This past year, our band launched a Kickstarter campaign that landed us on their front page and became the highest grossing music campaign of 2016. We asked our fans for $2,016, optimistic that we would surpass this symbolic goal, and ended up with over 125K a few weeks later. It was insane.
We live in Nashville and several of our musician friends have asked us why we thought it was so successful. They want us to reverse-engineer the outcome, so they too can achieve mega crowd funding success with their fans. We try to throw in helpful ideas like, “Offer creative rewards!” or “Make a memorable video!” but, really now. We all know that had nothing to do with it.
Our Kickstarter success, and all our success, is because of our fans. I don’t say “fans” lightly, like there’s a group of admirers of our music who throw in a few bucks to the cause every now and then. Our fans are in this with us. They are personally invested in the continuation of this band. When we did the campaign, we told them that if they wanted us to keep making music for them, we’d need their emotional, social, and, yes, financial support. Being a poor musician can sometimes make you forget that there are others in this world who don’t struggle for money, who make a decent salary and are accustomed to grown up things like 401Ks and insurance. For some of our listeners, putting up a grand for an exclusive reward was financially doable. I believe our fans were willing to shell out so much financial support primarily because of the intense emotional connection we’ve been creating with them for years.
I think emotional connection is The Thing, The Secret. If we can be our most authentic selves, share our experiences through our music, and then make our audience feel something, we’ve got them. This has been the point from the beginning. I know it works because I was often on the receiving end of said emotional connection as a kid-listening to my favorite bands describe my pain to an alarmingly accurate degree and being willing to give them everything as a token of gratitude.
When we entered a home studio to record our first demo, our well-meaning producer jokingly told us, “If they’re crying, they’re buying.” While I hated this formulaic approach to making a buck, the sentiment rings true. If you can bring another human being into your emotional world and make them understand, the empathy flows. The connection flourishes. We have literally built our careers off of seeking to create the deepest, most genuine emotional connection with our fans that we possibly can.
How does one do this? We know of two methods: vulnerability and authenticity. The more vulnerable we can get- the more brave and human we are-that’s what gives listeners something to connect to. They can see our flaws on display and think, “Thank God I’m not the only one.” And the second method, authenticity, is actually really important for personal fulfillment. You could probably sing a song someone else wrote and foster an emotional connection, but it might not be genuine-your audience may be connecting with a lie. But when you show up as yourself in all your broken, messy glory, you’re giving your fans the best gift you can give them-your self, and you get the added bonus of not feeling like a fraud, which is always cool. You get to stand on that stage and own the fact that these are your words, and it’s your heart that your fans are drawn to. The relationship is built on mutual respect where you’re not trying to pimp out your vulnerability to have a hit album; you’re seeking that genuine human connection with your fans as much as they are.
It’s a win win. Creating emotional connection works on a personal level, and it also seems to work as a pretty effective business model. Be brave, and share your creative heart with the world. Your transparency will be rewarded.
Nashville based alt-rock duo Icon For Hire combines alternative rock with electronic and hip-hop elements and presents a sound truly unique in the 21st century musical landscape. After the release of 2013’s self-titled album, Icon For Hire went on to reach #66 on the Billboard Top 200, before going on to raise 125K via Kickstarter for their album ‘You Can’t Kill Us.’ It is the highest funded music campaign of 2016 to date. Check out “Under the Knife” and their tour dates below.
10/27 – Chicago, IL @ Beat Kitchen
10/28 – Springfield, IL @ Boondocks
10/29 – Burnsville, MN @ The Garage
11/4 – Atlanta, GA @ Vinyl
11/5 – Charlotte, NC @ The Rabbit Hole
11/7 – New York, NY @ The Studio at Webster Hall
11/8 – Cambridge, MA @ Middle East
11/9 – Philadelphia, PA @ Voltage Lounge
11/10 – Washington, DC @ Songbyrd
11/12 – Lancaster, PA @ Chameleon Club