Music Australia News

Crowdfunding Record for Choral and Orchestral Concert in Sydney

Image Credit: Ken Lai Music
Graham Strahle
| October 9, 2018

When internet-based crowdfunding began with the likes of IndieGoGo and Kickstarter a decade ago, it was heralded as a revolutionary new way of bringing in people power to make ventures of whatever kind into reality. In music, there have been numerous stories of how it has worked spectacularly. They include US singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer raising $1.7 million to record a solo album, and Carman, TLC, De La Soul and Steve Grand raising six-figure amounts for their new albums.

But with a 36.40 percent success rate for fully funded projects on Kickstarter, there are certainly plenty of potential traps and things to bear in mind when starting a crowdfunding campaign.

Creating momentum behind one’s project, and building up a relationship of trust with one’s backers, are of central importance. This is borne out by the experiences of one particularly successful crowdfunded concert venture in Sydney. Sacred is the name of a concert of music by Chinese Australian composer Ken Lai to take place at Chatswood’s Concourse Concert Hall in November, and a campaign to raise funds appears to have set a record in this country.

The size and costs of this concert are considerable. A total of some 50 musicians comprising an orchestra, choir and solo singers will be assembled to perform a program of Lai’s music, including excerpts from his musical, Angels, and several recent Psalm-based works. Venue hire, flying out Broadway singer Jessica Grové from the US, and engaging former Zimbabwean fast bowler turned tenor Henry Olonga, are some of the biggest expenses.

Yet Lai was able to reach a funding goal of $15,000 in just three hours of launching his Kickstarter campaign, and ultimately he received $30,829 from 110 backers.

Marcus Lim, a friend and colleague of the composer, was willing to share some insights into how they succeeded in doing this.

He says the advantage of crowdfunding is that it “involves the audience early on in the process, so they become active participants of the project rather than just passive observers. The more involved they feel, the more enthusiastic they are to spread the word and become fans.”

What especially helped them was that Lai was the subject of a candid four-part SBS documentary some years ago that told the story of how his musical Angels almost made it to Broadway but was sunk by the onset of the Global Financial Crisis. That story, together with the composer’s clutch of supporters, proved to be the nucleus for generating trust and interest in the campaign.

“Crowdfunding is based on trust,” Lim says. “There’s no guarantee that a project owner will deliver. Knowing this, we are grateful that more than 100 people trusted us enough to pledge. Certainly a lot of them do know Ken already, which makes it easier. This goes back to why it’s so important to have a core group of supporters who can give you that initial push, in order to instil trust in other people because of social proof.”

“This ‘initial push’ was the reason why we decided to have a crowdfunding launch party. On the night of the launch, we invited all of Ken’s supporters to come and pledge right there and then. This move was possibly one of the most crucial things we did to make the crowdfunding campaign a success because momentum matters a lot. It’s like giving the rocket enough ‘push’ and momentum in order to hit escape velocity.”

Getting a campaign off the ground without that momentum can be exceedingly tough, as Lim found in his own prior crowdfunding experiences. “I learnt this lesson myself when I attempted crowdfunding in a totally different area in the physical product space,” he recounts.

“My mistake was that without a core base of supporters, it totally tanked. This is because without that initial ‘push’ from existing followers, it is very difficult to get other people interested enough to pledge.”

Sacred appears to be one of the larger crowdfunding campaigns in music mounted in this country, at least in terms of the number of performers who are participating.

Says Lim: “To my knowledge it is the first large scale orchestral concert to be funded in this way in Australia. Certainly the ones I’ve seen had much smaller funding goals, usually just a small scale performance by a band or solo artist, or perhaps a recording for an album. With the Sacred concert, we’re flying in a Broadway singer all the way from New York, there’s a full choral ensemble and orchestra, and we’re hiring a concert venue that seats 1,000, so it’s definitely on a larger scale than all the other ones I’ve managed to research.”

Another reason for Sacred’s crowdfunding achievement, Lim explains, was to set a fixed funding goal.

“Statistically, projects that have fixed as opposed to flexible goals tend to have better success rates. This is, again, an issue of trust and confidence, because if a flexible goal project does not reach its goal, then what does the project owner do with the money that is raised so far? Does he just take it and go away? In contrast, people tend to have more confidence in a project with a fixed all-or-nothing goal, which is the model we’ve decided to go with.”

Lim says that adding ‘stretch goals’ is another way of making campaigns work. “We also introduced stretch goals that include live audio and video recordings of the concert, and also pro lighting and projection design to enhance the experience. The incentive to backers is that they immediately get all these rewards added as each of these stretch goals is unlocked, so motivating them to keep pledging beyond the initial funding goal.”

Sacred plays at Concourse Concert Hall, Chatswood, Sydney, on 27 November. See here for more.

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