Digital Tech and Strengthening Audience Relationships Part II – Matt Walters

Let’s talk crowdfunding.

I know, I know. It’s a sticky topic that no-one really talks about, but when successful, can make you wonder, ‘Why wasn’t it me who gave it a go?’ Does the thought of asking family, friends and people you’ve never even met to prepay for something that has not yet been created make you cringe, too? Money is a sensitive issue, and if we don’t count having album production costs being paid for in advance, what’s the long-term benefit of asking fans all over the world to fund something you truly believe in? What’s the point? Does it push people away from you more than anything? Does keeping your fans updated with progress really draw people closer, or do they actually not care?

Before you take the plunge and beg everyone for some hard-earned cash, we’ve done some research and spoke to successful crowdfunder Matt Walters, who pledged for fans to donate money through Pozible to fund his next album, NightWalk. He had 216 supporters and achieved raising a total over his goal pledge of $20,000 in one month… you read right, that’s a whopping $5,000 a week! The outcome on his relationships with fans? Find out for yourself in this intriguing interview through the eyes of someone who has since taken the crowdfunding model to new heights in his recent business project Parlour (more on that below).

Matt Walters - PARLOUR GIGS (coming soon)

What is it that made you decide that crowdfunding might be an option?

I just didn’t really have any other options, or any money in the bank… and it was a more popular time for crowdfunding. The founder of Pozible had come and spoken at my university a few months earlier, his name’s Rick. He was great, and (he) was just talking about how crowdfunding can bring communities together, and how it can just be a project that people can get right behind. I had a mixed experience, in all honesty, but I guess we can talk about that in a second.

Did you ever think you might be unsuccessful?

Totally. Every morning I had a mental breakdown. My girlfriend was amazing during that time, because she saw me go, ‘Oh my god, I’m not going to make it, what the f*** am I even doing?’ And at the time I was at uni and working at a bar, and I’d talked about it with everybody, so I would have felt like such a public failure.

Did you find this form of funding an album strengthened the relationship between you and your fans? If so, how?

Some people, yes, for others, it turned people off me completely. Not because I did anything in particular, but because I was like, ‘Hey guys, pitch in for my album’, and that was enough for some people to be like, ‘This guy’s an a***hole to ask me for money’. So I just tried to stay true to the goal, and tried to not get too distracted, and just continuously remind people. I found it really stressful. There were two separate reactions to me raising money – I had a lot of fans overseas in Europe and in the States, and I got quite a lot of negative private messages saying like, ‘How dare you ask me for money, do you think I’m made of money?’ Money’s a very sensitive issue. Other people were like, ‘This is great’, and they’d pledge like five hundred bucks. Other people completely ignored it. I got both ends of the spectrum.

After a few weeks, I realised I’d only raised a few hundred dollars, so I started making calls to people I knew within my own circles. I was really onto it, because I didn’t want to fail and I wanted to make the record. I knew 60% of the people who put money into the Pozible campaign. The other 40% came from fans. I wasn’t established enough to have 100% or 90% of my fanbase. It was a lot of people I’d known (who) had supported me, and had known I’d gone through some sh*t times with the label, and wanted to see me succeed with the crowdfunding project.

Have your supporters from the crowdfunding continued to support you since in your new ventures?

Some have. I got a message from one girl who was like, ‘You’re afraid of failing in music and that’s why you’ve created this’ (Parlour) – a weird thing. People had weird reactions. I don’t really care. I’ve always just followed my own interests, and, like, I’m not famous enough for people to really give a damn about me. The best thing that happened, and this is what I’ve tried to tie in with Parlour, is that I got to play a bunch of house concerts, because that was one of the things you could buy for pledging $500. Those things were incredible in terms of connecting with new fans from the hosts that booked me. Most of the other people there didn’t know my music, so I was able to play to a whole bunch of new people, get close to them, for them to discover what I do and hang out. So, through the crowdfunding thing I fell in love with house concerts, which is why I’ve created a business around them now.

Did you notice an increase in sales from your previous album? Do you think this may have had to do with the fact that the crowdfunding project enticed people to support you directly, and that you were offering them a chance to own something special with a story, rather than just another CD purchased in a store?

I don’t have numbers, but I definitely know that Farewell Youth sold more than NightWalk. The nice thing about crowdfunding was that I knew how many CDs I had to press because they’d already been sold, and then I shipped them out, I pressed them using the money I’d raised, so it was like this great tidy little thing. When the internet release thing went nuts, I bought like 200-300 more, thinking they’d ship out… (but) only about half of those went, and the rest were all digital and download sales. I think it ended up selling about 20,000 digital copies. Most people didn’t buy a physical copy, so that was interesting.

Do you think crowdfunding increases the perceived value of an entity? That a supporter’s safety mechanism kicks in and makes them think they will only be able to receive the album if they pledge for it, so they’ve got to get it NOW?

The cool thing about crowdfunding is that you create this little narrative, and it’s different to just releasing the album and being like, ‘Here’s my new album, here’s my bio, here’s a picture’. It is a thing that you can be a part of, and it makes such a big difference for an artist to not borrow the money from a bank… or from a record label, which is even worse. The stressful thing was raising the money, and after that, knowing there was a community of 200 or so people that I could keep updated and send the record to was a really nice thing – there’s, like, this purpose behind the project. You have these 300 people or 300,000 people out there waiting for this, it’s not just like, ‘I’m making this record, and no-one really wants to buy it’, when you’ve finished.

I got a couple of emails during the process and private Facebook messages, and people were really happy to put their name to things like this, but they were like, ‘I’m not going to pledge for your campaign, I’m going to wait until it’s available.’ And they were right, you can download NightWalk or torrent it, or whatever. A lot of people in Europe feel like they shouldn’t have to pay for music. It depends on where you’re going. I shouldn’t generalise, but for instance in Germany, people are really into buying CDs and supporting the artist.

So, does it increase the perceived value? It does for some people, and other people just aren’t interested. It’s like, true fans versus people that just like one song, I suppose…. I guess it’s the same ratio of that type of fan, that no matter how big you are… It might be like 5% of your fanbase, or 10% of people who like your Facebook page are really committed hard-core fans that would pledge on your campaign, and the other 90% just don’t really care, but are happy to listen to the record in the background when it’s finished. It just depends, some people are hardcore music fans, I’ve discovered, and often they’re the people who want to host gigs and want to get involved in crowdfunding campaigns and things like that. And other people are just sort of… it’s like food, right? Like, some people just don’t like food… that much. I get excited about dinner, and I love food, and there are people in my own family who are like, ‘Meh! I have to eat but I’m just not that interested in it’, so I think music is the same thing.

Did the format of having your audience purchase the product before they had even heard it make you feel any kind of pressure to give them what you thought they wanted?

Not me personally, but I can imagine how it would. When it was finished, I got a couple of emails saying, “I really don’t like your record, we need more songs like I Would Die For You”, but that’s okay as well, I didn’t take that personally. I sort of focused on getting the songs to sound good. I wasn’t too worried about pleasing people that had pledged… maybe that’s a bit selfish, but that’s how it is.

Did you know the large-sum supporters personally beforehand?

No-one that I knew personally, but I’d seen them at gigs, so I’d met them. You know, when you’re not a famous artist and you play a show, you kinda know half of your fan base, or more, or know them personally.

Have you interacted with them since?

One of them is a managing director of a large Australian company, and I’ve been asking him advice in starting up a company and stuff like that. Another one is just a friend, we chat on Facebook every now and again and she tells me what she’s up to. We’re kind of acquaintances.

Would you crowdfund again?

It was good! I wouldn’t do it again for a record, but it was a great experience.

(On his application of the crowdfunding model in his new business Parlour)

If you’re an upcoming, or sort of middle-tier artist, sometimes even when you’re established, it’s very difficult to play a venue where people are going to listen and really pay attention to you. Artists will play a show, and they might get, if the tickets are $15 a head, they might get $1.50 or $2 a head out of that deal, because if they’ve got to pay production costs and you know, lighting, sound, and all those kinds of things. And at the end of the day, they might have to travel to the next town. So touring rarely, if you’re lucky, ends up paying for itself. The great thing about Parlour, and house shows in general, is that you cut out a lot of those expenses, you get to play in someone’s space that they’ve created for you. Hopefully it’s a really good and welcoming space, where you can listen and really pay attention to the music, and if you’re a singer-songwriter, (audiences can) especially listen to your song-writing… and then, in our case, we pay 90% back to the artist. I know for a fact that, for Parlour, people are really happy to buy tickets, because they’re supporting their friends, who are hosting and have curated the event, and they know that a bulk of the money is going straight to the artist for their performance.

It’s not a new thing, it’s really an ancient thing, but it’s just different to the ‘venue experience’. It’s the host’s job to promote their show to their friends, so the host becomes the mini-concert promoter essentially. So, not only are they curating the show, they are also inviting their friends, so the artist doesn’t have to hound people on social media. The artists know they’re going to play, they know how much money they’re going to make, but they haven’t had to saturate their social media channels with ‘Please come to my gig, I’m desperate’, which never looks good. At the moment, the hosts decide on the guest list and asking that guest list to buy tickets, so it’s got that crowdfunding model in there. They go, ‘Okay, I’ve got to sell 30 tickets at 12.50 a head’, or whatever it is, and they go out and sell those tickets. In the future, I’d love to have a feature whereby there is a way, based on your privacy settings as a user, whether you want people that you don’t necessarily know first hand, maybe friends of friends that can come to a show… that sort of thing, but right now it makes more sense to make it the host’s thing.

And just wrapping up…

I think now is the best time ever to be proactive and just realise your vision on a really, really small scale. With Parlour I was like, ‘All I need to do is start a website, which is going to cost me like $100, and I’ll just launch that and I’ll start making content’. And all of a sudden it’s a company. It’s really just me deciding that I saw something I wanted to do, and I did it. For musicians it should be the same. With technology, you can really think outside the box and do interesting stuff, and really be your own artist.

I think technology has always been made out to be the devil in the music industry… when vinyl was created, or when recorded music in general was created in the early 20th century, the previous business model was based around sheet music, and musicians and composers were outraged that it changed over to this piece of technology where people would not have to buy the sheet music anymore. The same thing is happening now – streaming services are a big, scary monster in so many ways, but it’s the next step. It was inevitable, and if they didn’t do it, someone else was going to.

The musicians have always got the s***ty end of the stick when it comes to the industry, because someone figured out pretty early on that music is going to get created, because that’s just what people want to do. Artists want to create art, and there are people who have manipulated and exploited that for a long time. That’s being pretty cynical about things, but I truly believe that the technology will keep changing. After streaming, there will be another shift again, and that will shift the model on its head again, and artists will probably be going, ‘Well, how do I make money out of this one now?’ So, as long as disruptive technologies keep on happening, I think, well, I guess I should say they’re just going to keep on happening.

In conclusion:

  • The process of asking for fans to pledge, through the experience of Matt Walters, is a stressful endeavour, so be very strategic and realistic in how much you’re asking for and be prepared for how that translates into how much work and stress will get you there.
  • Know your audience. You need to know who and how to target and approach.
  • Stay strong. Money is a sensitive topic and you may receive reactions you weren’t expecting.
  • Be yourself and stay true to your art – it won’t help your mindset and relationships with audience members if you’re encouraging people to pay for the music you’re seriously doubting to create.
  • Feedback on your music should always be appreciated and considered, but know where to draw the line between feedback and comments from a choice point-of-view. Stay true to the art you want to create, even if that means people aren’t hearing what they want to hear.
  • Try to stay in touch with the people you may be connected with from your crowdfunding endeavours post-project as you may meet some interesting people who you can learn from and who can learn from you!
  • Technology will constantly be changing, regardless as to whether that benefits you or not, especially financially, however you have to be willing to adapt and you have to be smart about how to make the most of it to your advantage.
  • Golden Quote: “I think now is the best time ever to be proactive and just realise your vision on a really really small scale… [With Parlour] It’s really just me deciding that I saw something I wanted to do and I did it. For musicians it should be the same. With technology you can really think outside the box and do interesting stuff and really be your own artist.”

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