Every little helps, as the adage goes, and never was this more true than in the online phenomenon of crowdfunding.
Suddenly, it seems everyone’s at it. Crowdfunding, online appeals that allow fans of your work to donate small sums of cash that will help you reach an ultimately bigger target, has taken off in a big way in the last 12 months.
In Liverpool, grass roots and professional arts organisations alike have been resorting to the likes of WeFund, Sponsume and Indiegogo with increasing regularity. In return for the help in funding whatever it is that needs the money, like an album recording, theatre production or film shoot, companies offer a range of rewards or perks to those who pledge – anything from free tickets or a mention on a website to full credits as a producer.
You could say the Everyman is currently leading the way with their Everyone for the Ev campaign, with a nifty online ‘totaliser’ that shows how near they are to making the last two per cent of the money they need to complete the current new build, by appealing to normal theatregoers rather than big corporate backers.
On a smaller scale, in a perfect world, someone would come along and give the team behind live improvised comedy show Come On Girls the £2,800 they need to film six webisodes they plan to air early next year – it is a hopeful option on their Sponsume page. But for starters, a fiver would be nice.
“This is a project we love so much. We’ve spent almost two years developing it from concept to stage and now to screen, and this will help us get our show one step closer to reality,” says director Rosie Wilkinson of the appeal.
As the team, including actresses Helen Foster and Lauren Silver, get everything ready to go for filming in October, they need extra funds to build the set and cover expenses for guests and location fees among other things.
Contributors can receive perks including personal thanks, to tickets to the recordings and exclusive DVDs of the series before it goes online.
It’s something that is catching on in a big way. Musician Amanda Palmer made headlines across the world by raising more than $1m with her crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter – she believes it could be the future of the music industry.
But is it a fad that could have a shelf life? How much financial support can creatives really expect from their fans?
Perhaps it depends on your niche. Liverpool-raised actress Rhian Green is the director of a new British zombie movie set in North Wales called A World After.
The production crew set up an Indiegogo page in a bid to raise the necessary cash. They believe by giving some sense of ownership to fans of the horror genre, it will generate word-of-mouth support for the film, but more than that, their donations could speed up the film-making process considerably.
“We’re reaching out to zombie fans to help us make this movie. If we went down the official routes of funding this film would take quite a while to get made. By funding it this way, we can get it ready and out there by 2013,” Rhian says.
Spike Theatre was among the first companies in Liverpool to utilise the American idea of crowdfunding, to help raise a portion of the cash to take their show The Games to Edinburgh last year. The novelty factor ensured attention, and they met their target just before their deadline.
They used WeFund, which doesn’t cough up if you don’t – other sites do give you all the money you manage to raise. They are considering using it again to help raise cash for a new show.
Spike’s co-director Mark Smith is realistic. He says: “I am not sure how crowdfunding will proceed in the future, I certainly don’t think we will raise as much as we did the first time. My feeling is that the market and campaigns are outstripping what people can afford to give.
“It was an experiment for us, and a way of seeing if people would support the work. It changed the relationship we have with our supporters for the better – we had some generous folk give money to us because they were angry we had been cut by the Arts Council. I think on the whole people liked to be asked, but you must not expect that they will give.”
In many ways it’s rather sad that artists now need to resort to the extra challenge of crowdfunding on top of everything else, and as it’s been pointed out, more of these campaigns fail than succeed, even when the quality of a project isn’t under question. As the novelty factor wears off, unless the project is a runaway success like Palmer’s, getting a little publicity isn’t always easy either.
In time, the story about the crowdsourcing artist with the begging bowl out might become as ubiquitous and easy to ignore as the cheque presentation pic in the local rag. But for now, when theatre companies approach me asking to help spread the word of their crowdfunding campaign on my blog, it just seems churlish not to.
As a blogger it’s no skin off my nose, it fits in with the ethos of what goes on on the site, and it’s an easy way to lend a little support to the people who are good enough to read it in the first place. And I’m still genuinely optimistic that you never know who might see it and want to lend a hand.