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Kentucky artists using crowdfunding to finance creative projects

Sites offer a way to pitch projects to a broader audience

By Lorie Hailey
lanereport.com editor

From start-up companies to debut albums, crowdfunding is the new way Kentuckians are making their dream projects a reality.

Ed Lawrence used Kickstarter to fund his photography book, “Kentucky 120,” which features landscapes from each of the state’s 120 counties.
Ed Lawrence used Kickstarter to fund his photography book, “Kentucky 120,” which features landscapes from each of the state’s 120 counties.

Many artists are seeking the assistance of crowd-sourcing websites, which invite investors to help fund projects in exchange for merchandise-based “rewards.”

Kickstarter, the world’s largest crowdfunding platform, only hosts pitches for creative projects. Since its launch in 2009, 5.5 million people have pledged $945 million, funding 55,000 creative projects.

For many artists, crowd-sourcing sites offer a way to pitch their projects to a broader audience, increasing their chances of getting funding. There currently are more than 600 Kentucky-related projects listed on Kickstarter alone.

The Kentucky Arts Council has seen an increase in artists who use crowdfunding platforms to help fund their projects, according to Emily Moses, communications director of the arts council.

Ed Lawrence, Kentucky Arts Council’s arts marketing director, used Kickstarter to fund his photography book, “Kentucky 120,” which features landscapes from each of the state’s 120 counties. He raised more than $12,000 via the website, thanks to 122 backers.

The book is the culmination of Lawrence’s 10-year quest to make landscape photographs of every county in Kentucky.

The arts council recently provided $100,000 in funding to Power2Give.org, an arts-related crowdfunding platform. Any Kentucky Arts Council Partnership grantee in the state can post projects to the site and “they will be matched dollar for dollar by us up to a certain amount,” Moses said. (Learn how to become an arts council partnership grantee here.)

“Participating organizations can seek donations from unlimited sources to meet their fundraising goals,” said Lori Meadows, executive director of the arts council. “Power2give encourages the use of nontraditional fundraising methods and has been extremely beneficial to groups that have taken advantage of the opportunity.”

Making music … with a little help from friends

As far back as they can remember, music has always been a part of Heather and Joel Shepherd’s lives.

Siblings Heather and Joel Shepherd of Central Kentucky are using Kickstarter to fund their debut, self-titled album, "The Coal Flowers." (Photo by Allen Clark Photography)
Siblings Heather and Joel Shepherd of Central Kentucky are using Kickstarter to fund their debut, self-titled album, “The Coal Flowers.” (Photo by Allen Clark Photography)

The siblings sang together at school, in church, at weddings … they even had to sing to get to go to the movies.

“The local London (Ky.) radio station would offer two free movie tickets to whoever would sing on air,” Joel said. “Dad would make us call to get our movie tickets, and we learned to love it.”

For the Shepherds, singing was more than just a hobby. They always dreamed of having careers making music.

“Everyone has something that defines them, something that excites them and creates a zest for life. For us, it is making music,” Heather said.

In 2011, the Central Kentucky duo decided to make their dreams a reality. They started writing songs for what eventually became their debut, self-titled album, “The Coal Flowers.” (They are named for the crystal flowers many poor coal-mining families made from common household products in the late 1800s and early 1900s.)

With some encouragement from their cousin, top Christian music artist Cindy Morgan, and other music industry friends, The Coal Flowers made their way into a Nashville studio.

“We finally made up our minds that this was what we wanted to do for a career, and we were encouraged by friends in the music industry, that truly believed in us, to take the plunge,” they said.

The country/Americana album contains 10 original songs, some of which the brother-sister team co-wrote with Morgan and Grammy winner Drew Ramsey, who also served as producer. The album boasts an accomplished team of musicians, and of course, the beautiful harmonies of siblings who have sung together nearly 30 years.

Now that the album is finished, all they have to do is pay for it. For that, they turned to Kickstarter.

“We learned that a lot of musicians are now using this platform as a way of raising funds,” Joel said.

The Coal Flowers Kickstarter campaign started this month and ends Feb. 1. They’ve set a lofty goal, $25,000. Funding on Kickstarter is all or nothing, so if the goal is not met, the band will get none of the funds.

According to the company, all-or-nothing funding is “amazingly effective in creating momentum and rallying people around an idea.” So far, 44 percent of the projects listed on the site have reached their funding goals.

Crowd-sourcing success

Lexington-area band Sundy Best successfully used Kickstarter to fund its second album, “Door Without a Screen.”

Sundy Best
Nearly 250 Sundy Best fans funded the band’s second album via Kickstarter.

One of the keys to their crowdfunding success was a hefty social media marketing presence. The band has more than 30,000 fans on Facebook and nearly 15,000 followers on Twitter. Their videos have had hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube.

“It’s important to connect with people on a personal level (via social media),” said member Kris Bentley. “The more we’ve done that, the more successful we’ve become.”

Nearly 250 Sundy Best fans funded the album via Kickstarter, and the band met its month’s-end goal of $6,000 during the first 18 hours of the campaign. In the end, they raised nearly $15,000.

“It gave us confidence and let us know that people do care and approve of the music we’re writing and singing about,” Bentley said in an interview with BG Magazine last year. “It was great to have them be a part of it and make them feel connected and involved. (Kickstarter) definitely helped get us to where we are today.”

The crowdfunded album features the band’s most popular ballad, “Home,” and several songs about life in eastern Kentucky, such as “Mountain Parkway” and “Prestonsburg.”

Sundy Best was founded on the reconnection of two longtime friends and is influenced by their eastern Kentucky roots. The band played their first shows before modest audiences at area “dive” bars. In just over two years, however, the band began performing regularly in multiple states, had their music videos top the charts on CMT, and performed at the Grand Ole Opry.

In July, the band signed with eOne Music, an independent label that is part of Entertainment One, an international entertainment company that specializes in the acquisition, production and distribution of film and television content. In August, eOne released a deluxe edition of “Door Without A Screen.”

“We are who we are and we want to stay true to our roots, both musically and literally. Van Fletcher and the entire eOne team understand the music and more importantly, us,” Jamerson said.

The video for the band’s most recent single, “These Days,” debuted on CMT in November. The band is working on its third album, “Bring Up the Sun,” which is due out in early 2014.

Overcoming challenges

For The Coal Flowers, starting a Kickstarter campaign was easy.

“We had to create a simple video to tell everyone about our project, and we also had to think of some creative rewards to offer our financial backers,” Heather said.

The Coal Flowers (Photo by
The Coal Flowers (Photo by Allen Clark Photography)

But there have been some obstacles. Getting the word out about their campaign is a big challenge, and some people are not yet familiar with the crowdfunding concept.

“We’ve discovered a lot of people have never heard of Kickstarter. People are used to buying music on iTunes, so this has created some confusion and we’re still having to spread the word about what Kickstarter is and how to pre-order our CD,” Heather said. “This has created some unexpected problems for us.”

Getting fans to fund the album is important to The Coal Flowers because they want to retain creative freedom, Joel said. It also connects their fans to the music.

“If we are not funded on Kickstarter, we will not be able to properly fund everything that is needed to be a successful band. We will have no choice but to turn to a music label to cover these expenses,” he said. “With a label, we risk losing our creative freedom and most of the royalties to our songs. If the Kickstarter is successful, it will give us a great start at becoming an independent artist in the Indie market.”

The band’s goals are pretty simple: they want to make a living writing and performing music.

“We honestly believe that we have something special and unique to offer that’s currently not present in the music industry,” Joel said. “It’s our dream to share our music with everyone. Music that is truly our own.”

Hear The Coal Flowers on their Facebook page.

Other crowdfunding platforms

crowdfunding_featuredKickstarter may be the most popular, but it certainly isn’t the only crowdfunding website. According to Forbes, the top 10 crowdfunding sites are Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Crowdfunder, RocketHub, Crowdrise, Somolend, apphackr, AngelList, Invested.in and Quirky.

Click here for tips on using these sites.