000.
For Boca Chica, Pritts says Kickstarter worked best simply as a method of securing pre-sale orders for the album. "It felt weird asking for money," she explains. "But a lot of people donated enough to get a copy of the album. It's the same as buying it when it comes out, but this way you're ensuring that it actually happens."