I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE....
We had Printed Circuit on the show the other day, she was talking about how she raised money for her new record. She's written this blog for us.........
I was amused recently when I heard Ronnie Wood on the radio discussing his new album.
There aren't any labels now, says Ron. No advances. He’s doing it himself. My face lit up. There’s that magical phrase coming out of the mouth of someone who’s earned a crust from the music industry for forty years.
The internet has been the musician’s biggest fan, yet it has gradually dismantled the whole machine, leaving musicians with a range of exciting new options. Nobody’s signing anybody. We’re doing it ourselves. Well, some of us always have. Only now the internet is making it easier.
I have been making music as Printed Circuit for eleven years; labels have taken a chance on me, released expensive 7” singles and CDs - and they sold. Who’s going to press you a vinyl single at that kind of price nowadays, though? If you want to check out a band you don’t post them £2 and wait for the disc to arrive... you hop on Myspace and listen for free. I’m not a purist when it comes to digital downloads, but if there are no labels knocking on Ronnie Wood’s door then they’re certainly not going to knock on mine. Sure, the classic rock box sets appear on rotation at QVC, but that’s not much use to you and me.
I started caching songs, saving them up on my hard disk and wondering what to do with them. I’ve released my own plastic before (and have the debts to prove it), but as vinyl pressing plants close down or bump up their prices, is there anything we can do to get real, physical albums out to the people who want them, without bankrupting ourselves? That’s where pledging comes in.
Think of pledging as pre-ordering. Your favourite band wants to release 300 copies of their new album and they need £1000 to press it. If they can get 100 people to pay £10 up-front, voila, the record is paid for. There are no credit scores being dented, you just need a bit of imagination and a team of fans to help out. To someone like me who has always believed in doing it yourself, this is music to my ears: the concept of pledging for a record is a total revolution in the way small bands are funded.
Having read around a few pledge sites on the internet I thought it had to be worth a go. I had recently released a download-only EP - a process I see as painful but undoubtedly necessary - and decided to build on it. I set up a pledge project, added the option to pre-order a new LP, then chucked in a few more incentives; t-shirts, signed records, tapes, badges. Would anyone go for this? I really wasn’t sure.
Yes, I had rather vocal online detractors who believe music is only valid when released on established labels. This is a point of view I struggle to acknowledge, given that my entire musical career has consisted of collaborating and co-operating with peers without any music industry entanglement. The odd thing was, the overwhelming majority of anonymous voices on the internet backed me up. The discussions my detractors started kept my pledge campaign bouncing around the top of internet forums for a good week, and that certainly did me no harm. Unbeknownst to me a group of people I’d never met - who didn’t even necessarily like my music - were fighting my corner.
I started sending out exclusive mp3s - little oddments from the archives which had never seen the light of day. These were only available to people who had pledged. I carried on posting to Twitter and encouraged pledgers to join sites like last.fm and notch up as many plays of these ‘secret’ tracks they could. After a week I hit 75%. The staff on the site were emailing me to express their delight and encouraged me to keep pushing out more exclusives and engage more people via Twitter and Facebook. Two people who had pledged were video artists; within weeks I would have my own animated soundtrack to one of the album tracks and a second video in the pipeline.
This kind of contact is like gold dust, yet it was an entirely unexpected bonus. BBC Radio Leeds caught on and played a track from my download EP. From that I was played on Tom Robinson’s show on 6 Music, who promoted the campaign and even played me out on the Asian Network one Friday night.
A very small spark had become a wildfire. On the tenth day I hit my 100% target. The campaign continued to run for the full two months and at the time of writing I’ve raised £1,130. The first video went out and received 6500 hits on Youtube within three days.
I count myself lucky to have had a decent following on social networks, a core of people who bothered to pledge and the support of 6 Music which was a great help. Not all pledge campaigns are successful, but there is nothing to stop you trying it, and if you fail there is nothing to stop you trying again. Investigate the sites that are available and consider whether you have the fanbase to support you. You might find doing it yourself is easier than you thought.