One of the best business lessons I've ever learned is to leverage OPM ("other people's money") to fund your business venture or passion project. OPM is the concept of looking beyond the limits of your own resources and finding interested "investors" to help with funding.
Entrepreneurs and realtors have been utilizing this mindset for decades, and there's no reason a musician can't do the same.
I wrote recently about the high cost of touring, coupled with the necessity to do so to gain lasting fans. So how can you minimize your risk on the road by letting other people in on the action?
Today, many labels aren't able to offer tour support and bands are left to fend for themselves. Sure, you can acquire a loan or credit card to help fund your tour, but that will leave you with bad debt and high interest rates. Below are a few funding methods that - when used correctly - can benefit both the touring artist and investing party.
Sponsors & Emerging Artist Programs 🤝
Taco Bell, PBR, Delta Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Sour Patch Kids are all examples of national brands that offer tour support in some fashion.
Taco Bell's "Feed the Beat" program feeds touring musicians with $500 in Taco Bell gift cards while on the road. (Use with caution, and substitute chicken or potatoes for beef as needed).
PBR Music Society provides a range of tour support, from financial backing to healthcare benefits (via BandAidRx), and presumably endless supply of 30-racks. Most PBR-supported bands are in the punk/rock genre, but all should apply.
Delta and Spirit Airlines both offer a Music Rewards / "Give and Go" program, providing transportation and social media coverage in exchange for exclusive performances.
If you find yourself touring through Brooklyn, Austin, or Hollywood, book a night or two at "The Patch," a free pad provided by Sour Patch Kids. The more content you generate for them (social media shoutouts, music video sessions), the longer (and sweeter) your stay.
While these are all great national options, you can always look to local banks, startups, beer distributors, or car dealerships in your town that might be looking to add a cool band to their resume. If you're a band with a specific mission or cause, look to your local non-profits.
As with any sponsorship, make sure it is truly a fit with your artistic brand and you're not isolating your fans in the process.
Indie artists and their fans are well familiar with Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe campaigns at this point. While that type of crowdfunding can be effective, it may have reached its point of exhaustion. Instead, I'd like to point out a new more direct and sophisticated ways to raise some money from your fans.
Recently, I've seen bands like Pinegrove, See Through Dresses, and Thick Paint offer exclusive songs or discounted album deals on Bandcamp to help fund a tour or broken down van. Such a simple concept, but it does a few things that other crowdfunding doesn't:
- Immediate incentive for the fan. Fans pay and get a music download right away. Plus, she gains the warm feeling in her heart for knowing she contributed to the band's tour.
- Immediate payment to the band. Since it's linked to PayPal, Bandcamp pays artists within a few days, which they can quickly convert to gas money or other road expenses. With a 80% margin going to artists, Bandcamp is one of the most artist-friendly digital distributors out there.
- Direct messaging. Bandcamp recently launched the Bandcamp Artists App, which allows artists (or labels, or managers) to direct message your listeners and customers on the site. You can also target specific messages to fans by their location or level of support.
Another nuanced idea is to pre-sell concert tickets with your album release, assuming you have a tour planned. This type of packaged pricing is strongly encouraged by PledgeMusic, a crowdfunding platform that excels in music project campaigns.
Not keen on asking your peers or sponsors for money? You'll eventually have to overcome this hesitation, as being a musician in 2017 means you must also be a savvy business partner.
But fear not! You're not alone. Courtney Barnett, the Weekend, and Of Monsters and Men are all examples of artists who preferred to look for funding elsewhere in the form of government-funded grants and non-profit organizations.
“Government grants gave me creative independence when I was starting out, because it meant I was worrying less about impressing for label and publishing advances, and I was less reliant on taking some big-company sponsorship to fund a tour." -Courtney Barnett
Ironically, the artists I listed above all had the benefit of starting their careers outside of the US. As Pitchfork points out, the US has relatively low music funding (just $8 million in 2016), despite exporting music that contributed to nearly half of the global record business.
Despite the inherently political nature of arts grants, there remain a handful of arts organizations in the States that are consistently raising the money and putting in the work.
New Music USA awards roughly $1 million dollars annually through three grant programs: Project Grants, Music Alive, and The Impact Fund. Average grants range from $250-$15,000, and you can view a list of current projects here. For my Omaha readers, our local friends Screaming Plastic are a recent recipient of a New Music USA project grant as they record their debut album at ARC Studios!
American Music Abroad is a government-funded program that sends around a dozen American artists to younger and underserved audiences across the world to perform and educate about modern American culture. This route won't have you playing cherished clubs in London and Berlin, and probably won't gain you paying fans, but if your goal is simply to be a paid musician and tour the world, AMA could be a great gig.
Musicians Without Borders is another global philanthropic effort which aims to spread peace and creativity through music programs, training, and advocacy. Some initiatives include Rwanda Youth Music, Palestine Community Music, and Soy Música in El Salvador.
For my Nebraska readers, check out the Nebraska Arts Council, which helps pick up the tab for Nebraska nonprofit organizations and schools bring artists to perform in their town. Apply to join the Artist Roster or Touring Program roster, which includes Matt Whipkey, J. Crum, and Billy McGuigan, among others.
In 2016, we teamed up with Hear Nebraska to split travel and lodging costs to SXSW in exchange for chauffeuring their intern staff down to the festival and back.
Research your local non-profits and see how tour support funding could be mutually beneficial.
For more on global funding, read: How Countries Around the World Fund Music—and Why It Matters (Pitchfork)
To read more about the economic impact of arts funding on communities, check out: WHAT GOOD ARE THE ARTS? (David Byrne)
Have you benefited from arts funding in any form? Drop me a line!